HappyBreak: Headset Meditation App To Prevent Work Burnout

A Chilean startup develops an application to take office workers into a meditative 'happy space' for a few minutes in a work day.

HappyBreak headset
HappyBreak headset
Daniela Arce

SANTIAGO — How do you feel today? What's your stress level? These are among questions users hear when putting on their HappyBreak goggles. The startup proposes a virtual reality experience to relieve stress and exhaustion in demanding workplaces. With the headset on a worker "clocks out," meditating or doing mindfulness exercises for several minutes a day.

De-stressing is considered beneficial to both your co-workers and for the firm, but also allows human resources departments to gauge stress levels in the workplace and act to reduce any pervasive tensions. After winning the Startup Weekend Chile — a "54-hour bootcamp style event" — in October 2018, HappyBreak began its prototype and validation stage last January. The product evolved from April to June, being tested in three corporate offices of Bupa, a healthcare services company.

Rafael Ávila, a co-founder of HappyBreak, says the firm conducted tests on 120 people, with four sessions of 10 to 12 minutes of meditation for each. "That's a total of 400 sessions and 4,000 minutes of meditation." Bupa now has a fixed "happy space", where colleagues can go and mediate when they want for 10 to 15 minutes daily.

HappyBreak meditating headset —​ Photo: HappyBreak Facebook

This year the World Health Organization (WHO) identified burnout or work exhaustion as an illness. Ávila says his team had noted the trend, which helped lead to the company's concept. "It all began with a social issue. We realized Chile had increased its stress levels in recent years, and work leave permits increased by 50%, and 41% of these sick leaves were to do with mental illnesses. We thought this was really something, and felt we should somehow tackle it."

That prompted them to think of a meditation mechanism: "We were the first to do this in Chile. It's been a success and we created the minimum viable product allowing us to enter other organizations like DUOC, VíasChile, Bupa and Saesa."

Now it's time to scale, seeing a solution in an application to provide the service through virtual reality goggles. Now with computer manufacturers Lenovo, they are working on an app clients could use with the headset, to observe the state of their meditations and program mindfulness sessions, just like a meeting. The firm is also showing its product to firms like Unilever and WeWork.

You always have to look around.

After validation and implementation in Chilean firms, HappyBreak has since decided to try their luck in a bigger market, Brazil. This was no haphazard choice, says Ávila, given Brazil's market size and its potential numbers of stressed-out employees. "You always have to look around, and we as a team took as reference Cornershop, which took off simultaneously in Mexico and Chile. While Chile is very interesting, you have to open a market elsewhere immediately."

In August 2019 the firm entered the Founder Institute incubator alongside 40 other founders, and took part in a demoday in Belo Horizonte. It also began discussing an investment round with local funds, and was testing its product with Solides and WeWork.

There are differences to be considered between end users and their contexts in Brazil and Chile. Magdalena Ortega, a HappyBreak co-founder, says that while Chile makes firms abide by "care policies for the mental health of workers," in Brazil there are no such regulations and psycho-social risks are not directly measured.

The firm is now also eyeing expansion into Europe, where mindfulness at work would be a novelty. So far HappyBreak expects its concept to serve anyone who believes in taking a meaningful break at work, and to prevent any damage to a person's mental wellbeing.

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Why This Sudan Coup Is Different

The military has seized control in one of Africa's largest countries, which until recently had made significant progress towards transitioning to democracy after years of strongman rule. But the people, and international community, may not be willing to turn back.

Smoke rises Monday over the Sudanese capital of Khartoum

Xinhua via ZUMA
David E. Kiwuwa

This week the head of Sudan's Sovereign Council, General Abdel Fattah El Burhan, declared the dissolution of the transitional council, which has been in place since the overthrow of former president Omar el-Bashir in 2019. He also disbanded all the structures that had been set up as part of the transitional roadmap, and decreed a state of emergency.

In essence, he staged a palace coup against the transitional authority he chaired.

The general's actions, which included the arrest of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, are a culmination of a long period of tension between the civilian and military wings of the council.

A popular uprising may be inevitable

The tensions were punctuated by an alleged attempted coup only weeks earlier. The days leading to the palace coup were marked by street protests for and against the military. Does this mark the end of the transition as envisaged by the protest movement?

