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Population Ageing: Are Diverse Workforces The Answer?

In 2018, approximately 20% of Japan’s population was over 70 years old. By 2025, Indonesia will have an elderly population of approximately 33.7 million. In Singapore, the past decade has seen the ratio of elderly to younger citizens grow to 2:1. In China, the number of people over the age of 65 is expected to almost double within ten years –  by which time, the Asia Pacific region as a whole is predicted to have become home to roughly two-thirds of the world’s total aged population.

While much has (rightly) been made of the commercial advent of younger generations like Gen Z, ageing populations are similarly poised to have a profound impact throughout Asia Pacific. The ramifications of the demographic shift are manifold – from transformations in healthcare to new challenges for the FMCG sector – but the biggest relate to concerns of reduced productivity. With a sharp increase in retirees, businesses and economies may struggle to maintain output and growth.

A case study conducted by the World Bank identifies four key investment areas to counterbalance the projected loss of productivity associated with an ageing workforce: education, technology, wealth, and labour market. With a strategic investment in each of the flagged sectors, an economy can cultivate a more productive workforce. While most of the World Bank’s advice relates to government infrastructure, it also highlights an opportunity for brands – especially in Asia Pacific.

Asia Pacific brands have a distinct advantage in offsetting the lost productivity of ageing populations. They’re better positioned to cultivate more diverse workplaces. For example, according to the World Bank, only 47% of women worldwide are active within the labour market as of 2018. (By contrast, male participation registers at 74%.) However, in Asia Pacific markets like Singapore, Indonesia and Japan, the participation rate for women is consistently higher than the global average.    

The business benefits of an inclusive workplace are well-documented. Research has previously found that companies in the top quartile for diversity are 35 percent more likely to see above-average financial returns. Our recent study Chief Diversity Officers Today offers further confirmation; finding a lack of diversity may be costing affected US businesses up to 6.7 billion dollars a month. With a documented advantage, cultivating inclusive workplaces (not just in terms of gender but race, disability, faith and sexuality) may allow Asia Pacific brands to not only drive greater business success – but better weather the anticipated disruption of ageing populations throughout the region.

Watch Closely – The Olympic Technology Boom

The impact of any Olympic event often stretches much further than many would anticipate. 1992’s Barcelona Games, for example, were responsible for the hiring of approximately 88% of the city’s unemployed population at the time. The infrastructure developed for the 2012 London Games, meanwhile, is estimated to have brought an additional 9 billion pounds sterling of new investment to the British economy.

However, another significant legacy of the Olympic Games is technological advancement. Sitting at a nexus of elite athletic competition, global broadcasting and communications, city infrastructure, political negotiation, and cultural transformation, Olympic events almost always develop into showcases of technological innovation as much as athletic performance. And, as with all things related to the Olympic Games, the impact can be significant.

Much of what is understood about modern sports broadcasting was developed around the aforementioned Barcelona Games and refined for streaming around the London Games. The 2000 Sydney Olympics were responsible for establishing Australia’s first large-scale urban water recycling scheme – it still saves the city over 850 million litres of water per year, nearly twenty years later. More recently, both Vancouver and PyeongChang Games have been praised for their innovations.

This means that the impending Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games will be of particular interest to brands and communicators, regardless of their proximity or connection to the event. Japan are is specifically striving to make Tokyo’s Olympics the “most innovative in history”. Furthermore, with both sustainability and equality identified as key priorities for Tokyo 2020, the broader applications and ramifications of the next Olympic technology boom will be substantial.

With major innovations in VR, facial recognition, mobility, and sustainability to be unveiled, any business likely to be impacted by or capable of leveraging these technologies should watch the next twelve months with interest. And, with additional initiatives around recycling (e.g. gold medals from reprocessed electronics) and accessibility (e.g. robots programmed to assist wheelchair users), professionals and brands from all different sectors may benefit from tuning into next year’s Games.

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