The Friendly News is a collaboration between TELUS and Daily Hive. Together, we’re creating a space for important, feel-good community stories to be told, where Canadians can immerse themselves in uplifting news and articles featuring community leaders giving back during a time when we all need it most.
Written for Daily Hive by William Johnson, a tech writer in Vancouver.
2020 was a year unlike any other. Between the pandemic, global lockdowns, and social and economic instability across the globe, the world didn’t lack things to get down about.
At the same, the chaos of 2020 was matched by a level of human reaction, cooperation, and ingenuity not seen in my lifetime. And in the country’s collective response, it’s no surprise that many of the most creative solutions to national problems came from Canada’s technology industry.
Home to Ottawa-based e-commerce giant Shopify and BC-based biotech darling Abcellera, Canada’s tech sector is responsible for some $210 billion in revenue produced by over 43,200 companies.
Those companies employ more than 666,000 people — and these tech workers have been busier than ever developing products and projects to help Canadians bounce back and stay resilient.
As the editor of a tech newsletter, I’ve had a front-row seat to these initiatives. Here are five that caught my eye.
Innovators collaborated to scale safe food delivery for people and businesses
When the first lockdowns were announced, many Canadians and frontline workers struggled to access a safe and secure food supply.
As online order volume (and delays) increased, there became a need to ensure deliveries made it to those who needed them most.
In response, Vancouver’s Food-X Technologies, collaborating with partners through the Digital Technology Supercluster, developed an e-grocery software system that ensured fresh, high-quality groceries could be delivered to essential workers, hospital patients, and other Canadians with health conditions in quarantine.
Food-X’s work didn’t stop there. As demand for online grocery shopping grew further last Spring, the Food-X team pivoted to develop an expanded solution specifically for retailers to rapidly scale their systems in order to remain competitive in the digital economy while limiting the spread of COVID-19.
TELUS partnered with Calm App to deliver better mental health
As overall COVID-19 cases continued to rise late last year, so too did Canadians’ levels of stress.
Nearly 25 per cent of Canadians reported being very or extremely stressed about the pandemic, according to an Angus Reid poll conducted in September.
To help Canadians navigate these turbulent times, TELUS partnered with Calm, the award-winning mental fitness app, to bring sleep, meditation and relaxation content into the homes of Optik TV and Pik TV customers, through the TELUS Healthy Living Network.
The collaboration was reportedly the first of its kind for Calm, and it provides mental health resources to Canadians of all ages as they deal with the stresses brought on by life during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The content, which is free for all Optik TV and Pik TV subscribers, includes guided meditations, breathing exercises, and Calm’s Sleep Stories™, bedtime stories for grown-ups.
“With this pandemic comes unexpected and unpredictable change,” said Dr. Diane McIntosh, Chief Neuroscience Officer, TELUS.
“So it’s vital that we look after ourselves and each other.”
Movember backs digital and technological ideas that address social isolation
Between employment and personal loss, people worldwide have faced unforeseen challenges.
In fact, men’s health charity Movember found that nearly a third of men reported feelings of loneliness last year, with 71% (the highest percentage) among men aged 18 to 29.
In response, Movember launched its second Social Connections Challenge, an initiative to find and fund digital- or technology-focused ideas that maintain or strengthen social connections while also addressing isolation in groups of at-risk men.
The response from Canadians was impressive, with many novel ideas and programs put forward. Those shortlisted include Network Buddy: Supporting Mental Health for Newcomer Men in Canada from Alberta’s Rural Development Network; Storytelling for Justice out of the University of British Columbia; Prostate Cancer: Patient Empowerment Program based out of Dalhousie University; and Meeting Boys Where They Are: a Discord community, submitted by Next Gen Men, as well as others.
Movember is investing $3 million into the projects, with the top ideas to receive between $100-$250k to be co-developed with Movember.
Shopify partners with Indigenous organizations reducing barriers to entrepreneurship
Recognizing that for Canada’s entire history, Indigenous peoples have confronted systemic racism and injustices, Shopify has been working to support Indigenous entrepreneurs, with the goal of helping them move online.
The company is working with Indigenous-led organizations in Vancouver (Raven Indigenous Capital Partners), Yellowknife (EntrepreNorth) and New Zealand (Te Whare Hukahuka, and Rise2025) to co-create locally and culturally relevant e-commerce education and expand access to the Shopify platform.
While this program was not necessarily launched explicitly to combat the consequences of COVID-19, Statistics Canada research indicates that COVID-19 disproportionately affects already marginalized groups, so this type of initiative has the potential to be especially impactful.
“Through our Indigenous entrepreneurship partners, we believe we can support economic independence and well-being of Indigenous communities,” said Jace Meyer, Lead for Indigenous Entrepreneurs at Shopify, Métis.
“We understand the responsibility of our role in helping create a more equitable future for Indigenous people, and that starts by partnering with Indigenous-led organizations to co-create a support system for Indigenous entrepreneurs worldwide.”
An unexpected partnership leads to Canada’s largest marketplace for Canadian-made PPE
Although Amber French is a serial entrepreneur, she says she could’ve never predicted her next company would play a central role in Canada’s PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) market.
Last year, she was looped into a conversation with friend David Chilton (yes, that one) about PPE challenges within hospitals and businesses.
In response, she worked with the Canadian Medical Association and other organizations to address shortages and supply chain issues within communities. But to support private businesses that don’t have access to the same purchasing channels as hospitals, French knew a different approach was required.
Given her large network, she was also fortunate to be closely connected with a number of new Canadian PPE manufacturers.
However, “For many of them, providing PPE [was] a new business,” she recently wrote.
Many of the firms had pivoted to create homegrown PPE solutions, but since producing PPE was not their traditional enterprise, they lacked efficient sales and marketing channels.
Enter French’s latest startup, Supply+Protect, an online marketplace featuring Canadian manufacturers and distributors of PPE and COVID-business solutions.
Supply+Protect enables businesses to easily find trusted, cost-effective PPE to keep employees safe, while also providing vendors with a way to efficiently increase their reach, market and sales.
With over 40 Canadian vendors, S+P is a one-stop-shop focussed on helping Canadian businesses re-open (and stay open) safely and easily.
“Supply+Protect is just one of many incredible COVID-related initiatives happening all across our country,” writes French of her new company, although she could easily be talking about any of the other initiatives I’ve written about in this column.
French adds: “I am so, so lucky to be part of a nation where everyone pulls together for the benefit of all.”