Tag Archives: Sachi Shah

Why Society Needs More Older Social Entrepreneurs for Culture Change

Social entrepreneurship – or business solutions to social issues – has evolved to be the big billion dollar idea over the last three decades. And it is here to stay. Both the developed as well as the developing world, public and philanthropic sectors are pushing for impact investing, and market-based solutions to the most pressing social and environmental challenges.

Photo Credit: Bill Bentley
                                                                                       Photo Credit: Bill Bentley

While this sector is currently a big draw for younger populations, it also holds immense potential for older adults. The number of older persons (aged 60 years or over) is expected to more than double from 841 million people in 2013 to more than 2 billion in 2050. Yet, this market remains virtually untapped by most social businesses. Additionally, there are very few seniors involved in building start-up companies that will change the world.

An interesting study by the Stanford Social Innovation Review explains why society requires older social entrepreneurs, especially those catering to senior needs. One reason is the fact that majority of social enterprises tend to rely on finding “solutions” to eradicate problems. Whereas any social enterprise providing for older people needs to be oriented towards improving how care is delivered. And who better to improve senior care than older adults themselves?

There are also a number of other reasons why social enterprises and start-ups are rarely inclusive of the ageing population. This includes:

  • False Perception of Need: There is a perception that older adults – given their many years in the workforce – do not need the services of social enterprises. However, a large number of older adults are indeed vulnerable to environmental and social shocks and stresses and require innovative social services to deal with these issues.
  • Disconnect from User: Older adults tend to be co-opted into the general adult population, when in fact, they are a market in themselves because of their diverse needs and habits.
  • Misunderstood Breadth of Population: While there are fewer older adults than younger people in absolute numbers – especially in the developing world where most social businesses work – the ageing population is still a huge untapped market ripe for exponential growth and profit.
  • Rhetoric and Access Barriers:  As social businesses employ and tend to cater to younger populations, the language of these companies often exclude older adults. Buzzwords such as “Gen X” paint the picture that social enterprises are for young people only. Additionally, social venture incubators and training programs are often hosted at universities, giving the impression that these programs are exclusively for students and young people.
  • Technology Misconceptions: Social solutions are increasingly taking the form of apps and e-commerce. While younger populations are more adept and likely to use technology, if designed well, keeping in considerations older adults’ physical and access constraints, elders who are taught to use tech can operate  it just as well as their younger counterparts.

While there is no obvious discrimination against older entrepreneurs, the social impact space can be made more conducive for senior innovators. There is a slowly emerging stream of data that is sighting why the world’s ageing population needs to be a part of this revolution, and a small but steady group of programs that work with older people to help them ensure success as older entrepreneurs.

Older adults, despite the current barrier to access, have the potential to revolutionize how society perceives work among the aging and senior care through entrepreneurship.

Sachi Shah is an Economic and Development Professional currently working with a foundation in New York City, USA.


How Climate Change Affects the Health of Older Adults

Photo Credit: Thomas8047
Photo Credit: Thomas8047

Climate change and its consequences are an impending reality, ones that have both socio-emotional and physical effects on older adults. Our lives, livelihoods and health are intrinsically tied to that of the planet, so it is crucial to look at how we can improve resilience to climate change, especially in vulnerable populations like the elderly. Not all older people are the same as they react differently to the effects of climate change. However, there are a few trends that have been sighted to have a disproportional effect on older adults. These include:

Heatwaves: Heatwaves are one of the more direct consequences of global warming affecting senior citizens. More so than other populations, heatwaves can lead to severe heat strokes and dehydration in the elderly. This in turn can exacerbate existing medical conditions.

Air Pollution: We have all heard of or witnessed smog, the smoky, unseasonal fog that sets over cities and is caused by pollutants from industrial waste and fuel-guzzling vehicles. Smog comprises of several harmful chemicals that can damage lung tissue, reduce lung capacity and inflame airways. As the climate warms up, these chemicals mutate and their effects are exacerbated. This change in air quality can be a hard adjustment for older citizens especially those who grew up in a different climate. Additionally, older adults with existing heart and lung disease are particularly susceptible. Climate change is also causing a flux in pollen season, which is leading to increased and more severe allergens in the air.

Social Isolation: Seniors who live on their own do not always have access to help in emergency situations. Therefore, during weather emergencies, they are often stuck without access to basic services or a way out.

Climate Refugees: Natural disasters can lead to severe disruption and uncertainty in many people’s lives. These people may flee to other countries because their homes and livelihoods have been destroyed. Living in refugee camps without access to basic sanitation, clean water, medication and food, or the ability to pursue an income generating activity is especially hard on older adults. These types of events take a severe mental and physical toll on younger as well as older people.

New Diseases: It is a fact that as people get older, their immune system are not as strong as they used to be. Older adults are therefore more susceptible and less likely to make a full recovery from the newer and more dangerous forms of animal, air and water borne diseases due to climate change. Ebola and Zika Virus are just a couple of such infections that are currently plaguing societies, and have a disproportionate effect on vulnerable populations like the elderly.

Climate change is the reality of our time as it affects everyone. In any crisis, those who are at-risk because of poverty and health issues are most likely to be affected. Therefore, it is important that older adults recognize the effects and implications of climate change. Being conscious of one’s environmental footprint, building a community around oneself to turn to during emergencies, and taking small precautions like weatherproofing a person’s house or having an emergency evacuation plan mapped out to deal with weather irregularities can go a long way in safeguarding older adults from climate change.

Aging populations that lack the ability to take these precautions, such as those in poverty and especially in developing countries, should take on the challenge of teaching younger generations to recognize the effects of climate change and respect the planet. Younger generations in turn can seek more sustainable alternatives to natural resources, and pressure local governing bodies to create emergency plans for not just natural disasters but also more long-term climate change disasters such as droughts. This will ensure resilience for the overall community including the elderly.

Sachi Shah is an economics and development professional currently working with a foundation in New York City, USA.

Microneedles: A New Innovation in Medical Care for the Elderly

Photo Credit: Peter DeMuth, Wellcome Images
Photo Credit: Peter DeMuth, Wellcome Images


Rita Barrock is an 84-year-old Alzheimer’s patient. She lives in a nursing home, where she has to be under constant supervision. One of the daily challenges that the nurses who care for her face, is getting her to take her medication. As an Alzheimer’s patient, Barrock is not always compliant with her medication – she often forgets why she needs to take the several multicolored pills that she is given three times a day and throws a fuss that is both disruptive to the home as well as detrimental to her own well-being. [1]

One in three senior citizens in the USA dies with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. In sub-Saharan Africa, the current population of older adults is 46 million and is estimated to reach 157 million by 2050. A number of these people have HIV and yet another portion contract a whole host of other diseases on a regular basis. By 2050, India’s aging population is set to be 323 million, 45 percent of whom will carry the entire country’s disease burden, the most prevalent of which is diabetes. There are currently 197 million elderly living in poverty, 40 percent of whom live alone.

Anyone who has spent time with grandparents or other elderly folk have been privy at some point or another to their daily intake of medication. However, research proves that for a number of different reasons, older populations tend to be less regimented than younger ones when it comes to swallowing the pill. In a study of 34,501 coronary heart disease patients aged 65 or older, for example, only 26 percent continued to use their medication five years into their regimen.

Common reasons for abandoning the intake of medication include the number of pills prescribed and the stigma of taking oral or injectable medication. Apart from not wanting to take medication, and medical conditions that prevent older folk from making coherent decisions regarding their health; poverty, lack of access to medication and inadequate health literacy – for instance, the inability to correctly inject oneself with insulin – also deter seniors from following their medical routine.

With so many barriers, it is time to rethink the way people ingest medication. Some progress being made in this field includes extended-release tablets that minimize the daily dosage one needs to take. Over the last few years, there has been another technology that has the potential to revolutionize the way people medicate. Microneedle technology is a new drug delivery system that relies on a transdermal release of medication. Imagine a small patch of biodegradable polymeric protein or silicone with several microscopic needles embedded in it. The needles are coated with medication and are applied in the same way one would apply a nicotine patch. Their small size makes them a minimally invasive, easily applicable, pain-free way to medicate, that is also devoid of the stigma of the pill.

Microneedles are still in the testing stages. They are currently being developed for use in insulin for diabetes, quantum dots for cancer, TB testing, gene delivery and several immunizations, including HIV, tetanus, polio, and influenza (plasmid DNA). In addition, it is primarily universities such as Georgia Tech, UNC-Chapel Hill, MIT, and some international institutes such as the Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur and Tokai University of Japan, that are developing this technology, with a view to disseminating more effective vaccines in developing countries. There are, however, a handful of private enterprises investing in the technology for mass production such as California-based TheraJect.

Medical technology is a dynamic field that has the potential to significantly change the quality of life for older adults. This population should be recognized as a vital market for technologies like microneedles.

[1] This particular story is fictional. It is based on the experiences of older adults in nursing homes.

Sachi Shah is a recent graduate with a degree in International Development and Economics from Sarah Lawrence College, New York.

Is Gogo the New Mama? How HIV/AIDS and globalization are increasing the role of older caregivers

Precious, a woman who looks well beyond her sixty-six years of age, sits in her yard in rural Zimbabwe watching over her three grandchildren, ages four, six and seven. “Gogo, gogo!” the youngest one beckons his grandmother, as he chases after his older siblings who are in search of guava fruits. Precious’ son, Michael, left for South Africa for work shortly after he married Mary, a girl from the same village. Michael contracted HIV in South Africa and transmitted it to Mary during one of his visits back home. While Michael was able to access antiretroviral drugs and continues to generate a small livelihood – a portion of which he sends from South Africa to Zimbabwe every few months – Mary died from AIDS shortly after the birth of her third child. Michael and Mary’s three children are now under the full-time care of Precious. [1]

Photo Credit: Blue Skyz Studios
Photo Credit: Blue Skyz Studios

Precious’ story is similar to those of many other grandmothers in Sub-Saharan Africa. The fact that Zimbabwe, Malawi, Kenya and other parts of the region are suffering from an Orphan Crisis is a topic of much debate internationally. The new systems of care that transnational economic structures are creating, and the pressing problem of HIV/ AIDS, continues to garner growing attention. For example, 2007 saw the first United Nations-led Global Summit on Grandparents and Kinship Caregivers. Sub-Saharan Africa currently has 17.9 million orphans, a large number of whom are being brought up by elderly grandparents.

A study conducted among the Luo ethnic group in Kenya demonstrates that older caregivers face severe strain while taking on parental roles in the lives of their grandchildren. For instance, grandmothers have noted going hungry on a regular basis to help feed the 1-9 orphans they care for. Many cannot sleep through the night as they have to nurse young infants. There is also the perpetually looming stress of being unable to provide financially for the children. This is especially hard when the children are HIV positive and require medical attention.

Another study in rural Uganda shows that caring for young children creates both physical and mental stressors, negatively impacting older caregivers’ health. The inability to participate in a livelihood livelihood generating activity causes grandparents to borrow from other households, which stigmatizes them in the societies they live in. In addition, children in the care of elderly are more likely to be victims of abuse as the elderly are often unable to protect them from these negative influences. All these factors culminate in weight loss, poor health and depression among the aging.

The preferred method of care for orphans in Sub-Saharan Africa is community-based as opposed to institutional. Keeping the child in a familial environment, and the village or tribe they come from, is key. While this method is certainly ideal, given the strain it places on the bulk of caregivers – grandmothers – there needs to be stronger social nets, such as feeding programs and free education, in place to help both caregivers and orphans live relatively successful lives. While certain NGOs provide stipends for food and education to such families, they do not have nearly enough capacity to address the issue of caregiver strain at the pace at which it is growing. It is important, thus, to consider the larger picture and understand how globalization and national policy can mitigate rather than exacerbate the issues that older caregivers face.

[1] This particular story is fictional. It is based on the lives of many women living in the rural Zimbabwe.

Sachi Shah is a recent graduate with a degree in International Development and Economics from Sarah Lawrence College, New York. She currently works as a grassroots campaign organizer, and is actively seeking opportunities in the international public health sector.