Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?
Germany’s society is becoming older. In 2030, almost 30 percent of Germany’s inhabitants, for example, will be 65 and above. At the same time, the effective retirement age remains unchanged at around 60 years; many retire even earlier or become unemployed at the age of 50 or 55 due to the widespread practice of first letting elder employees go when cost cuts are needed. At the same time, life expectancy continues to increase beyond 80. This means that more and more Germans end their regular employment career by entering into a 20-year-long phase of life – often called the Third Age – when they are still healthy, motivated, active and creative. This demographic shift and the emergence of the Third Age happens in very similar ways in all OECD countries.
The Third Age poses two challenges, a financial one and one concerned with inclusion. First, many individuals retiring today have not worked in constant employment structures long enough to accumulate sufficient savings for retirement, a trend that will become stronger with new generations for whom various job changes are the norm rather than the exception. State-funded pension schemes cannot compensate this due to squeezed budgets and the decreasing birth rates, so the risk for poverty in old age has risen significantly. Second, Germany (and many other OECD countries) has failed to harness the huge potential of this now-prominent age group in terms of (re-)including them in the labor market and in terms of civic engagement. Those beyond 50 are confronted with numerous stereotypes about being inflexible, uncreative and lacking innovative ideas. This not only stigmatizes those trying to find another job in later life. For many, doors to a continued corporate career stay closed and despite the known lack of skilled employees, there has been very little substantial movement in the corporate sector to change this situation throughout the past years.
Several dimensions of this age discrimination affect also, if not especially, entrepreneurial activity in this age group, which is – against the background described above – one of the key mechanisms to set free their economic and engagement potential. Those beyond 50 are often actively discouraged from starting businesses and other organizations by their own families, and startup consultancy services (both private and publicly funded) do not understand the specific needs and situation of this age group to offer methods accordingly. Commercial banks are unwilling to approve start-up financing for those in retirement age.
As a consequence, a culture of entrepreneurship is missing throughout most of this age group and entrepreneurial careers after the age of 50 stay a rare exception. However, there is immense potential for these people to find economic stability through self-employment and/or contribute to society by creating a specific (social) product or service. This kind of entrepreneurial creativity could also lead to a movement that effectively reduces age discrimination.
Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!
With his non-profit organization “Gründer50Plus” (“Founder50Plus”) Ralf Sange builds the field for founders and entrepreneurs age 50 and above in Germany. He supports the growing number of men and women in their second half of life that are keen to start their own businesses, either due to a lack of job opportunities and financial difficulties or because they have a long-standing business idea that they would like to bring to fruition in order to make a contribution to society.
An experienced entrepreneur himself, Ralf has built the first start-up network in Germany to specialize on the needs of these older founders. He and his passionate expert coaches – who all are over 50 themselves – empower older entrepreneurs to utilize their vast life experience in the creation of new companies and organizations and prepare them for typical instances of age discrimination, such as discriminatory lending policies by commercial banks. By focusing his advice and mentorship on the older entrepreneurs’ biographies, their acquired competencies and their age-specific needs - such as special risk assessments and group formats with peers - he has managed to transform startup consulting methods into tools for including and enabling a previously overlooked part of society.
Ralf combines his age-sensitive consulting methods, the franchise-like network of advisors he is building and national and EU-wide communication and advocacy strategies into a comprehensive package to break the silence on age discrimination, to unleash the (social) entrepreneurial power of the Third Age and to change the perception of what “active aging” can mean.