At last year’s ‘Summer Davos’, the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting of the New Champions in Dalian, China, I was fortunate to facilitate a workshop on the demographics of ageing populations for a discussion on the future of North East Asia.
This is not a topic with which I can claim any expertise and I very much enjoyed the opportunity to use my facilitation skills to learn and share with others. The discussion we had focused on a range of themes. There was the marked observation that changing values within Asian society was contributing to a lack of care for the very elderly, in a culture that has traditionally taken older people into the family home to look after them. We also discussed the position of women and how increasing freedoms for them had meant that fewer women were marrying and producing children or, if they did, at later stages in their lives. The one-child policy in China had also had an impact and the failure of the Japanese government to adequately prepare for changing demographics at the right time were all taking their toll.
Alongside the discussion on changing demographics, two parallel discussions occurred, one on the economic situation and the other on education. Additionally, there was discussion on increasing youth unemployment, disengagement with political processes from the younger generation and a need for retirees to be actively engaged in continued learning beyond retirement.
In the plenary discussion that followed, several participants noted that there was an opportunity to see these challenges in a different light. For example, the empowerment of women was obviously a good thing and, as such, we needed to reframe our way of looking at the problem by seeing new potential opportunities emerging.
I stepped out of my facilitator role to share a personal insight. As a young entrepreneur, I had benefitted greatly from having a mentor who was coming up to retirement, a veteran of social enterprise, currently working on his 7th charitable initiative. The wisdom, gravitas and experience that he offered complemented beautifully my youthful enthusiasm, creativity and boundless energy, creating a mutually-beneficial relationship
that added value to both of our lives. It was especially interesting for me to observe his attitude to retirement. He saw that these years were an opportunity to continue to contribute his skills and experience, a potential income source for him and a way that he could carry on his legacy for future generations, providing both economic AND social returns.
This idea of legacy has fascinated me. Too often we are encouraged solely to shore up our financial future by investing in pensions, houses and the stock market. Whilst it is wisdom to take precautions for this time, to me, it would be ideal if we could focus instead on the more intangible, but infinitely more rewarding question of what it is we truly wish to leave behind in this world. To think less about leaving a will, and more about creating a legacy. To me, this is necessary to think about at any age and stage of life.
I wonder if, therefore, as part of the practical solutions needed to deal with the changing demographics, we designed programmes and projects that linked the younger generation with the older one, creating mentoring programmes and corporate initiatives that seek to enable a partnering across generations for building a better world?
This year, I am launching my new initiative, Scheherazade, which aims to grow the Hua
Dan Model of theatre-based projects for social change into other emerging markets. We are seeking to staff our organisation with members of the ‘silver generation’, providing them with an opportunity to contribute to a meaningful, creative project and enable us to benefit from the wisdom, skills and experience of someone who has already had a successful career.
If you know of interested individuals, or have experience or knowledge of similar projects, please do leave us your comments. Not only are we interested in finding people to work with us but we’re also keen to spark a debate on how to rethink the challenges and opportunities of meeting changing demographics in our society.
Wishing you all the best in the ongoing success of your own ‘legacy creation’ in 2014!