A community is built by its people, especially its older generations. They continue to work well into their golden years so they can provide for their families and communities, yet many of them face difficulties as a result of ageism.

“As you get older, you have just as much to say and contribute, so it’s important that you have the opportunity to do so.” Kate Bunting, CEO, HelpAge USA

A community is built by its people, especially its older generations. They continue to work well into their golden years so they can provide for their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren – as well as for their communities and families – in order to build a better future. Their lifetime of hard work forms the backbone of society and is the reason the world is where it is today. Yet for all their sacrifice, many of them face difficulties as a result of ageism.

Ageism occurs when people face stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination because of their age. As people grow older, they encounter barriers in the workforce, health care, housework and other issues due to loss of mobility. In emergency situations, such as natural disasters or conflict, they are much more at-risk than other age groups. But the wisdom and life experience they offer is too valuable to disregard. Their knowledge and insight enrich the lives and communities around them as long as we are open to it.

HelpAge, a Global Impact charity partner, works to give older individuals access to services and supplies that enable them live better lives. They work tirelessly to combat ageism and help older people become assets to themselves, their families and their communities. 

Overall, older persons want to stay connected with their communities, continue to contribute and have a say in what is going on around them. As Kate Bunting, CEO of HelpAge USA, said in an interview, “When we talk about people who are older, we think they’re not able, don’t know what they’re talking about, or just aren’t interested in public discourse. Yet, our research tells us older women and men have very strong opinions, want to be heard and don’t want other people to talk for them. As you get older, you have just as much to say and contribute, so it’s important that you have the opportunity to do so.”

So, why exactly is it important to invest in older generations?

Invest in older persons and they’ll invest in the future 
What happens if we invest in the lives and livelihoods of older persons? Through their programs, HelpAge has seen the results first-hand – when income is available, older people invest in the future of their communities. They do this by:

  • Providing support to their adult children. This creates a home environment where everyone is able to help each other. By providing stability in the form of shelter, food or income, their children are able to focus on work, education and raising a family, while also providing assistance to their parents.
  • Paying school fees for grandchildren and great grandchildren, helping to ensure they’ll have a bright future and be able to contribute to their communities as adults.
  • Starting businesses. Age has little to no negative impact on the entrepreneurial spirit, especially if starting a business means more financial freedom with less manual work.

A mix of old and new: Older persons in the workplace
Older persons also have a marked influence on workplaces around the world, including here in the United States. 

More and more millennials are entering the workforce, followed closely by Generation Z, taking positions working alongside Generation Xers and baby boomers. With four generations pooling into one workforce, we’re seeing people ages 21 to 73 working alongside each other.

The result is a vibrant mix – companies with diverse and multigenerational teams working together on the same projects. Ideally, they collaborate and use their wide range of different experiences to create innovative solutions and products not seen before. However, that same element can make it difficult for team members to connect. There’s a potential for negative interaction – such as isolation and inability to connect with coworkers – that might make it more difficult to understand each other.

HelpAge’s Age Inclusion Workshop was created to resolve this potential problem. The workshop identifies organizational structures and behaviors that support greater inclusion and participation in the workplace. This helps to strengthen a workforce – allowing employees to form a better understanding of one another and building an inclusive workplace that is able to use differences as a positive force for greater impact.

It doesn’t matter whether a team is newly formed and awkward or established and comfortable, they will all benefit from this workshop by reinforcing mutual understanding and opening channels of communication. 

The data gap: Disaster response & older women  
Older generations are integral to building a more sustainable future, so ensuring that they receive help to navigate barriers is highly important. However, ageism and the data gap stand in the way.

Many modes of data collection do not disaggregate by demographic information, and even when they do, they often don’t include data on people over the age of 49. Humanitarian programs are formulated by using gathered data to strategize so that they can reach the most people in need.
When an entire subset of people in need is not considered, these initiatives cannot be entirely successful.

If we don’t take steps to recognize the value of older generations in the workplace and around the world, we will be unable to address the data gap and the following will continue:

  • Missing support during crises. In a crisis, older people are at increased risk of familial separation, abuse and neglect, being cut off from vital services, and more. 
  • Domestic abuse and other violence. Older women often face violence from their marital partners, or even from communities. Yet it isn’t discussed, and so these women are cut off from information and resources that could help them.
  • A lack of sexual and reproductive help. In many communities, women are discouraged from talking about sexual needs, and especially so once they reach a certain age. The truth, however, is that women over 50 are just as susceptible to sexually transmitted diseases and may actually be less knowledgeable than younger women. 

With proper data, these things are avoidable. For example,  “When a response team from the Kenya Red Cross Society mapped out at-risk households in Kisumu County, an area prone to flooding, they were able to locate the most vulnerable individuals — older people, people with disabilities and pregnant women — and evacuate them using a power canoe, preventing them from being stranded.”

This strategy can be used to help ensure that all older persons facing some sort of barrier – whether it be aid in a crisis or health care services and information. 

Join us on “the journey to age equality” in honor of International Day of Older Persons
Right now, almost 700 million people in the world are over the age of 60. That number is projected to reach 2 billion by 2050 – that’s more than 20% of the global population. This is projected to be the most rapid increase in older persons the world has seen, and we need to prepare so that we can meet their needs.

International Day of Older Persons is Oct. 1. The observance serves as an opportunity to recognize the impact of ageism and to stand against it; promote a society that realizes the values of its older generation; and ensure that all older persons are given the care and support that they need to continue to thrive. This year’s theme is “the journey to age equality” with a focus on ageism, as well as societal and structural changes that can help reduce ageism.

With programs spanning multiple needs in different countries, HelpAge is working to promote the rights of all older people. HelpAge primarily focuses on two things: closing the data gap and encouraging older men and women to speak up about their needs. A few of the ways they are working to combat ageism and reach the people who have been overlooked include:

  • Protecting rights. HelpAge’s global grassroots movement, Age Demands Action, works to fight age discrimination and advocates for a U.N. convention on the rights of older people.
  • Preventing violence and abuse by educating older people about their rights and legal resources, collecting data on violence against them, and facilitating access to support services. 
  • Income generation through a network of associates that provide resources like low-interest loans and skills training. This empowers older individuals to learn a new skill that they can then use to either start a business or get a job.
  • Pensions. Through advocating for cash transfers and universal pensions, HelpAge works to ensure that older people continue to have the opportunity to generate income.
  • Age inclusion in the workplace. HelpAge’s Age Inclusion Workshop helps corporations connect older and younger generations so that they can effectively bring their different experiences to the table and work to together to find common goals. 

Want to get involved? Join the conversation on Twitter using #UNIDOP. You can also recognize International Day of Older Persons with your family and friends or in your office. Check out a couple resources HelpAge has to offer:

  • Practical guidelines for helping with emergencies, health care, advocacy and more.
  • HOPE training to assist during emergencies.
  • Learn about the Humanitarian Inclusion Standards.
  • Explore the U.N. Open-Ended Working Group on Ageing.
  • Age Inclusion Workshops mentioned above. Global Impact works with HelpAge to set up these workshops and other engagement events for corporate partners. Each workshop is an hour and a half to two hours long. If there is time remaining after the presentation, it’s recommended that employers try adding 30-60 minutes onto the end of the workshop to lead a discussion with attendees. If you’d like to learn more about the Age Inclusion Workshop and schedule one for your workplace, contact [email protected].  

On International Day of Older Persons, we stand with older persons, but we can and should stand with them every single day. They are as responsible for our present as children are for our future, and for that we should show our thanks for all that they’ve done and continue to do by assuring them that they are valuable and that they will always have a place in society.