A Short Take on Longevity

Longevity. It’s not just this month’s cover story, it is the watchword of Taiwan’s government, the individuals who call Taiwan home – and even your septuagenarian Chamber. At over 80 years, the average lifespan in Taiwan compares well globally. Thanks to improving environmental practices, a model comprehensive health service, good genes, and an innovative medtech sector, we expect Taiwanese lifespans to keep climbing while improving in quality, too. Fountain of Youth, out; Healthy Aging, in!

There may be no more monumental recent push to protect life than what we have witnessed across Taiwan’s society in nearly squeezing the COVID genie back into the bottle it sprung from in May 2021. (As I type, CNN reports that Taiwan logged its first day with zero domestic infections detected in months). This week’s rollout of a homegrown vaccine is another public health win for Taiwan.

Of course, long and healthy lives do not stem from official policies alone but from millions of individual decisions made daily and hourly. Taiwanese have their share of challenges and bad habits – sugary drinks or an overreliance on antibiotics, for example – but their fondness for YouBike public bicycles may improve fitness, as will their decision to use lower-risk tobacco products or cease smoking. Thank goodness that this island’s beautiful outdoors is an endless call to exercise. There’s a Taiwanese proverb that describes four secrets to long life: eat half, walk double, laugh triple, and love without measure. (Actually, the proverb is said to be Tibetan, but let’s borrow it).

AmCham members and staff are also promoting health awareness. The August edition of TOPICS educated readers on healthcare issues, while on August 27, 300 participants took part in a region-spanning webinar on nutrition, exercise, and healthy living jointly delivered by AmCham and Herbalife Taiwan. On September 8, we learn about net-zero solutions from the CEO of the National Wildlife Federation, Colin O’Mara, and our NextGen cohort meets a week after that with the general managers of Amgen and Merck BioPharma.

Finally, as an institution, AmCham Taiwan turns a venerable 70 this month (Stay tuned as we work to land a night at the Taipei Guest House to celebrate). Our anniversary gives pause to reflect on keys to NGO (or business) longevity:

  1. Relentlessly focus on stakeholders (customers). We seek out what our most innovative members are doing and invite AmCham partners to help us identify opportunities or solve problems.
  2. Avoid introversion. Work to understand Indo-Pacific and global trends outside Taiwan.
  3. Challenge legacy thinking and mindsets. Create a culture of dissatisfaction with current performance, however good. (Our membership has grown steadily through this pandemic).
  4. Focus relentlessly on values. Transparency, free enterprise, and level playing fields drive our advocacy and animate our programs.
  5. Engage younger generations. Keep membership fluid and prevent generational barriers through programs like NextGen.
  6. Engage older generations. Use them to provide context and wisdom.

So, we do well to reflect on past glories – shaping U.S. relations with Taiwan in the uncertain months following America’s decision in 1978 to recognize the People’s Republic of China, for example, or winning approval for the relocation of Taipei American School and finding a new home for the American Club. But we must constantly strive to renew our Chamber and ensure longevity by reinventing ourselves (as AmCham Taiwan – no longer Taipei – for starters) and by taking on fresh challenges.

I had the fortune of serving in Berlin as that city’s AmCham, the world’s second-oldest, marked its 90th year. That example gives pause as we consider challenges in Taiwan’s neighborhood. If wartime foes in the 20th Century can sustain a chamber and unite in something as profound as a Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, what might we look forward to fostering down the road? Long live longevity.