Monday, October 27, 2014


South Korean elderly men fill out application forms for employment at a job fair in Seoul on October 22, 2014. Out of work and out of pocket, South Korean retirees are struggling to force their way back into an unwelcoming job market in an effort to supplement meagre or non-existent pensions. -- PHOTO: AFP 

This article from The Straits Times (26 Oct 2014) highlights the plight of retirees in South Korea, but it could just as easily be about retirees in Malaysia and Singapore. They face similar challenges, most of which boil down to the practice of ageism in today's society. Let's hope our government will do more, and quickly, to address these socio-economic issues.

Below are extracts from the article. You can read the full article in The Straits Times (26 Oct 2014).

No easy retirement in South Korea

SEOUL (AFP) - Out of work and out of pocket, South Korean retirees are struggling to force their way back into an unwelcoming job market in an effort to supplement meagre or non-existent pensions.

Kim Min Su, 69, receives a monthly pension of 590,000 won (S$714) – the sole source of income for him and his wife who live in a mini-apartment in Seoul.

“I wasn’t able to put much aside when I was working because nearly all of it went on raising and schooling my four kids,” Kim said after a morning spent scanning job vacancy notices at a Career Transition Centre for the elderly.

Kim, who used to earn more than 4 million won (S$4,840) a month as a head engineer at a manufacturing plant in Incheon, estimates he needs a minimum 2.0 million won a month for living expenses.

Recently, he was introduced to a small company which offered to take him on full-time for 1.2 million won.
“They basically said: ‘You’re old. Take it or leave it’,” he said.

Kim is better off than many, in that he has a little pension and help from his children.

Close to 50 per cent of Koreans over the age of 65 now live in “relative poverty” – meaning their monthly income is less than 50 per cent that of the average household income, according to the state data agency, Statistics Korea.

- ‘Retired’ in early 50s -

Retirement can come early in South Korea, with many companies pushing staff out in their early- or mid-50s. Most of those have no option but to look for work elsewhere, and the average effective age at which South Korean men actually leave the workforce is 71.1 years – the second highest in the OECD behind Mexico.

One 71-year-old at the Career Transition Centre in Seoul was still looking for work. “It used to be quite easy for elderly people to get simple jobs, working as gatekeepers or watchmen,” said Kim Yong-Sik. “These days, however, they won’t even look at you if you’re over 65.”

Like a large number of retirees, Kim tried to go into business for himself, using his severance lump sum of 130 million won in 1998 to open a home appliance store with his nephew.

The venture folded three years later and since then he’s got by as a low paid odd-job man. He and his wife now earn 200,000 won a month, supplemented by a 300,000 won handout from their children.

“It’s not nearly enough, but we’re lucky in that we’re both healthy and don’t have any real medical costs,” he said.

The government does provide new skills training but Kim said the courses weren’t really age appropriate. “I was given a six-month course on computer web design, which was a total waste of time, as nobody is going to hire somebody my age for that kind of work,” he said.

“A lot of people were left behind by the rapid technological development, especially in information technology,” said Lee In Su who heads the Korean Society of Welfare for the Aged.

Even those forced into retirement in their early 50s find it hard to get a second career going, and many choose to try it alone, sinking their savings and separation packages into a small grocery store or restaurant.

According to Statistics Korea, half of all self-employed, small business owners are now over the age of 50.

“About 900,000 retirees flood into the self-employment sector every year, causing cut-throat competition,” Finance Minister Choi Kyung Hwan said in September.

“The struggling owners of these businesses are one of the biggest structural problems in our economy,” Choi said, noting that many are left destitute when the business collapses.

In an effort to keep more people working for longer, legislation was passed in April that would ensure no worker – effective 2016 – would be obliged to retire before 60.

And in May, the government, employers confederation and unions signed a pact, encouraging firms to adopt a wage-peak system, that would allow workers to stay on longer but at a steadily reducing salary.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014


Thursday, October 9, 2014


This is a follow up to an earlier post on entrepreneurship for seniors. If you are seriously contemplating starting a business venture, or planning to invest in one, here are some business ideas you might want to look at. Of course, it goes without saying you have to do the market research, check out if there is a demand for your product or services, and find out what the competition is. And lots more. It pays to know what you are putting your money into.

With global ageing comes global demand for products and services that cater to the needs of an ever growing seniors market. As seniors ourselves, we know how frustrating it is to discover that something we need is not available or not easily accessible. So here's our pick of 10 business ideas that might give you the impetus to start coming up with your own ideas:

1. Health Applications

Seniors are very concerned about their health. As apps are easily downloaded and most seniors own smart phones, there is demand for good, reliable health apps that monitor our vital signs, e.g. blood pressure and heart rate, and that offer safety warnings like fall alerts. There are already many in the market, but if you add useful features to your app, you can beat the competition. There are plenty of app developers who would be happy to build your app for you at a fee. But the idea and details will have to come from you. As a senior citizen, you have that extra edge of knowing from personal experience and insight what seniors need or want.

