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Philanthropy for the aged

The region's ageing population and eldercare issues demand more attention from philanthropists.

AGEING has not traditionally been a popular cause for philanthropists in Southeast Asia. However, the issue is becoming more difficult to ignore, particularly in Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia, which will face an increasingly ageing population in the next few decades.

By 2050, the population above 60 years old will rise to 2.1 billion globally from 900 million in 2015. In Singapore, one in four Singaporeans will be aged 65 years and above by 2030, double the level today. That said, the relative lack of action on the eldercare front provides opportunities for philanthropists to make a difference in this sector.

A report titled Silver threads amongst the gold: Philanthropy and ageing in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore showed six themes that were present in Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia. These are active ageing, financial security, mental wellbeing, dementia, long-term care, and end of life.

The independent report by research firm Just Cause was commissioned by Credit Suisse to investigate ageing and eldercare needs. The report, which was released at the Credit Suisse Philanthropists Forum in Singapore yesterday, provides insights on how philanthropists can use their wealth to maximise social impact in the healthcare-eldercare space.

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While governments are increasingly aware of the issues, they have struggled to prioritise attention and resources for this area given the many competing demands on their limited budgets, the report said. Meanwhile, there are very few donors and non-profit organisations explicitly focusing on the issue.

"Some of the (report's) data remind us of the formidable tidal demographic change that will sweep over us in the next three decades," said Francesco De Ferrari, head of private banking Asia-Pacific and CEO South-east Asia and Frontier Markets, Credit Suisse, in his welcome speech at the forum.

"Therefore ageing will pose major funding challenges, bringing the need for private funding to a new level as government-funded old age programmes will not be sufficient; at the same time, it will drive the private sector to come up with innovative and most cost effective health care that is more accessible to a larger population," he added.

Against this backdrop, the need for private philanthropy in health care has become more urgent. In Malaysia, ageing is an emerging issue that has recently started to attract serious attention, as there are significant unmet needs that are forecast to become even more pressing as the population increasingly ages.

"At present there are very few private donors with an explicit focus on this area. There are also relatively few non-profit organisations - and those that do exist all struggle to attract significant funds to enable research, innovation, and the ability to impact lives at scale," the report said.

In Singapore, meanwhile, ageing has increasingly moved up the agenda over the past decade, and has been championed by several high-profile philanthropic foundations such as the Lien Foundation and the Tsao Foundation. It is also starting to gain attention from other private donors.

Relative to Malaysia and Indonesia, there are many well-established and professional non-profit organisations in the sector.

And there are opportunities for donors that include supporting government-funded nonprofit programmes to boost their quality, seed-funding new and innovative initiatives, and commissioning research, the report said.

In his keynote speech at the forum, Minister for Health Gan Kim Yong said that the spirit of philanthropy in Singapore's health care is most evident in the intermediate and long-term care sector that is largely run by voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs).

"Driven by passion and the desire to do good, VWOs in the sector have played a crucial role in rehabilitating patients after discharge from hospital, caring for frail seniors in the community, championing the needs of those with specific medical conditions and providing complementary medical treatments such as traditional Chinese medicine," he said.

Mr Gan noted that there is a healthy level of philanthropy in the healthcare sector in Singapore today. In 2015, donations amounted to S$334 million in the healthcare sector, he said.