The CEO of The Project Futurus explains how she is rebranding age
You’ll often find Queenie Man as her alter ego, Captain Softmeal, a superhero clad in green with a white wig, whose goal is to promote better-quality food for people with swallowing difficulties. This is just one of the creative ways that Man and her social enterprise, The Project Futurus, are shifting perceptions of and policy around ageing.
Here, in her own words, she explains how her organisation is taking on ageism and elderly care in Hong Kong.
The Project Futurus promotes the future of ageing across three pillars. First, we promote what we call ageing innovation: age-friendly policies. Then, there is “dignity dining”, which are cooking workshops for caregivers. The last area is community service. We launched “sensory restaurant on wheels”, where we bring dim sum into elderly homes and centres.
My colleagues and I recreate a nostalgic look and feel by purchasing old props and playing old songs so the [residents], many of whom have dementia, feel like they’re in a restaurant. I created Captain Softmeal because nobody talks about dysphagia, or swallowing difficulties, a cause of elderly malnutrition. Why are we giving patients puree or porridge when we have many ways to make texture-modified foods that are appealing and nutritious?
When we talk about ageing in Hong Kong, [we have to consider] policy, mindset, society and carer. It’s not about rejecting ageing, but embracing it. I’ve faced ageism too: in addition to my role at The Project Futurus, I also [run] elderly homes. I always hear, “You’re too young to be managing an elderly home. Do you know what you’re doing?” I don’t think age matters. What [matters] is your vision, your commitment, the purpose of the work you do.
Caring for older parents is very rooted in Chinese culture. In previous decades, parents would expect kids to take care of them, support them financially, and maybe cohabit. But the older population has changed: they’re more educated, sophisticated and looking for more in their lives. My mom is 68, but she’s still working. She has had the same job for over 25 years and manages more than 100 people. She also does Latin dancing. Society still takes a traditional approach, but there’s this huge segment of people between 65 and 85 who are highly productive and educated, and their needs are entirely different.
I studied marketing and information systems in the US, and when I graduated, I came back to Hong Kong. I worked in brand consulting for nine years, but around 2017, I felt I could do more with my skills and my experience, and add value to industries that lacked branding and marketing. A friend introduced me to elderly care and services. I decided it needed a bit of magic and storytelling because no one can avoid ageing, but you can talk about it in a way that people connect with.
I started thinking about how to make ageing not only sexy, but relevant. We set up The Project Futurus to inspire change and reimagine the future of ageing. Elderly care in Hong Kong is different to in the west. Here, it’s operator-driven, [not based on] an elder’s needs. My mission is to drive change by deinstitutionalising age care and focusing on the users’ needs. It’s the way forward.