"In China, through IESC’s partnership with AARP, our senior experts can apply their deep knowledge and technical expertise in a fast-paced and challenging environment while acquiring valuable new cultural and commercial skills, and this program can also provide a fresh sense of personal and professional worth."

Every day, in the headlines, we read about topics that highlight the differences between the United States and China. Topics include military activities in the South China Sea, US support for democracy demonstrators in Hong Kong, trade conflicts, and disagreements about environmental issues. However, there is one area of vital concern to the global economic equilibrium, in which there are enormous opportunities for the two countries to collaborate at both the political and social level. That is the need to change the way we think about the challenges of aging populations in the East and West. Together, AARP and the nonprofit International Executive Service Corps (IESC)  are working to create new opportunities for older people to become more active and more engaged in society, some of which are bringing people in China and the United States closer together.

For China, the problem is simple, but the solution is complicated. By the year 2030, China will have the world’s largest aged society. Demographers estimate that by the year 2050, the Chinese population over the age of 65 could reach 330 million people and represent up to 30 percent of the total population. This is more than the entire current population of the United States. An aging population has the potential to result in a smaller and proportionately less productive labor force. If not addressed through a range of policies and activities, such a trend could create a drag on both productivity and competitiveness for the Chinese economy, resulting in greater strains on the entire social safety net, particularly medical costs.

China is not alone in facing the challenges of an aging society, but, unlike the West, which has had decades to adjust, the aging bubble in China must be addressed much more quickly through a range of programs and policies. This is where AARP and IESC have the chance to support a new model for China and simultaneously create opportunities for our own older adults to apply their expertise and knowledge in the global arena.

In November 2013, one week after Chinese President Xi Jinping told an international forum that improving social welfare in China was the government’s number one priority, AARP and IESC signed a partnership agreement with the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security to provide senior technical and management experts as volunteers and consultants to Chinese enterprises.

In the United States, top-level senior executives always have opportunities after they retire that will keep them productively occupied, but, at the levels just below, there is less awareness of opportunities to apply skills and knowledge in a global context. This is where the AARP-IESC partnership is so important. There are 76 million baby boomers in the United States who are starting to retire. A vast majority of 50to 75-year-olds look upon retirement as a time to stay active and begin a new chapter in their lives. These are talented individuals, with experience that goes beyond a formal education, who want to find meaningful work after reaching retirement age in order to keep healthy and to contribute something important.

For 50 years IESC has been setting an example of what can be done by sending senior business executives and experts to developing countries whose entrepreneurs and businesses need American managerial and technical expertise. The results have been impressive: more than 25,000 volunteer missions to more than 130 countries, which has led to the creation or preservation of 1.5 million jobs. Even more impressive has been the lasting intangible impact of these missions. In China, through IESC’s partnership with AARP, our senior experts can apply their deep knowledge and technical expertise in a fast-paced and challenging environment while acquiring valuable new cultural and commercial skills, and this program can also provide a fresh sense of personal and professional worth. These experts are an asset not only to Chinese companies, but also to our two societies. As a career diplomat, I have seen the value of soft diplomacy. Many of these senior experts stay in touch with the companies and organizations they have assisted and continue to help—the relationship often goes beyond the initial mission scope.

Our experts not only enhance the communities in which they work by increasing jobs and living standards, they also fill in gaps in the labor market, and they generate friendly trading partners for the United States. As a nation we are just beginning to appreciate and value the important contributions these exceptional people make. These senior experts are fantastic ambassadors for the United States. This is helpful particularly in areas of the world where the reputation of our country is not so positive, and especially in a country and economy as important as China.

AARP, IESC, and our senior American experts can serve a second—but no less critical—role. We can help redefine the concepts of aging in the twenty-first century, leading by example. Through their vigor and work ethic, these experts serve as change agents and advocates for the aging in China, highlighting the fact that engaging older adults in the economic and social activities of modern living generates significant benefits for the individual and society as a whole. I am proud of this effort and look forward to doing our part, one expert at a time. 

about the author

Tom Miller is president and CEO of International Executive Service Corps, a nonprofit that furnishes expertise to the developing world to train in best business practices. Ambassador Miller sits on the National Policy Advisory Board of AARP and is the chair of the Board of the International Commission on Missing Persons. He served as U.S. ambassador to Greece and Bosnia-Herzegovina, and as special coordinator for the Cyprus negotiations during his 29-year diplomatic career.



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