Fighting Ageism for a Sustainable Future: HPC Fellow, Isak Christensen

Isak Christensen is a Hilton Prize Coalition Fellow working with HelpAge USA. At HelpAge USA, Isak works with social media and website development, and as part of this, works on Google Analytics and Google Ads. Read on to learn about his placement as a Hilton Prize Coalition Fellow.

During my time at HelpAge USA, it has become evident that older people are stakeholders in their own and their family’s future. When we leave older people behind, especially those that need help, we fail to achieve a sustainable future. Similarly, when we leave children behind and do not provide for their safety, basic needs, nor their future, we fail to achieve a sustainable future. We exclude important stakeholders in our shared present and future when we exclude older people.

Two years ago, I worked for a Danish non-profit called The Youth Bureau that wants to engage young people more in society and democracy to make sure their voices are heard and perspectives included. In a time where young people attend protests instead of school to highlight the fact that they will deal with the environmental consequences of past and current generations’ over-consumption, including their perspectives are vital.

If we want to provide for the needs of children and give them the best possible future, we need to make sure that the grandparents and community, who care for the children and support them, are able to do exactly that. 

This summer my work has centered around older people in low- and middle-income countries, the other end of the age-spectrum. In a time where everything has to be new, adaptable and fast, we tend to pay little attention to what is not new nor adaptable.

The question we need to ask ourselves is how we can reconcile the interests of the age groups that feel excluded from the debate on where we, as a world, are going and should be going. There is generally little discussion on why young people should be included in this debate, as young people are viewed as the ones that will deal with the future’s problems. Discrimination due to age, also called ageism, is oftentimes the reason that older people are excluded from the labor market and rarely considered a stakeholder in everyone’s future. However, global population aging disproves this notion, as older people today live longer than previously.

A consequence of ageism is that we lose knowledge, wisdom and expertise which older people have acquired throughout their life-time. For example, older people in low- and middle-income countries are often caregivers for their families and play important roles in their communities, and this expertise should be passed on to their children and grandchildren for the benefit of the family and community.

My work at HelpAge USA has centered around promoting ideas like these through development work and marketing. It can be hard to get people’s attention to older people and their needs, when everything has to be the latest and most up to date.

According to the UN, in order to achieve the sustainable development goals (and thus a sustainable future), we must leave no one behind. To achieve the sustainable future we often talk about, we need to make sure we include the perspectives of older people alongside those of the younger generation. If the world’s leaders are willing to listen to a 16-year old girl’s concerns about climate change and her hopes for the future, they should also listen to an 80-year old woman’s experiences of exclusion from the health care system and her advice on sustainable development in her community.

The art is to include older and younger people’s perspectives and find the common ground – it’s a lot easier to find than we think it is.

About the Hilton Prize Coalition

The  Hilton Prize Coalition  is an independent alliance of the winners of the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize, working together to achieve collective impact. Through three signature programs—the  Fellows Program, the  Collaborative Models Program  and the  Storytelling Program—the Coalition leverages the resources, talents and expertise of each of its members to innovate and establish best practices that can be shared with the global NGO and donor communities. Working in more than 170 countries, the Coalition is governed by a board comprised of the leaders of the Prize-winning organizations led by an Executive Committee and a Secretariat,  Global Impact.

To learn more about the Hilton Prize Coalition, visit  prizecoalition.charity.org, or contact  prizecoalition@charity.org. Follow  the Hilton Prize Coalition on  Twitter and  LinkedIn, and “Like” us on Facebook.

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