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Telephone circles of the Red Cross of Serbia highlighted as an example of good practice on the Red Social Innovation website


The “telephone circles” initiative, which the Red Cross of Serbia has been implementing for years in various communities in Serbia and which gained in importance during the COVID-19 pandemic, was presented as an example of good practice on the Red Social Innovation website. RED Social Innovation is an international resource centre for social innovation supported by the French Red Cross and the Spanish Red Cross. Its goal is to test, scale and highlight social innovations created and developed within the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, or by other private or public actors. 


The Red Cross of Serbia has helped establish 32 self-help groups for older persons in 20 municipalities across the country in the previous years. These small informal groups are flexible in structure and operation, they consist of older persons brought together by affiliation, common interests or some other criterion, and they have regular meetings in which they engage in different activities, ranging from pastimes, through exchanging important information (regarding, for example, social welfare or healthcare services and how to access them) to local level activism (for example advocating for a less polluted local environment).

The activities of these self-help groups – based on the principles of healthy ageing – were unable to continue during the lockdown due to the impossibility of any older persons leaving their homes and meeting physically. Therefore, the Red Cross of Serbia encouraged and brokered transition of these groups into a telephone and app-based circles.

In such context, members of the telephone circles are simultaneously both beneficiaries and volunteers. Persons with higher technical expertise in using smartphones acted as primary volunteers to get others on board as well as tutors to their peers on how to use calls, text messages or dedicated communication applications such as Viber or Skype. However, every person was able to contribute through alerting other members of the group/ circle of a person they know who might benefit from being included – an older lonely neighbour or some such.

Telephone circle is a low-tech and time/ cost efficient solution to check upon the status of older persons every day and be alerted if there is potentially a need for intervention. The transformation of self-help groups into telephone circles was a natural way of ensuring both that more active older persons with a history of volunteering for the Red Cross could continue to be active despite the lockdown, as well as that older persons in need of support were not socially excluded and isolated. The effects on mental health of both these groups were beneficial, making sure that older persons would both feel that they are not abandoned and are participating in the society, that they can get support through their peers if needed, and that they can equally contribute to their peers. This challenges loneliness and develops a sense of security in older persons who benefit psychologically both from knowing they are taking care of someone but that someone is there for them at all times.

An overview of this initiative can be found on the Red Social Innovation website:

This article is also available in French and Spanish: