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Building An Enabling Environment For Successful Ageing

Susana Harding discusses how the Tsao Foundation works with the government to empower elders.

Building an Enabling Environment for Successful Ageing


Our founder, Mrs Tsao Ng Yu Shun, established the Tsao Foundation in 1993 to empower our elders and help them enjoy the opportunities for maximising personal growth, well-being and sense of fulfilment that longevity offers. In the early 1990s, Singapore was a very different place and concepts such as successful ageing and ageing in place were unheard of. In those days, the idea of home and community-based care for elders was new and the demographic concept of an ageing population was a relatively low-key subject.


Mrs Tsao had a very clear vision for the Tsao Foundation — of elders being supported and taken care of in their own homes by their families and loved ones, so that they can feel secure, surrounded by their families and continue to be in control of their lives. This is also the vision of her granddaughter, Dr Mary Ann Tsao, who translated and operationalised the vision by developing pioneering models of community-based health and social programmes as well as services to enable ageing in place and successful ageing; to empower mature adults to master their own ageing journey over the life course in terms of self-care and self-practice; and to access the right services at the right time.


State and Civil Society on the Same Page on Ageing

By early 2000s, the landscape in Singapore had changed as it became a highly developed society. However, the issue of an ageing population was still a low-key subject and most of the community support for our elders was provided by voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs). There was also low awareness of the differential impact of ageing between men and women. It was against this backdrop that Dr Tsao, then President of the Foundation brought me into her team to lead in the advocacy work on two issues: first, women and ageing, and second, the participation of older people in community affairs.


In 2002, the United Nations (UN) General Assembly met in Spain and more than 160 UN member states debated and adopted the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing (MIPAA). Being sent to Madrid to witness this momentous event and to meet renowned leaders and experts in the field of ageing, was an excellent way to immerse myself in this sector and to start a career that has been both empowering and challenging to say the least.


Most of the time, the Singapore government takes a cautious and prudent approach to signing and adopting international conventions and agreements. This, we understand is because it wishes to take its international commitments seriously and will only sign on to them if it is confident that it will benefit the Singaporean population and that it can implement commitments, policies and programmes effectively.


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