My personal story

Where did the idea come from?

When I was finishing my PhD, I spent one month in Oxford. For no particular reason, I felt I should have stayed in Seattle, where I was living at the time. I didn’t have close friends in Oxford, nor was there particularly something that I could tell my friends about what was going on.

In the center of Oxford there was a little ‘shop’ where free meditations were organized. I decided to attend one of the meditations and in the five minutes before the meditation I had a brief conversation with the meditation leader. I remember telling her I wasn’t feeling good and crying. She just listened and must have said something – I don’t even remember it exactly. This moment pivoted my time in Oxford. After just for a brief moment experiencing a safe space to share how I felt and receiving some words of support, something was lifted off my chest and I started to enjoy my time in Oxford.

This experience in combination with my own aspirations to be a coach and find ways to help and motivate people – and so wanting to be a listening ear for others! - , made me think that it would be great if we could signal to others that we can be a safe space for someone to share, whatever it is they are ‘carrying’.

Wearing a bracelet can signal that you are open for a ten-minute conversation. The bracelet can be worn the other way around when you are not in the mood or have no time to spare. Mbrace can bring people together in anonymous cities, or wherever people meet. Some of the places where I think it can work very well is in public transport or for example at a university.

Why I think it is a good idea

I think it is a good idea, because it connects people through general empathy. It is a very low profile mental health support, as being able to share everyday concerns can reduce stress. Moreover, I like that it is from human to human. This is still different than professional support for which you'll have to pay and which is usually not instant, but at planned intervals. Besides that, it creates connection in the often anonymous cities people live in.

From idea to reality
From an idea in my head, it started to become real, when I approached Marina Toeters from the Fashion Tech Farm to actually design and produce the bracelets. She made the product come to life. Extra pro-active energy was added when Shruti Kulkarni joined the team. Working together across the globe on a common cause!

A bit more about myself

My name is Ellen Holtmaat. I grew up in The Netherlands. Over the past years I have been working on my PhD in the field of international politics and lived in Geneva and Seattle. I am particularly interested in economics and environmental politics and worked for the Center for Environmental Politics at the University of Washington. Since 2019 I teach at the London School of Economics. Besides teaching and doing research on the role of the private sector in global governance, I work on two social projects: Mbrace and Positive Climate Visualization.

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