Q&A  | 

Technology to rebuild the bond of communities, by Nextdoor’s Nick Lisher

"The neighbourhood is the most important community in our lives"

Tags: 'neighbourhood'

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Nick Lisher is Head of EMEA of Nextdoor, the world’s largest private social network for neighborhoods funded by Sarah Friar, former Chief Financial Officer at Square. Before joining Nextdoor, Lisher worked as a CMO for various European based startups.

“We believe that by bringing everyone in the community together, we can cultivate a kinder world where everyone has a neighbourhood they can rely on”, says Lisher.

What’s Nextdoor?

Nextdoor is an app where you can tap into your neighbourhood, connecting neighbours to each other — and to everything nearby like local businesses, services, news updates, recommendations and things for sale from the people down the street. Nextdoor brings together all stakeholders of the neighbourhood: neighbours, local businesses, public agencies, and nonprofits. We believe that by bringing everyone in the community together, we can cultivate a kinder world where everyone has a neighbourhood they can rely on.

Since day one, we’ve been focused on connecting neighbours as we know that the neighbourhood is the most important community in our lives. Nextdoor has always required people to use their real name and verified address, so members can trust that their Nextdoor neighbourhood is made up of real people at real addresses. This creates the trust and accountability that leads to building meaningful connections in the real world. 

We also know that local businesses are the cornerstone of thriving neighbourhoods. Nextdoor connects everyone from brick and mortar stores to neighbours for hire with their most valuable customers – their neighbours.

Today, Nextdoor is available in 11 countries including the United States, United Kingdom, Spain, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, Australia, Denmark, Sweden, Canada and there are over 270,000 neighbourhoods globally.

Is Nextdoor a response to today’s lack of human connections?

As a society, we have become worse at connecting face-to-face and building impactful relationships with one another. Belonging is a universal human need, and in every corner of the world today people are yearning to feel more connected with real people in real places in real ways.

While there are plenty of online services that can connect us to people around the globe, there hasn’t been anything to connect us to the people right outside our front doors. 

From walking groups to sporting groups to groups for seniors who want to make friends, Nextdoor is the place to find these trusted connections and build meaningful relationships within the neighbourhood.

During the pandemic, we re-discovered, as a society, that the most relevant community in our daily lives is our neighbourhood. This had a huge impact on our platform, engagement increased significantly, and gestures to help multiplied. 

Is this a consequence of the process of digitization and how does this lack of human connections impact society?

Technology has revolutionised our world – in many ways for the better. It’s an enormously powerful tool that allows us to stay in touch with friends and family across the globe; it provides us with a source of endless information at our fingertips; and it entertains us in new and exciting ways.

The ‘Campaign to End Loneliness’ cites that loneliness, living alone and poor social connections are as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Recognising loneliness as a nationwide epidemic, in early 2018 the UK government appointed a Minister of Loneliness to tackle the social and health issues caused by social isolation. 

As Physician and author Dr. Kelli Harding of The Rabbit Effect affirms, the single most important thing we can do for our health is to build positive relationships. We know that starts where you live.

More than two million people over 65 live alone in Spain. Cases of older people passing away at home without anyone noticing spiked last year and also during confinement. Is the lack of human connections especially hard for older people and how can Nextdoor help in that?

With the pandemic, families are trying to keep their physical distance because they don’t want the most vulnerable to be in danger. But this has caused side effects, specifically for elderly people: they feel especially isolated. Luckily, Nextdoor is easy to use, and this fact helps us to offer a tool that it’s well understood by people aged 55 years and older.

A proof is that we have several over 60 groups in cities around the world. We also often see younger people offering themselves on Nextdoor to teach the elderly how to use technology forming intergenerational relationships. 

During the pandemic, we created the Help Map, where neighbours can offer help and many used this to run errands for elderly people like grocery shopping, picking up medications, or even just offering a virtual chat. 

Apart from our product, we, as a company, try to help the fight against loneliness, by partnering with public agencies, institutions, services and experts who can help us bring members the best tools and solutions to combat loneliness. For example: in Spain, we have partnerships with Amics de la Gent Gran in Catalonia and Project Radars from Barcelona City Council.

Can you give us a concrete example of how the elderly have used Nextdoor?

After the initial lockdown in Spain, 66 year-old Consol Garcia posted on Nextdoor a simple, but effective phrase: I’m Consol, I’m 66 years old, I live in Sagrada Familia neighbourhood in Barcelona, and I would like to find people my age, to spend time with, go for a walk, for a coffee, or go to the cinema or theater with. Thanks to that post, she got more than 70 replies from people thanking her for reaching out and wanting to spend time with her who were also experiencing isolation because of Covid-19. 

From her single post, Consol found seven women around her age all from her same neighbourhood, that she now meets with every week to go for a socially distant walk or coffee. They’ve become very close and she has found people in her neighbourhood to rely on. That’s what Nextdoor is all about.

Another example is Igor, a 21-year-old programmer who felt he needed to help seniors stay connected with their families. He realised they felt isolated because they struggled to use technology to stay in touch. Through Nextdoor, he was able to help more than 30 people in his neighbourhood get the technical support they needed to stay connected and feel less lonely.

You’ve stated that “sometimes a neighbour is better than an algorithm.” Is it not too late to rebuild the bond of communities, especially among young people?

During the first weeks of the pandemic, we saw younger people take to our platform to offer help to neighbours who may be vulnerable or elderly. I strongly believe that younger people are just as, if not more invested in their local communities, but they need an outlet, a network. 

Every form of entertainment is at their fingertips, and yet we often hear how much they are missing social capital, especially in a time when access to their peer group is limited.

Finally, can you mention some of Nextdoor’s best success stories?

One of my favourite stories comes from The Netherlands. During Christmas one year, 47-year-old Kim from Almere posted on Nextdoor asking neighbours to join her family for dinner if they didn’t have anyone to spend the holiday with. Most people declined, but two neighbours came; 42-year-old Tony, who fled from war-torn Syria three years earlier, and 52-year-old Effie, who has been living in The Netherlands, but grew up in Israel. Because of Tony’s experiences in Syria, he had lost his trust in people and was living in constant fear. When he saw Kim’s message, he had his doubts, but went, and was grateful he did. Similarly, Effie had lived in the Netherlands for 21 years, but had difficulty meeting people. Since they met at Kim’s home for Christmas, Effie and Tony have formed a great friendship.