Five organizations in Canada, Colombia, Kenya, India and the UK set up HelpAge International in 1983 to provide a strong network to support older people worldwide.

Early days

The idea for a global network of older people's organizations arose from a consultancy commissioned by Sir Lesley Kirkley, Chair of Help the Aged's Overseas Committee, in 1980.

"It was the time of the Ethiopia and Somalia wars," says Chris Beer, who carried out the consultancy and who later became HelpAge International's Chief Executive Officer.

"It became clear that older refugees were not being looked after by other agencies. The idea was to become a lobby for older people and develop programmes such as eyecare and community care."


Steady growth

In November 1983, five organizations - Help the Aged (now Age UK), HelpAge IndiaHelpAge KenyaHelp the Aged Canada and Pro-Vida Colombia - came together to form the HelpAge International network.

The idea of a global network quickly took hold. In 1988, Mark Gorman, now HelpAge International's Director of Strategic Development, took on the task of developing the network.

"I was very interested in helping to expand the group of organizations, which then numbered about 20," he says. "We produced publications, provided fundraising and skills training. People valued the idea of being part of a global movement."

Global influence

The HelpAge International network has since grown steadily in size and influence. We now have 80 affiliates and we work with more than 180 other partners in over 70 countries across the world.

In the 1980s, aging was not on the development agenda. The 1982 United Nations (UN) Vienna International Plan of Action on aging did not focus on the developing world.

Now there is growing awareness of aging issues, particularly in countries going through rapid demographic transition in Europe, China and India.

We have formal relations with some of the most influential agencies in the sector, including consultancy status with the UN and World Health Organization.

Key achievements

1993 HelpAge Kenya carried out the first participatory research with older people, to make sure that their experience was properly understood.

1999 HelpAge International published guidelines on how to respond to older people in emergencies, based on research and experience.

2002 HelpAge International arranged consultations with older people in 32 countries. These helped to shape the   UN Madrid International Plan of Action on Aging - a marked improvement on the Vienna Plan, committing governments to include aging in all social and economic development policies. HelpAge also arranged for 60 older people and their representatives to speak at the World NGO Forum on aging.

2002 Our partner organizations in five countries launched the first older citizens' monitoring projects, in which groups of older people learned about their entitlement to social pensions and healthcare and lobbied the authorities for better access.

2007 Older people's organizations in 27 countries took part in Age Demands Action, the first global coordinated campaign in which older people presented their issues to governments. The campaign continues to grow, with organizations in 40 countries taking part in 2009.

2010 UN General Assembly set up the UN Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) on Aging.

2012  HelpAge International wins Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize