By Aruna Dutt
Oct 19, 2018 – One year ago, Melody Wu realized she had hundreds of acquaintances but no close friendships.
As a newcomer to Canada, Wu had to adapt to a new culture, overcome mental health challenges and make significant life changes until she found meaningful relationships.
Today, the 27-year-old is founding Beyond, an app to help combat social isolation. It is expected to be released by around Christmas this year.
“People don’t realize how much these relationships impact their overall well-being. They don’t realize they have to cultivate them,” Wu told Global Action.
Instead of aiming to increase the quantity of friendships, Beyond focuses on improving their quality. In partnership with Devlift, a creative development agency, Beyond is being designed with inspiration from Wu’s personal experience.
Wu left her home, family and friends in mainland China in 2013 to come to Canada for a Master of Management at UBC Sauder School of Business. She says she had to start from scratch.
“We don’t have the time or energy to build up the foundations here, so it’s always a short interaction,” says Wu. “That’s why it’s really hard to make good friends.”
Wu dealt with this problem when she was introduced to the concept of networking which she says is not a cultural norm in China.
“I was collecting a quantity of relationships and so many business cards,” she says. “Every time I moved away I had to think of which ones really mean anything to me, and which ones to throw away.”
Her biggest challenge came in 2016 when she was employed at a major company where she says the workplace culture was isolating.
“I was just having beer with friends every week for happy hour – I thought, ‘This is Western culture, I’m doing really well and I’m mingling with many people’”
But her relationships were not working, her career wasn’t going well, and she says she was completely lost. Eventually, she had a mental breakdown.
“I was scrolling through my contacts. I had 500 friends on Facebook, 500 connections on LinkedIn, but I didn’t have a single person I could talk to. I didn’t feel like I had anyone trustworthy or who would understand my situation. I didn’t know what to do.”
Wu decided to quit her job and moved to London, Ontario without any job prospects. She moved in with her husband, and after volunteering and networking, she says, “everything started to work out for itself.”
Wu says she realized it’s the quality of relationships that matter, and then finding shared values are how you make them long-lasting.
These realizations sparked Wu’s idea for the app.
“I thought that there has to be a better way to learn how to effectively make meaningful connections. But there’s no course on that. Nobody is teaching us how to network.”
Beyond helps to educate users about what truly matters to their mental health and overall well-being, what a quality relationship is, and how they can build one, says Wu.
“I’m building this app to help people create these reciprocal, tremendously rewarding relationships.”
Her personal experiences have been built-in to the design of Beyond, she says.
Instead of just recording phone numbers, Beyond reminds users to self-reflect and record the passions, ambitions and shared memories of their friends.
“This way users can grow and improve together with their friends, make better friends and be a better friend to others.”