Our history

Five organisations in Canada, Colombia, Kenya, India and the UK set up HelpAge International in 1983 to provide a strong network to support older people worldwide.

Early days

The idea for a global network of older people’s organisations arose from a consultancy commissioned by Sir Lesley Kirkley, Chair of Help the Aged’s Overseas Committee, in 1980.

“It was the time of the Ethiopia and Somalia wars,” says Chris Beer, who carried out the consultancy and who later became HelpAge International’s Chief Executive Officer.

“It became clear that older refugees were not being looked after by other agencies. The idea was to become a lobby for older people and develop programmes such as eyecare and community care.”

Steady growth

In November 1983, five organisations – Help the Aged (now Age UK), HelpAge IndiaHelpAge KenyaHelp the Aged Canada and Pro-Vida Colombia – came together to form the HelpAge International network.

The idea of a global network quickly took hold. In 1988, Mark Gorman, now HelpAge International’s Strategic Development Adviser, took on the task of developing the network.

“I was very interested in helping to expand the group of organisations, which then numbered about 20,” he says. “We produced publications, provided fundraising and skills training. People valued the idea of being part of a global movement.”

Global influence

The HelpAge International network has since grown steadily in size and influence. We now have over 170 network members and many more partners in more than 90 countries across the world.

In the 1980s, ageing was not on the development agenda. The 1982 United Nations Vienna International Plan of Action on Ageing did not focus on the developing world.

Now there is growing awareness of ageing issues, particularly in countries going through rapid demographic transition in Europe, China and India.

We have formal relations with some of the most influential agencies in the sector, including consultancy status with the UN and World Health Organization.

"Before, we were denied seats and had to sit on the floor. Now people will applaud when we walk in and say ‘the senior citizens have arrived’."

Member of an older citizens group in Tanzania

Key achievements

1993 HelpAge Kenya carried out the first participatory research with older people, to make sure that their experience was properly understood.

1999 HelpAge International published guidelines on how to respond to older people in emergencies, based on research and experience.

2002 HelpAge International arranged consultations with older people in 32 countries. These helped to shape the UN Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing – a marked improvement on the Vienna Plan, committing governments to include ageing in all social and economic development policies. HelpAge also arranged for 60 older people and their representatives to speak at the World NGO Forum on Ageing.

2002 Our partner organisations in five countries launched the first older citizens’ monitoring projects, in which groups of older people learnt about their entitlement to social pensions and healthcare and lobbied the authorities for better access.

2007 Older people’s organisations in 27 countries took part in Age Demands Action, the first global coordinated campaign in which older people presented their issues to governments. The campaign continues to grow, with organisations in 59 countries taking part in 2011.

2012 HelpAge International received the prestigious 2012 Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize. The award is the world’s largest humanitarian prize, and is presented each year to an organisation that has delivered extraordinary work to alleviate human suffering.

2012 HelpAge International supported the establishment of Age International, a charitable subsidiary of Age UK, part of the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) and a member of the HelpAge global network.

2014 HelpAge International establishes its programme in Ukraine. Older volunteers mobilised by HelpAge provide care, stability and support in their communities. 

2020 – 2021 HelpAge International mounts a global programme and advocacy response to COVID-19. The COVID-19 pandemic exposed how widespread and deeply rooted ageism is in our societies. We saw older people stereotyped as unable to make decisions for themselves, and age limits put on who could access healthcare. HelpAge has continued to advocate for vaccine equity and speak out against the appalling levels of healthcare discrimination brought to light by COVID-19.

2022 HelpAge International mounts its largest ever emergency response in Ukraine and its neighbouring countries, reaching over 70,000 people in the year.