Are we moving towards an age-friendly economy in Oman?

27 Jun 2018
POSTED BY Alvin Thomas

Y’s Alvin Thomas sits down with Anne Connolly, CEO of ISAX – the Ireland Smart Ageing Exchange, during her recent speaking engagement in Muscat on behalf of Ithraa Oman to explore the impact and value of the ‘Silver Economy’.

Quick question: At what age will you choose to retire from work? There’s a consensus that any individual – man or woman – above the age of 65 should be deemed too old to work. Today, with more people hitting retirement age than ever before, companies – including those in Oman – are putting added pressure on their ageing staff to hang up their hats.

But, just like sexism – which is stereotyping on the basis of gender – existed in the 1960s (and still currently exists in some places), the concerns surrounding ageism is also growing worldwide, as per the findings of the International Smart Ageing Exchange (ISAX).

Co-operation between young and ageing generations forms the basis of what is believed to be key to the future of a sustainable economy in the coming decades. A

A feature that ISAX believes is integral to this equation is the ‘Silver Economy’, or ‘Smart Ageing Economy’. The International Silver Economy Portal describes a Smart Ageing Economy as one that’s dedicated to the elderly in society. As its name suggests, it’s not strictly a ‘market’, but rather a ‘cross-economy’.

In an exclusive interview with Y, Anne Connolly, the CEO of ISAX, explains: “People haven’t stopped to think – or rather haven’t had their thinking challenged – by new ideas. So, we’re on the cusp of beginning to think quite differently about this [Silver Ageing Economy].

“And this generation of people turning 60 today were the same people who ran the protest movements such as the civil rights movements, women’s movements, and so on,” she says.

“So the thinking would now be more challenging of ageist attitudes and behaviours. The idea behind mandatory retirement – just because you turned a certain age, you’re excluded from certain insurance products or lending products, isn’t supporting a Smart Ageing Economy,” she adds.

But in the words of the CEO, “employment is only one sector that dictates a Smart Ageing Economy”.

“You see,” she says, “life expectancy is increasing very rapidly at about two and a half years per decade (depending on countries) – and that’s a big jump.

“In Ireland, for instance, life expectancy increased by about 30 years over the last century. That’s important because those ages are being added to middle age than the older age. So, the implications of that is you would have to double the size of the over-60 [population] and quadruple to the number of above-80s in the next 30 years.

That, according to Connolly, is why it should be of interest to companies with products or services relevant to that age group – including jobs for the elderly, who will have to support themselves and their families.

The factors, however, don’t end there. Studies are being conducted – and more insights are being added as we move ahead in time. “The other part is solving the challenges that are posed by population ageing,” Connolly asserts.

“People are starting fewer families, so the proportion of the people in the working age to retirement age is shrinking. And a challenge here is to find out how we can help keep people healthy and well, prevent chronic diseases and keep them out of chronic hospitals, and enable them to live and age in their own communities.”

There are numerous challenges such as these, and the solutions pertain to having a whole new economy, inventions (some of them technology-related), preventing diseases and managing them. And that constitutes a vital part of this new economy.

“In Ireland, we set out to become leaders in this new economy. Like Oman, we have a very young population,” Connolly points out, before talking us through the early days of ISAX.

“We set out about three and a half years ago. So, we’re still very young. We’re an independent network with 32 corporate members: They’re a mixture of private sectors, multinationals like IBM, Abbott nutrition, educational institutes of technologies, etc.

“So, we’re a mix of a different types of corporate members. We have a business model that relies exclusively on them paying a corporate membership fee – and that has a significant amount of challenges on us,” she adds.

But things are definitely on track, as countries such as Canada for example has gone on to establish an Age-Well research centre, funding it with CAD 35mn (RO10.1mn) over five years, and has also pumped in CAD 129mn (RO37.3mn) into brain health and dementia.

“A country like Oman, which has a younger population, can look at it in two ways: There’s an opportunity for its own businesses and academic institutions to address healthcare challenges in the future; or look at the global economy and say that there are elements in which Oman could be a leader. Maybe not all of them, but it could look at education, tourism, or entrepreneurship,” adds Connolly.

Whether this will lead to a better living environment for the ageing population in Oman, we will have to wait and see. As they say, ‘time is the greatest teacher’. ν

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