Their ability to confront counter revolutionary forces cannot be underestimated.

The popular uprising against Bashir's government was led by the Sudan Professional Association. It ushered in the political transitional union of civilians and the military establishment. The interim arrangement was to lead to a return to civilian rule.

But this cohabitation was tenuous from the start, given the oversized role of the military in the transition. Moreover, the military appeared to be reluctant to see the civilian leadership as an equal partner in shepherding through the transition.

Nevertheless, until recently there had been progress towards creating the institutional architecture for the transition. Despite the challenges and notable tension between the signatories to the accord, it was never evident that the dysfunction was so great as to herald the collapse of the transitional authority.

For now, the transition might be disrupted and in fact temporarily upended. But the lesson from Sudan is never to count the masses out of the equation. Their ability to mobilize and confront counter revolutionary forces cannot be underestimated.

Power sharing

The transitional pact itself had been anchored by eight arduously negotiated protocols. These included regional autonomy, integration of the national army, revenue sharing and repatriation of internal refugees. There was also an agreement to share out positions in national political institutions, such as the legislative and executive branch.

Progress towards these goals was at different stages of implementation. More substantive progress was expected to follow after the end of the transition. This was due in 2022 when the chair of the sovereignty council handed over to a civilian leader. This military intervention is clearly self-serving and an opportunistic power grab.

A promised to civilian rule in July 2023 through national elections.

In November, the rotational chairmanship of the transitional council was to be passed from the military to the civilian wing of the council. That meant the military would cede strong leverage to the civilians. Instead, with the coup afoot, Burhan has announced both a dissolution of the council as well as the dismissal of provincial governors. He has unilaterally promised return to civilian rule in July 2023 through national elections.

Prior to this, the military had been systematically challenging the pre-eminence of the civilian authority. It undermined them and publicly berated them for governmental failures and weaknesses. For the last few months there has been a deliberate attempt to sharply criticize the civilian council as riddled with divisions, incompetent and undermining state stability.

File photo shows Sudan's Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok in August 2020

Mohamed Khidir/Xinhua via ZUMA

Generals in suits

Since the revolution against Bashir's government, the military have fancied themselves as generals in suits. They have continued to wield enough power to almost run a parallel government in tension with the prime minister. This was evident when the military continued to have the say on security and foreign affairs.

For their part, civilian officials concentrated on rejuvenating the economy and mobilizing international support for the transitional council.

This didn't stop the military from accusing the civilian leadership of failing to resuscitate the country's ailing economy. True, the economy has continued to struggle from high inflation, low industrial output and dwindling foreign direct investment. As in all economies, conditions have been exacerbated by the effects of COVID-19.

Sudan's weakened economy is, however, not sufficient reason for the military intervention. Clearly this is merely an excuse.

Demands of the revolution

The success or failure of this coup will rest on a number of factors.

First is the ability of the military to use force. This includes potential violent confrontation with the counter-coup forces. This will dictate the capacity of the military to change the terms of the transition.

Second is whether the military can harness popular public support in the same way that the Guinean or Egyptian militaries did. This appears to be a tall order, given that popular support appears to be far less forthcoming.

The international community's appetite for military coups is wearing thin.

Third, the ability of the Sudanese masses to mobilize against military authorities cannot be overlooked. Massive nationwide street protests and defiance campaigns underpinned by underground organizational capabilities brought down governments in 1964, 1985 and 2019. They could once again present a stern test to the military.

Finally, the international community's appetite for military coups is wearing thin. The ability of the military to overcome pressure from regional and international actors to return to the status quo could be decisive, given the international support needed to prop up the crippled economy.

The Sudanese population may have been growing frustrated with its civilian authority's ability to deliver on the demands of the revolution. But it is also true that another coup to reinstate military rule is not something the protesters believe would address the challenges they were facing.

Sudan has needed and will require compromise and principled political goodwill to realise a difficult transition. This will entail setbacks but undoubtedly military intervention in whatever guise is monumentally counterproductive to the aspirations of the protest movement.


David E. Kiwuwa is Associate Professor of International Studies at University of Nottingham

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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