After a year of excellent submissions, papers, presentations to experts and decision makers in Parliament and much shortlisting from experts in the International Affairs field – we are very pleased to announce the winner of our 2015-2016 Future25 Foreign Policy writing competition as Abigail Watson, for her paper on why DfID must harness the power of the elderly in the developing world.
Abigail will now be joining the Future Foreign Policy team to help with our focus on International Development, we will be presenting her paper to decision makers and experts, and will be asking for additional submissions around the topic from experts in the field. If you are interested in writing on this topic please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will get back to you as soon as possible.
DFID Must Harness the Power of the Elderly
The Department for International Development (DFID) should better address the needs of old people in the developing world by, first, training DFID staff and partners so that they understand the unique problems the elderly face and the contributions they offer and, second, ensuring all of DFID’s projects account for these needs and contributions.
Old people in the developing world, while not homogeneous, can be both incredibly vulnerable and incredibly useful.
The ageing process is ‘a change in which the physical, nervous and mental capacities of the human body gradually break down’. Without easy access to things that mitigate the effects of this process – such as glasses and hearing aids – those over 60 can be very vulnerable.
However, these same individuals can also be a unique resource. Many remain economically active or undertake crucial domestic roles and can act as community leaders or preservers of social identity. In times of crisis they can offer advice with a wealth of accumulated experience and knowledge.
Unfortunately, at present their needs remain unmet and their capabilities under-explored.
They are also a growing group, people aged over 60, who currently make up slightly more than 11 per cent of the global population, will by 2050 account for 22 per cent and number two billion; 80 per cent of them will live in the developing world.
Therefore, if we continue to not meet their needs and not harness their abilities their growing numbers could turn into a global problem.
These considerations have not made it onto DFID’s mainstream agenda. DFID’s most recent annual report – once again – did not mention the elderly, while children were mentioned almost 200 times. Similarly, while DFID has created a Disability Framework to ensure this, often neglected, group’s needs are properly dealt with – it has not done the same for the elderly.
As the international development branch of the British government, DFID must drive change in this area and ensure the elderly are brought into mainstream international development planning and implementation.
To do this, DFID must, first, educate the 2,700 DFID staff so that an understanding of the unique needs and capabilities of the elderly permeates all DFID does. The expertise to achieve this already exists in organisations such as HelpAge International.
These organisations have been working with the elderly – and researching best practice – for their entire existence and represent a ready-made resource for DFID and its partners to draw upon for training and developing age-friendly programmes.
A prime example is the Guidelines for Best Practice developed by UNHCR and HelpAge International in 2000. This resource is invaluable but research shows that less than half of NGOs operating in the developing world know it exists.
Second, DFID must ensure the programmes it funds are sensitive to the issues surrounding the elderly. This does not mean programmes need to be exclusively aimed at the elderly but that all DFID’s programmes have considered their individual needs and capabilities in the planning and implementation.
To illustrate, take distribution of food and medical supplies in Yemen. When planning this, the organisation should have considered, how the elderly’s inability to wait stood up for long periods of time will be accounted for and how their specialist dietary needs, which entail micronutrients, protein and food that is easy to digest, will be addressed.
Similarly, with every project it must ask: have the elderly’s contributions been fully explored? For example, when designing a ‘child friendly’ space they should consider the role of grandparents or when developing microfinance programmes, like the one in Pakistan, they should not assume the elderly can no longer work.
Demonstrating these considerations should be made a condition for funding to ensure that all DFID affiliated projects are age-sensitive.
Through this approach the needs of old people in the developing world will be brought into the mainstream. This will not only benefit the old themselves but also their communities, which they will be better equipped to contribute to, and DFID’s programmes, who will benefit from a newly acquired resource that could save work and money.