Initiatives on how to age well set up by seniors, for seniors

Initiatives on how to age well set up by seniors, for seniors

SINGAPORE - They have names like Silver Horizon, Silver Spring, Reverse and Renewzz. Instead of condominiums or spas, however, these are initiatives on how to age well and live actively, set up by senior citizens for senior citizens.

At least five such initiatives have sprung up in the past seven years. They aim to help the silver generation live more fulfilled lives, from attending courses and joining tailored travel programmes to finding jobs.

Some businesses are registered with The Social Enterprise Association, an umbrella organisation. Others are cooperatives owned jointly by members who share the profits.

They are often started by seniors who want to help others like themselves, who feel lost after retirement or cannot find a job because of their age.

Retiree Helen Lim set up a travel co-op called Silver Horizon Travel in February last year with a group of 18 retirees. It organises programmes for those aged 40 and above.

Ms Lim, 66, the group's chairman, says: "Many of us travel overseas for holidays and we felt we needed an itinerary that was more age-friendly - that is less packed and with more toilet breaks."

So far, the cooperative, which has almost 200 members, has taken groups of 20 to 30 on seven tours to countries such as Switzerland and Japan.

It hopes to provide a platform for seniors to bond and create new friendships and interests, "which is important as we age", says Ms Lim. As part of its social mission, it also conducts charity tours for seniors who have not had the chance to travel. It took a group of elderly who live in one-room rental flats to Malacca in May.

Since 2009, Ms Lim, who has worked as a human resource professional for almost 40 years, has also been running a recruitment agency, Silver Spring, for seniors, registered with the Social Enterprise Association. The mother of one owns the Chatters cafe at Ren Ci Hospital, which employs only people aged 50 and above.

Sociologist Paulin Straughan from the National University of Singapore says the by-seniors-for-seniors trend is "to be expected with a more educated older population, who are less likely to move into a passive third age".

She says: "Older Singaporeans who are more endowed with, for instance, education, work and social experience, are in much better positions to lead initiatives that promote active ageing and self-help efforts."

Ms Amy Chua, 74, started AME (Age Management & Enrichment) College in 2007 to conduct courses for those aged 45 and above who may be feeling as lost as she did after retirement. She had retired in 2003, after working for 30 years as a television scriptwriter and librarian.

"I didn't want to retire, but I had to because I had reached retirement age."

The mother of three and grandmother of seven, who lives with her retired lecturer husband, 73, in a four-room HDB flat, felt she had lost her purpose in life.

"There was nothing to look forward to."

She hopes that by attending the courses she runs on things like personal image and public speaking as well as fashion shows using recycled materials at her college, seniors can build up their confidence so that they can return to work or remain active in society, and not just "stay at home and do nothing".

She has had more than 500 students since the school started.

The going is not always easy for these retirees-turned-social entrepreneurs. The main challenge for them is to strike a balance between making money and doing good, says Silver Horizon and Silver Spring's Ms Lim.

Unlike Silver Horizon, which has been making a small margin of profit since its inception, Silver Spring was running at a loss in the first two years and only started to break even in recent months, she says.

The company's main source of revenue comes from the placement fee - roughly a month of the employee's salary - from employers after a candidate has been placed. So far, Silver Spring has placed about 40 candidates - up from only about eight in 2011, to about 20 in the last three months.

Ms Lim says employers only became more receptive towards hiring older workers in recent months, due to the implementation of various measures including stricter rules on the issuing of employment passes and the introduction of incentives under government initiatives such as WorkPro.

She now has about 20 employers asking her for employees every month, compared to only a couple a month in 2009. Mr Geoffrey Kung, 68, who founded the cooperative called Reverse (Re-Employ Valuable Experienced Retirees to Serve Elders) in 2010 with 20 other retirees to help seniors find jobs, also had initial problems striking a balance between making money and doing good.

The co-op, which now has about 60 shareholders, started a catering business which provides subsidised meals to a nursing home. When the two-year contract with the nursing home ended, it started a restaurant last year that offers free meals to those aged 65 and above.

But the business suffered a loss and had to be sold two months ago. Although it was disappointing, Mr Kung, a former IT professional who was retrenched at 55, and his shareholders did not abandon their initiative.

He says: "One of the good things about being old is that we have been through the ups and downs in life. We accept setbacks as just part of life."

He and his team are already thinking of other projects, including starting an incubator for start-up companies which can tap on the expertise of its members.

And while getting bank loans may be tougher for older applicants, Mr Kung does not think funding will be a problem as the service, as opposed to manufacturing businesses, requires minimal start-up capital.

From the seniors' point of view, having a fulfilling job or being able to stay occupied in meaningful ways could also mean staving off problems such as social isolation and depression.

Ms Lim says that in her coaching session with potential employees, she was shocked to meet men in their 50s breaking down in front of her because they had difficulties finding a job and their children were not talking to them or their wives wanted to break up with them."

She says: "It made me realise that the consequences of being jobless for older people can be serious."

One grateful beneficiary of these businesses is Sally Chng, 69, who left her job as an accountant with an electronics company in 2006 because "there was a need to give way to younger people". Since 2010, she has been working at Chatters, helping with the book-keeping and administrative work.

Ms Chng, who is single, says: "I wouldn't have been able to find another full or even a part-time job in a commercial company at my age otherwise. I like to work, not so much for the money, but because it keeps me occupied."

Who's doing what

AME (Age Management & Enrichment) College

Founded in 2007 by Amy Chua, 74, it runs courses on personal image, public speaking, catwalking as well as dress-making using recycled materials, for seniors aged 45 and above at community clubs.



Tel: 9107-7138

Ageless Online

A free online magazine, started in 2009 by freelance writer Eleanor Yap, 44, for those aged 50 and above. Besides inspiring stories about seniors, Ms Yap and two other volunteer writers also provide news on health, finance and caregiving.




Founded in 2010 by Ms Helen Ko, an expert on ageing who is in her late 40s, and her psychiatrist husband, Dr Ko Soo Meng, BeyondAge runs training programmes including those which help employers work more effectively with older staff.


Renewzz Solutions

Founded by Mr Patrick Oh, 50, a project director at a voluntary welfare organisation and two other professionals in their 50s, this social enterprise plans to start an online job portal where jobless people aged 40 and above can put up their resumes and companies can place advertisements for job vacancies.

Website: (to be ready in December)

Reverse Cooperative

Founded in 2010 by former IT professional Geoffrey Kung, 68, this hopes to run ventures to offer work to jobless seniors aged 50 and above.



Tel: 9010-0398

Silver Horizon Travel

Set up by a group of seniors last year, this offers customised travels, ranging from about $200 to more than $2000 per trip, for those aged 40 and above to various countries. It will be holding a charity trip to Malacca on Nov 1.



Tel: 8237-7584

Silver Spring

Set up in 2009 by former human resource professional Helen Lim, 66, this is a recruitment agency for the retrenched, retirees, homemakers and former caregivers aged 40 and above.



Tel: 9621-7880

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