Switzerland is an ageing society, which confronts us with some future challenges but also opportunities. The current Covid-19 crisis demonstrates a solidarity between generations that must continue even after this pandemic is over. We spoke with Dr. Antonia Jann, Managing Director of the Age Foundation, about future challenges of the ageing society and the role of entrepreneurs.
- Switzerland’s population is aging thanks to a high level of prosperity, an excellent healthcare system and technological and medical progress. At the same time, the birth rate has stabilised at a low level. What challenges do you see in this so-called “ageing society”?
As the number of older people increases and the number of younger people decreases, we must fundamentally consider how we as a society can cope with this situation. I do not believe that solutions and systems that were developed at a time when the demographic situation looked quite different will continue to exist in the future. We must see how everyone who has sufficient physical, mental and financial resources can contribute something to society in order to support those who have fewer physical, mental and financial resources. The question of age is not the central issue for me, because ‘the age’ does not exist anyway.
- You are the managing director of the Age Foundation, where you are intensely involved with the topics of living and aging. Where do you see specific challenges in this area that will challenge us in the coming years?
I think we have to successfully build sustainable systems in the living environment that enable people to participate in society. In other words, systems in which people who still have resources can get involved for the benefit of those whose strength is slowly diminishing. Older people certainly want to remain active members of society.
- It can be observed that more and more young entrepreneurs are tackling pressing social challenges – such as the ageing society. What role do you think entrepreneurship plays in meeting these challenges?
Many good and innovative ideas come from companies. The problem is that many older people do not have a lot of resources at their disposal. So, the market alone will not be able to meet the social challenges. But it is certainly helpful if new products and services help older people to remain as well integrated as possible and to remain in their familiar living environment for as long as possible. New products can also support the professionals who work with older people and make their work easier.
- For your part, could you imagine cooperating with or supporting such entrepreneurial projects?
As a funding foundation, private companies are not in our focus. However, it is quite possible that we might support promising developments with a contribution. In this case, it is important that a clear need is covered, that a competent business plan is developed. But as I said, the promotion of ideas that come from private companies is rather marginal in our case.
- Where do you personally see the greatest potential for innovative and entrepreneurial approaches in the field of ageing society?
Products that support security and communication are certainly helpful. Also, products that respond to changing physical situations, such as glasses and hearing aids, mobility aids or assistive devices. There is certainly a large market for products and services relating to health and prevention. Initiatives that support the commitment of older people in their living environment could also be interesting. Traditional voluntary work must be further developed together with existing partners. Finally, there is also potential in the consumer goods market to meet the needs of older people without stigmatising them as a marginalised group. The cosmetics market has not done so badly, but the fashion market is even less differentiated.
- Are you aware of innovations from other countries that would also have the potential in Switzerland to address current challenges?
In Japan, another society with a high proportion of older people, the industry has adapted better to this target group. It’s certainly good to be inspired there, but I don’t think that ideas can simply be transferred. After all, cultural and socio-political backgrounds usually play an important role in the market launch. One small example is “Sugamo Maruji”, a senior citizens’ department store in Tokyo, where red underwear is currently the big seller. If Calida wants to sell red underwear to senior citizens in Switzerland, a great deal of communication effort would be required.
A final word: Having ideas is important. But it is even more important to grasp what people’s real needs are and find an answer to them. And simply looking for a solution for ‘the old’ would probably not be enough. Biographies, financial means and physical conditions are too different for that.
About Dr. Antonia Jann
Dr. Antonia Jann is managing director of the Age Foundation, which deals intensively with the topic of living and aging. Selecting, accompanying and monitoring individual projects is as much a part of her work as systematising knowledge, analysing the market and professional discourse at home and abroad.
More information can be found at www.age-stiftung.ch