On 23/05/2019, SILVER SMEs organised a conference on “Business opportunities linked to Active Ageing” in Tolmin, Slovenia. Gathering policy makers, researchers and economic actors, this conference aimed at identifying challenges and opportunities in the Silver Economy sector.
Klemen Širok, from the University of Primorska, Slovenia, kicked off the conference by introducing the audience to the STAR-VITAL project financed by the European Union and the Slovenian State. The aim of the project is to develop solutions for companies to adapt to older workers. Indeed, an ageing population means an ageing work force which has consequences on the employees, on the companies, and on the society as a whole. Both the physical barriers and the motivational challenge are addressed by this project to guarantee a healthy workplace for older adults.
The point of view of policy-makers
Marko Vudrag from the Slovenian National Institute of Public Health called for a change of mindset in the public healthcare system. In his opinion, healthcare should not be a business but a public service with a holistic approach. Indeed, data shows a correlation between the ageing of the population and the increasing occurrence of health problems. So not only does the national healthcare system need to tackle medical issues but also healthy lifestyles as a whole, using a multi-sectoral approach, included in the national sustainability strategy. His comments were supported by Klavdija Kobal Straus, from the Slovenian Ministry of Health. Indeed, a consequence of longevity improving while health is not is that costs of care are increasing which is also leading to a poverty problem in the older population.
Examples of innovative initiatives
Some examples of innovative initiatives were presented during the day:
- DIH.Healthday.si: a digital hub to promote innovative healthcare in the Silver Economy. A grassroots initiative which developed into a yearly programme to support and promote companies with innovative products or services.
- eHealth and eCare with Telekom Slovenije: this initiative is based on two separate concepts: on the one hand, older adults are costly for the healthcare system (every person aged 65+ falls at least once a year for instance) and on the other hand, 1 out of 3 person over 75 lives alone in Slovenia. eCare is originally a telemedicine alert system but the operators have been trained to respond also to people who simply feel lonely.
- ESF project “Turning Silver Tsunami into a Silver Lining”: the aim is to inform SMEs about the Silver Economy and the opportunity it represents, as well as to pilot new services targeting the older adults (business models, public services, etc.). An example is the Pamplemousse 50+ language and culture course proposed a tourism office in Finland for 50+ adults to go and spend a week in Bordeaux to learn French and discover the region.
- Assistive Technology Center, Dalarna, Sweden: The aim of this initiative is to introduce prevention devices into the lives of people who are not in need of care yet to avoid accidents and a sudden health deterioration. The challenge is both to work on older adults’ mentalities so that they accept support and on society’s view of older adults, so they do not neglect them.
The presentation of these innovative practices was the opportunity to discuss policies related to the Silver Economy in other countries than Slovenia. For instance, in Finland, the ageing population is seen as a driver for economic growth as the older adults’ purchasing and spending habits have evolved over the years. The Finnish model is based on the idea that developing public services will trigger older adults’ activeness through social inclusion and thus, their spending power. On the other hand, the regional authority of Noord Brabant, Netherlands, chose to invest in the regional innovation ecosystem to foster collaborations, out of which smart solutions for active ageing could be scaled up. They chose to enable the private sector to develop solutions.
In conclusion, "Business opportunities for active ageing" seemed to be interpreted by the policy-makers at the event as adaptations of the working environment to an older workforce, whereas entrepreneurs saw the business opportunities in the market represented by older adults. The challenges occurring especially in rural areas are the faster pace of ageing in these regions, as well as the digital divide which slows down the uptake of smart solutions. More global challenges facing SMEs in the active ageing sector concern the lack of long-term support for SMEs when developing medical devices and solutions. The healthcare system in Slovenia and many other countries is not a “lifestyle” system and thus does not work in an integrated and sustainable way, which would bring more social inclusiveness and cost savings on the long term. Both the training system and the healthcare funding need to be revisited to achieve this goal.