Meli Glenn

Meli Glenn, COO of Klaatch

“I believe in the communal way of living. I’ve always had a sense — you live together, you die together.”

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

Meet Meli Glenn. The origin of Meli (pronounced with long “e”) is from the proverb, “If I am not for myself who will be for me, if not now, when?”

Meli was a student of anthropology and for many years worked as an EdTech consultant for a number of clients, including Pearson. Before returning to the States a few years ago, she lived in Haiti, Benin, as well as West Africa, India, France, and London.

She is the COO of Klaatch, which is looking to be the go-to service to solve loneliness among older adults. Meli distinguishes the service as “tech-enabled” rather than tech-focused. A member of CivicXcel — the Civic Hall Labs accelerator — Klaatch leverages technology to bring folks together IRL.

Meli is looking for the right dog to fit the name “Arrow” and is always in search of new spots to hike with a view. You can follow her on LinkedIn or on Facebook. And check out their recent podcast

What Does She Do?

Meli pivoted from her career in EdTech to join Klaatch in early 2017.

As an early-stage startup, Klaatch was selected to participate in Civic Hall Lab’s Xcel this summer. At this point in Klaatch’s journey, Meli describes her role as COO to her founder Adam Greene as “co-creating and iterating.”

While there is a business case to be made for Klaatch — by 2040, 30% of the U.S. population will be above 60 — for Meli it’s personal.

Meli returned to the States a few years ago to be closer to her parents. With the retirement of her father and her mother making plans, it’s an active conversation in her own life.

While some Baby Boomers (and beyond) are affluent, and can afford to pay companions and caretakers, these relationships are necessary but not sufficient:

“Having a peer relationship – a friendship, a meaningful relationship – is different from having a volunteer or a caretaker visit you. The loss of identity — retiring from one’s career, no longer being able to play sports – is profound.

Just as we are beginning to theorize how digital natives – and all adults – are impacted by technology, Meli’s experience tells her that one “can be surrounded by lots of people but have the behaviors of loneliness. It’s about the skills that are driven in us to be able to biologically connect. Without exercise, they are lost over time.”

Klaatch has been diving into behaviors of the older population. How it navigates technology. What it thinks of privacy and safety. Her background as an anthropologist – in particular, her fluency in Margaret Mead — seems to at least unconsciously inform her thinking:

“There is no substitute for interacting when you talk about humans. The research about younger population show that it’s not neutral, it’s detrimental to socialization. Human behaviors are taught and learned and reinforced. We lose those skills over time – when we self-isolate over health. But behaviors can get better. Tech is learning that you can’t take the human out of the human.”

Meli recommends this paper on loneliness and aging.

How Did She Get Into This Work?

Meli spent her early childhood in Israel. Moving Stateside to Vermont, she attended The Putney School (its most famous alum is LinkedIn’s Reid Hoffman) which had a working farm, a focus on alternative arts, and project-based learning.

“I believe in the communal way of living. I’ve always had a sense — you live together, you die together.”

After taking an advanced degree at University of York in educational research, Meli worked as a consultant for EdTech, traveling globally for Pearson where her brief included online education, professional development training, gaming, even working with an organization which converted curriculum into comic strips.

Meli believes that her experience in service-design systems for education – seeing the whole puzzle, if you will — is her “secret sauce.”

Meli saw an urgent, unmet need for Klaatch despite the fact that,“there is no shortage of places to meet in the city (or senior centers for that matter). The problem is it’s not facilitating people who are lonely. We want to create a “bouquet of wallflowers.’”

What Project Is She Working On?

Here’s how Klaatch works: “Someone calls us, or signs up online. We connect them to 4 or 5 to folks who are 3-4 blocks away, using a machine learning model based on interests. We then schedule a get together – a coffee “klaatch” which is initially facilitated. If the group coheres, it may be self-organizing as well. Locations will be chosen based on either business or distribution partnerships. Klaatch has also found that lowering the bar – discounted meals, pre-paid gatherings – are crucial.

Beyond convening these small gatherings, Klaatch is thinking about a walking service, which she first saw in practice at her food co-op in Brooklyn. An escort takes an older co-op member back and forth from home with their groceries. “Participation in this program creates a sense of total locality within a certain radius.”

Down the line Klaatch is looking into research partners, working with health insurers, as well as unions, in the hopes of proving that the service is a form of preventative care.

Meli is a believer in social connection. For every dollar you spend on a coffee with a friend is another dollar not spent on health costs for diabetes, Alzheimer’s, or sleep-related issues…”

How Did She Come to Civic Hall?

Meli joined Klaatch at the beginning of 2017. At the outset, Meli found that her background in service design complemented her co-founder Adam Greene’s background as an urban planner.

“I knew that CivicXcel was the right spot for us. We are surrounded by people who know about issues that we don’t. For me, it’s a total rethink for someone who has been a consultant. It’s nice to have someone else make dinner for you; it feels like we’re being looked after.” Above all, CivicXcel’s mentors have made this experience truly worthwhile.”

What Is Her Ask of Civic Hall?

Meli describes herself as being an extrovert, except in small groups where she can be shy. She’s attended as many Civic Hall events as time allows – and found our recent book chat with Noam Cohen germane to her research at Klaatch.

“It would be really great to get a better sense of how people are connected to Civic Hall when we meet them [at events].”

Klaatch is looking for members of the community who are currently working on aging and with this population (such as Ed Potter’s Memory Lane), in particular, folks who do outreach and marketing.

Following the end of their participation in CivicXcel, Klaatch intends to offer a lunch & learn for the community.