2. Home services

 The elderly will welcome such services, especially if they live alone, and do not go out much. Home delivery services take the hassle of having to go out to shop, run errands, or see the doctor. Think home nursing care, food catering, grocery delivery, car wash, pet grooming, hairdressing, manicure, etc. There is a long list of home services that you can provide on your own, or you can start a small company and employ staff to deliver these services. Home delivery is not new, but catering to a niche market of the elderly is relatively new. There are retirement homes that outsource some of these services to individuals or companies. Think of the number of elderly residents that require, for example, personal grooming, massages, or physiotherapy.

3. Social networking for seniors

There are many lonely seniors out there - singles, widows/widowers and divorcees, who are looking to making new friends or finding a companion. Social networking sites such as Senior FriendFinder are popular, but three factors deter more seniors from using these sites. One - not all seniors are internet-savvy, two - they are not sure if the sites can be trusted with their personal particulars when they sign up, three - there is some hesitation in making friends with strangers. Trust has to be built up over time. SeniorsAloud has been approached to organize social gatherings to enable seniors to meet up and make friends. If you are already operating a restaurant or coffee house, contact us. We may consider hosting our social luncheons at your premises. If you have the resources to start an online senior friendship or dating agency, and would like SeniorsAloud to collaborate with you, give us a call.

4. Niche restaurants and cafes

This 'Grandmama's' restaurant serves all patrons regardless of age. But the name does give us some marketing ideas. If you own a restaurant or a bistro, you can attract more patrons especially seniors who are quite fussy about what they eat and drink. Offer more healthy choices on your menu - low fat, less sugar, less salt, organic, preservatives-free, non-GM, etc. Food companies, including fast food and soft drinks companies are already doing that to stay relevant in an increasingly health-conscious market. To stand out from your competitors, make your restaurant elder-friendly in terms of design, furniture and facilities.

5. Medical devices

Step into a healthcare supplies retail shop, and you will be surprised at how many assistive devices there are on the market. As the population ages, there will be a growing demand for medical and health devices that help the elderly with their activities of daily living (ADL). There are walking aids, hearing aids, customized beds, wheelchairs and many more. Think of what would help make life easier for older adults, that would be the business you may want to explore further and invest in.

6. Retail for seniors

Bet many of you know the frustration of shopping for clothes, shoes or bags and not finding something that suits your size or taste. The retail world is still very much geared towards the sartorial tastes of the young, while the middle-aged and older adults will have to make do with limited selections of apparel. Off-the-rack clothes in department stores and fashion outlets are designed for svelte young bodies, and killer stilettos are meant for young feet. Left with limited choice, we patronize shops like FLOW that cater to older women and carry bigger sizes.

7. Senior travel

Travel agencies are smart enough to realize that seniors love to travel. They have the time and the money to do so. Many travel agencies now offer tour packages that are specially designed for older travellers. Meals, accommodation and itinerary are planned to provide safety and comfort for senior travellers. If you are already managing a travel agency, this is one area you can expand to attract more customers. Build a reputation as the agency for seniors to go to when planning a vacation.

7. Mobile businesses

Another fast-growing area with the potential to generate good income for small business owners. Decide on what you want to sell, and do it from a customized van. It doesn't have to be food, although that is obviously the most viable option. Park in areas where human traffic is excellent like near office blocks or tourist attractions. Remember the Milo van at sports events during our school days? Today Milo vans are still around. They are joined by Starbucks vans and others offering fresh fruit juices. These vans are frequently seen in up-market office and residential areas. They are now so ubiquitous that The Star has done a cover feature on them. There is room for more mobile businesses if you have something better or different to offer. Think Blue Ocean strategy.

8. Lifelong learning for seniors

Many senior citizens missed out on a college education during their younger days. Now is the time for them to study and obtain the academic or professional qualifications they have always wanted. They can also choose to pick up new skills or learn new languages. Demand is high for schools or instructors that can teach seniors how to use the computer and social media. Seniors also enjoy learning for the sake of learning. They sign up for short courses in art and craft, music and baking. Gyms and dance schools attract seniors by offering special programs like Zumba for Seniors and Ballroom Dancing.

That's me taking ukulele lessons from instructor Kelly Teh at YMCA
Social media workshop organized by SeniorsAloud for members

9. Transport service for seniors

Although there is no upper age limit for driving, most seniors give up driving when they reach their 70s. But they still need to go see the doctor, or do their grocery shopping. There are mobile clinics and grocery delivery services but their routes are restricted to certain areas. Just like the mini school buses that provide transport to and from school for children, we can also have a similar transport service for seniors living in a particular neighbourhood. These mini buses should be wheelchair-friendly and have lower steps for seniors to board and get off easily.

10. Social enterprises

If making money is not the main driving force, but the passion for doing good is, then social enterprise is for you. It is a for-profit business venture. The profits are used to cover administrative and operational costs and to reinvest into the business to sustain and grow it to do even more good for the community. You should be able to find a few that will appeal to you. Or you can come up with your own. This quote from Thomas Friedman should ignite the entrepreneurial spark in you.

Without doubt the easiest and least capital intensive, and therefore the most popular business to set up for semi-retired or retired professionals is a consultancy. You can put your wealth of working experience and expertise to good use by providing consultancy services to companies or organizations that require such services. But know that competition is stiff and you have to really stand out to stay ahead of your competitors.

Thursday, October 2, 2014


Just when I thought International Day of Older Persons would pass quietly and unobserved this year, I received an invitation from Ong Thiam Hiong for SeniorsAloud team to join the residents of Taman Megah Fasa 2 (TMF2) in celebrating the special day. Ong (as he prefers to be called), 67, is chairman of the TMF2 residents committee that organized the event.

The minute Kim and I arrived at the padang (field), I immediately felt this was one neighbourhood where I wouldn't mind spending my retirement years. It is easy to see why most of the house owners here are long-time residents.

The padang is the heart of KRT Taman Megah Fasa 2

When we arrived at 7.45am, the entire area was a hive of activity. There was a group of early risers doing tai-chi near the playground, and nearby was another group practising what looked like waitankung. All along the perimeter of the field were others busy brisk walking. I spotted an elderly man cycling, and a woman walking her dogs. Practically everyone was in sports or exercise outfit. The residents here obviously take their health seriously.

We are all too familiar with stories about poorly managed housing areas where security is lacking, facilities are either rundown or non-existent, and neighbours don't know one another. TMF2 is an inspiring example of how a housing area or taman should be managed. Not only is TMF2 clean and litter-free, security is commendable. Security guards man the two entrances, while surveillance cameras keep track of what's going on in the field and the surrounding areas. Not all residents are security subscribers. Those that are, pay between RM70 to RM90 as monthly security fees.

Early birds at the registration table. Everyone gets a 'door' gift of a packet of tikuanyin tea.
What struck me most was the camaraderie among the residents who attended the breakfast get-together. Everyone knew each other, if not by name, at least by recognition. The spirit of cooperation was also very strong as evident by the number of dishes the residents brought for the pot-luck breakfast, and also by the number of volunteers who stayed back after the event to clean up the place.

The guys were only too happy to help lay out the food.

Among the invited guests who addressed the residents were popular MP for Petaling Jaya Utara, Tony Pua, Selangor state assemblywoman for Damansara Utama Yeo Bee Yin, and yours truly, founder of SeniorsAloud.

MP Tony Pua says 'a few words' while TMF2 chairman Ong (right) looks on.
Some of the elderly residents and their domestic helpers. The event was an opportunity for them to meet up with their friends for a chat.
Plenty of food to feed hungry early risers at the breakfast spread, all cooked or prepared by the ladies of TMF2. Kim and Siew Lim from our SeniorsAloud team brought sandwiches and cakes. Thanks, ladies!
Good food tastes even better in good company.
MP Tony Pua and Selangor ADUN Yeo Bee Yin giving out t-shirts to the residents.
Residents aged 70 and above each received a bag of health food products donated by sponsors.
Fun time - chairman Ong (right) who was also the emcee explaining the rules of the game 'Charade'
'Can you guess who/what I am?' Attractive prizes for all who participated.
The men were more interested in discussing politics. 
A good turnout of residents to celebrate International Day of Older Persons 2014.
Post-event teamwork. While the ladies cleared the rubbish, the men cleared the heavier items, including this tent.
SeniorsAloud team members with MP Tony Pua, and ADUN Yeo Bee Yin

Chairman Ong and his committee deserve a round of applause for organizing this breakfast gathering to celebrate International Day of Older Persons. Everyone had a great time. One resident told me that Ong's committee was very hardworking and the best they had. His group of friends nodded in support. They hoped the present committee would continue serving as it was doing such an excellent job in maintaining security and good neighbourliness in Taman Megah Fasa 2.

I know from past experience how challenging it is to keep residents happy and satisfied, so I too take my hat off to Ong and his committee. KRT Taman Megah Fasa 2 has certainly set standards for other neighbourhood residents committees to emulate.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014


Source: Human Rights Commission, New Zealand

As we observe United Nations' 24th International Day of the Older Persons with carnivals, exhibitions, talks and workshops, let us not forget the plight and rights of millions of the elderly who are living in poverty, who are struggling with poor health, and who are victims of abuse and discrimination.

Singapore is officially celebrating this special day for the first time with a month-long program of activities to engage senior citizens. Click on the links to find out what the government has drawn up for senior citizens in October.

More details at National Council of Social Service FB page.

For more info and to register for the free workshops and talks, visit Council for Third Age portal.

How is your country marking this day? What will you be doing today?