Every country in the world faces different challenges due to ageing populations.
Digital upskilling is key to ensure that seniors are not left behind.
Thailand faces a labour shortage if society fails to help older people cross the digital divide.
Every country in the world must contend with challenges related to greater numbers of older people than ever before, according to the United Nations. Thailand is experiencing one of the most rapid rates of population ageing in the world and must therefore consider how best to protect its own economic future.
In Chiang Mai’s Saraphi district, hundreds of older people live alone. One of them is Kunyasa Chaikularb. Two decades ago, she moved to Thailand’s second largest city to start her social work career at a foundation that improved the lives of children orphaned due to HIV and AIDS. Later she received funding to help people with physical disabilities and senior citizens.
She explains: “I started to support seniors who were on their own after I witnessed these problems myself. Many older people spend their final years working at longan plantations, earning a daily wage of 6 USD.”
Social worker: Kunyasa Chaikularb, who is based in Chiang Mai, has aided orphaned children, people with physical disabilities and senior citizens.
“Some older people struggle to make ends meet, living in small cottages without access to electricity, tap water or the necessities of life. It’s very depressing to see…”
“…The online world opens up new possibilities for them.”
Kunyasa Chaikularb, digital entrepreneur and business owner
A beautiful country, but with demographic challenges
Over the past decade, Thailand has experienced a dramatic change in its demographic make-up. The proportion of the population aged 60 or older currently accounts for around 20 percent. Fast forward to 2031, and Thailand is predicted to be a “super-aged” society, meaning 28 percent of the population will be 60 or older. Of the approximately 13 million over-60-year-olds in Thailand, one-third live alone or with partners of a similar age. Without adequate social safety nets, their living standards could be adversely impacted as they grow older, which poses social and economic challenges to the country – challenges that could be resolved, in part, by educating older people in digital technology.
“If we don’t ensure seniors are digitally savvy, they will struggle to access healthcare, banking, and government services. We also predict that they will need digital skills to develop additional income streams,” says Sharad Mehrotra, Chief Executive Officer of dtac, which is part of the Telenor Group.
Demographic change: Populous Thailand has been predicted to become a "super-aged" society by 2031.
A recent report from The World Bank shows that Thailand’s labour market faces challenges on several fronts, an ageing population being just one of them. Women’s participation in the labour force remains 20 percentage points lower than that of men, a gap that has persisted for two decades and could worsen if women are called on to care for older family members.
These factors could contribute to a dramatic shift in the country between now and 2060, potentially leading to a reduction of 14.4 million people in Thailand’s overall labour force. This is the third largest predicted decline in the East Asia and Pacific region.
While the challenges faced by the nation are great, so too is dtac’s belief that digitalisation can help prevent older people from being left behind and left out – and Ms. Kunyasa is one person benefitting from dtac’s activities.
New skills: Ms. Kunyasa has made a living knitting and selling handmade bags, a skill she learned from YouTube.
Digital inclusion is key to helping older people participate in the labour market.
Ms. Kunyasa, 59, lives by herself in a rented room with her three dogs. After leaving her social work career, she earned a living knitting and selling handmade bags, a skill that she inherited from her mother.
“I watched YouTube videos to see how people did it and what tools were required. I received good feedback from bag wholesalers and friends. I sold them at night markets, and was producing at full capacity,” she says.
Boasting unique styles, her handmade bags were neat and of high quality – and provided her with enough income to support herself. But as most of her customers were tourists, when the country was hit by the pandemic, her income gradually dropped to the point where she couldn’t sell a single bag. That was when she started using digital technology to tap into new business opportunities.
“One day I noticed the dtac Net for Living ad on Facebook, and I registered for the programme right away. I wanted to see if I could make a living from selling online,” she says.
The purpose of this programme is to help reduce the digital divide for small-scale entrepreneurs/vulnerable groups of different ages and backgrounds. The second season, which is ongoing in 2022, targets entrepreneurs aged 50 and above.
Ms. Kunyasa was trained in online channels, social media marketing strategies, and storytelling through the dtac initiative. When bag sales dropped, she switched to selling plants online, as she spotted their growing popularity. She now uses connectivity to grow income streams for herself, earning on average 450 USD per month.
Entrepreneur: After the pandemic crippled the tourism industry, Kunyasa Chaikularb began selling plants online.
An example for other countries
The pace of ageing among populations is much faster than in the past, according to the World Health Organization. All countries face major challenges if they fail to ensure that their health and social systems can handle this demographic shift. Digital upskilling for older people is one part of the solution to ensure that Thailand’s seniors can access social services as well as earn a livelihood.
“The online world opens up new possibilities for older people,” adds Ms. Kunyasa.
“It gives us smiles and a way to build new income streams. It’s also a means to access important government services, such as the co-payment scheme, which is critical for those who live alone. Thanks to this, we are not left behind. Digital technologies and connectivity can really improve our quality of life.”
Inclusion: Digital upskilling is a way to open up the world for older people.
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