Empowering older people worldwide: my vision for change at HelpAge International


This blog has been penned by Cherian Mathews, on his appointment as CEO of HelpAge International on 6 September 2023. It was first published on his LinkedIn account

Photo description: Older women in Kibera, Nairobi, Kenya showing their commitment to calling out bias, smashing stereotypes, and breaking inequality on Women’s Day 2022.

When I joined HelpAge Internatonal in 2017, my first community visit was to meet with older men and women in Kibera in Nairobi, Kenya where one of the HelpAge global network members, Kenyan Aged people Require Information, Knowledge & Advancement (KARIKA) runs a day care centre facility and promotes mutual support groups for older people.

While I was in conversation with the group, Mr Elijah Mwega, the organisation’s leader introduced me to a woman in her early 70’s, who was in a wheelchair. She smiled at me and proudly welcomed me to their collective. Elijah told me that the woman has been at the centre since 5am to welcome the ‘HelpAge visitors.’ He further added that this woman lives alone, is an active member of the older people’s association and leads many activities in their centre.

I was really moved and touched by her warmth and inspired by her firm commitment, agency and confidence. But I also thought about the dire situation in which she lived and the many challenges that she had to deal with. This will continue to guide me as I take on the role of CEO with HelpAge International.

Since that first trip to Kenya and in the course of my career with HelpAge, I have developed so much admiration for the way our partners and network members – from Vietnam to Venezuela – mobilise older people to find creative solutions to their problems, challenge age discrimination and influence local authorities and governments to develop age inclusive policies and programmes.

The world is witnessing irreversible demographic shifts, and we need urgent action if we are to ensure that everyone can age well and with dignity. The figures speak for themselves. 1.4 billion people will be aged 60 or over by 2030. By 2050 one fifth of the world’s population will be over the age of 60. And out of this, 80% of those older people will live in lower- and middle-income countries.

If we want to build a fair and just society – where no one is isolated, neglected, discriminated, or abused, regardless of their age – we must adopt policies and programmes that promote and protect the rights of older people.

We should not look at older people with charity but with respect for the rights that they hold. Older people are diverse. They contribute to and celebrate life in different ways, and we all need to acknowledge and support their voice.

As I embark on my new role, the beaming smiles and resolution of the older people I meet give me the confidence to want to build and inspire a movement for change that works together to improve the wellbeing, dignity, and voices of older people. Our priority will not only be to fight for the rights of the older people of today but also for future generations.

I want to see HelpAge working with network members to reach out to various people’s movements – youth movements, women’s movements, climate, and other justice movements – to build a just society for all. Together, we can find intergenerational solutions that meet the challenges we confront in an ageing world.

As CEO of HelpAge, I will be committed to supporting local actors and working with them to build solidarity with a global voice on ageing issues. I will do this through convening various stakeholders, amplifying our thought leadership on ageing issues, and holding governments accountable to fulfil the rights of older people.

At HelpAge we know that we are not able to achieve our mission alone. The global network adds strength to the work we do every day, and we are excited to embrace diverse approaches and hold hands with network members in this journey. Will you join me and my team in building a society where we can together age well with dignity?