Summary: Information / Discussion
International co-operation and development between generations
||18 July 2002, 18:00-19:30
Moderator(s):|| • Ms. Astrid Stuckelberger, Geneva International Network on Ageing (GINA)|
Presenters/ Participants:|| • Ms. Danielle Bridel, NGO Committee on Ageing|
• Ms. Elly Pradervand, Women's World Summit Foundation (WWSF)
• Dr. Alfredo Sfeir-Younis, Special Representative to the UN and WTO, World Bank
• Mr. M. Kelleen McIntyre, Scripps College
• Dr. Kumi Naidoo, Secretary-General, World Alliance for Citizen Participation (CIVICUS)
• Mr. Gonsar Rinpoché, Tibetan Buddhist Master
• Mr. Jonah Wittkamper, Youth Employment Summit
||Sarah Krasker (ICVolunteers)
||youth, elderly, inter-generational dialogue,
cooperation and respect
This session talked about the need for mutual inter-generational respect, understanding and cooperation, and about some of the issues facing society (particularly in the developed world) today. The focus was on the role that the different generations have to play if these issues are to be dealt with successfully.
The chair, Ms. Astrid Stuckelberger, introduced the session by pointing out that this was the only one at the World Civil Society Forum dealing exclusively with inter-generational issues. She then went on to introduce the first speaker, the Tibetan Buddhist Master Mr. Gonsar Rinpoché. He offered a brief outline of the principle beliefs of Buddhism, namely the idea that all beings share a desire for peace, which can be defined as a state of co-existence of beings linked by inner harmony and mutual trust. He pointed out the importance of education in achieving this state, and the need to benefit from the wisdom and experience of previous generations.
The second speaker, Mr. Alfredo Sfeir-Younis from the World Bank, started by stating his belief in the need to establish a new, essentially humanistic, inter-generational paradigm to deal with some of the issues facing the world today (such as globalization). He talked about the changing shape of the population profile -what used to be a pyramid (the base made up of younger and the tip of older people) is now better described as two wheels joined by an axle. Much of his speech was concerned with pointing out the impossibility of disconnecting these two wheels -either one on its own would just go round in circles, getting nowhere. To demonstrate his point, he talked of the different ways that elderly people in many countries -particularly in the developed world- are becoming increasingly disconnected from the social security system. They are unable to benefit from assets that they themselves played a large part in creating; at the same time, the younger generation is expected to be increasingly productive in order to maintain the social security system at even minimal levels.
One of the proposals that Mr. Sfeir-Younis made was a re-definition of "productivity" that goes beyond material productivity, and a need to re-think the position of productivity as a basis for social security systems. He suggested a need to focus on roles and functions, rather than ages. Other proposals he made included the development of an organization like UNICEF for the protection and promotion of the third generation, and the creation of a Ministry of the Elderly in all countries. As he pointed out, there should not be any global institution in the world without representation of every generation. He concluded by stating that the meeting should not end here, but that panel members and delegates should continue working to change the inter-generational paradigm.
The third speaker, Ms. Danielle Bridel, started with a brief anecdote of her own experience growing up in a multi-generational family. She talked of shared values and mutual commitment to one another, and went on to talk about how this kind of inter-generational support is the exception in today's society. Ms. Bridel then went on to report on the NGO Forum on Ageing which took place earlier this year in Madrid. It concluded with a formal recognition of the need to respect the views and contribution of the elderly, given the wealth of knowledge and experience they can offer (particular mention was made of the important role played by the elderly in bringing up their grandchildren). However, while a commitment was made to promote and strengthen inter-generational solidarity and understanding, to review policy, and to develop initiatives, little in the way of a concrete action plan was developed. Ms. Bridel also mentioned the social security system, agreeing that as it stands in many countries it is not viable, and pointing out that a solution would require sacrifices from everyone; the possibility of early retirement from the older generation, and delayed entry into the workplace from the younger generation.
The next two speakers, Mr. Jonah Wittkamper and Ms. M. Kelleen Mcintyre, jointly represented the Youth Forum, which had taken place the previous week. They stressed the need to value the contribution of all groups that make up society, recognizing that both inexperience and experience have something to offer. They suggested that one area in which the potential of the younger generation could be tapped is that of information technology. They also talked of some of the ways in which young people could be formally involved in important issues, as for example in National Youth Councils.
The last speaker, Dr. Kumi Naidoo from CIVICUS, started by saying that in many cases the strongest inter-generational bonds are found in the poorest countries, and went on to talk about the way materialism and consumerism have changed our values. He talked about the need for new paradigms -new ways of approaching and doing things. For example, he pointed out that the language we use to talk about certain groups of people is intrinsically negative. When we describe a group as 'beneficiaries' or 'recipients' we are focusing only on one side of the potential relationship they have with society, and ignoring the positive aspects. He also talked about the dangers of favouring dialogue over action, saying that both are necessary to make things happen. This led him to explore the idea of lowering the voting age, thus ensuring that the younger generation can do more than just engage in dialogue about important issues. He raised the question of how power is created and exercised, and who has the power to make a difference. He suggested that these are points which need to be addressed, and that changes perhaps need to be made in the way we deal with them.
A particularly interesting point raised by one of the delegates concerned the classification of countries as "rich" and "poor" based solely on material wealth. The delegate wondered if we could not redefine "wealth" to include things like the richness and diversity of the environment, and the support offered by strong inter-generational links and relationships. Dr. Naidoo responded by agreeing to an extent, but by pointing out that we should not underestimate the violence of poverty. He remarked that it is difficult to value so-called human wealth when you do not have access to basic things like food, clean water and shelter. He stressed the fact that poverty erodes human dignity.
Another delegate talked about the lack of respect of the younger generation for their elders (citing her own experience as an indigenous woman from Guatemala). She said that nowadays young people value technology (TV, computers, etc.) more than the experience of the older generation. Ms. McIntyre responded by asking the audience to consider who it is that is pushing these new values onto the younger generation -who is selling them the new technology?
The general conclusion of the session was that there is a need for a revolution of values in order to achieve the state of mutual inter-generational respect, understanding and cooperation that is necessary if we are to continue to be a functional society. The tone of the session was inspirational rather than practical. However, Mr. Sfeir-Younis did suggest that it was a beginning rather than an end in itself with his comment that the meeting should not end here.
Presenters' Documents Available
18.29_bridel_danielle.doc (28 K)
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