Rebecca Baylor

NexThought Monday – Tapping the Potential of the World’s Largest Minority: Two keys to boosting employment for 70 million disabled people in India

Editor’s note: Hetal Sheth, co-founder of SoPact and founder of Ektta, also contributed to this article.

People with disabilities (PWD) make up the world’s largest minority group. India alone is home to around 70 million PWDs, the majority of whom remain on the sideline of the economy.

Despite the gravity of the situation, the pulse of PWD employment is alive and quickening in India.

According to the World Bank, disabled people’s organizations (DPOs) are leading positive developments across the nation. DPOs address a critical need for increasing PWD training and employment opportunities, or impact sourcing – also known as socially responsible outsourcing – within companies. Unfortunately, they have only begun to scratch the surface of India’s significant lack of PWD workplace inclusivity.

NCPEDP reports that PWDs make up a mere 0.28 percent of the workforce in private companies. India’s National Skill Development Mission aims to train 500 million people by 2022. Given the country’s current PWD Act, which reserves 3 percent of the public sector jobs for PWDs, 15 million people with disabilities should be skilled under this legislation.

As a 2015 William Davidson Institute Global Impact intern (note: WDI manages NextBillion), I spent the past three months analyzing ongoing efforts to increase employment for PWDs at the base of the pyramid. My objective was to discover how disability-focused NGOs currently measure, share and scale the financial and social impact of their services. Throughout my project, I worked closely with EnAble India, a Bangalore-based NGO specializing in PWD training and employment. Ektta, a WDI project partner and U.S. NGO, is launching a new social impact measurement platform at EnAble India with the help of their partner organization, SoPact.

(Right: Visually impaired candidates during a training of the screen reader software JAWS, at EnAble India in Bangalore.)

I interviewed several DPOs and companies inclined to hire disabled people. I asked them to describe the obstacles preventing PWDs from being mainstreamed on a wider scale. These discussions led to two interesting findings:

1. Despite shared interest in inclusivity, DPOs don’t often collaborate with one another; the field has not established collective goals for success.

2. DPOs, as well as private companies, struggle to quantify the progress of PWD programming. Transparent impact data demonstrating the economic and social outcomes of PWD employment is lacking.

By investing and engaging in collective knowledge sharing and data management platforms, DPOs will be poised to overcome continual challenges faced by PWDs and advocate for change together.

Develop a Long-Term, Collaborative Strategy

Despite the legitimacy of their diversity, DPOs should adopt a new approach to increasing PWD employment opportunities.Today’s DPOs operate more or less in silos. They take a targeted approach to attain dignified employment for PWDs. Some organizations specialize in teaching specific skills such as using screen reading software, others focus on placing PWDs within a particular sector. Many serve only a subset of PWDs, such as the visually impaired. Given the sheer diversity of disability, it is not surprising that DPOs have become niche specialists. Let’s face it: In social sector domains, a focused approach is essential for empowering the underprivileged. However, that focus shouldn’t come at the expense of missed opportunities to work with like-minded groups within the broader sector.

“The space of disability employment is growing a lot and we need to create space for collaboration in this sector,” explains Deepa Narasimhan, EnAble India alumna and program manager at EMC2 Bangalore.

Lack of collaboration also underpins some major organizational issues in the disability field, including:

? Small-scale decision making and overall impact

? Failure to share best practices

? Lack of information flow

? Uncoordinated priorities for PWD employment

“If there is a strategic approach to change, that will help achieve inclusivity in India,” Dipesh Sutariya, co-founder of EnAble India and the newly launched Disability NGOs Alliance, told me.

But without a shared, long-term strategy, DPOs will continue to find it impossible to achieve inclusivity and “mainstream” PWDs as a whole.

Breaking Down Silos: Sharing Knowledge and Showing Impact

In addition to collaboration, the strength of each individual DPO should be leveraged through proper data collection.

Now more than ever, NGOs are being asked to demonstrate how their specific programs benefit PWDs, as well as India’s development on a whole. India’s new 2 percent Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) law is actually “affecting how companies are needing to objectively showcase their impact,” says Vikram Rai, director of Sattva Consulting and expert in social impact strategy. Unfortunately, many DPOs struggle to demonstrate the current impacts of their programs through any means other than hand-selected case studies. Collecting data, especially using a program like SoPact, can help increase DPOs’ ability to track progress toward PWD inclusion, access funding and generate greater disability awareness.

V. S. Basavaraju, executive director of the Association of People with Disability, one of India’s oldest DPOs, and honorary secretary of the Disability NGOs Alliance, agrees: “Proper data can help NGOs, companies and the government identify which areas should be invested in the most.” If PWD training and employment data is not properly tracked, specialized DPOs will continue reaching for goals which have not even been properly defined, increasing inefficiencies in the sector.

Improving operational efficiencies through collective strategy and impact learning plays a huge role in scaling PWD training and employment. Following these steps will provide India with the proper framework for achieving the ideals set forth by the UN Millennium Development Goals and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

There are still many obstacles to creating a sector that truly gives those with disabilities an opportunity to gain new job skills and find fulfilling work. But the very fact that so many people and organizations are rising to the challenge offers more than mere hope.

Rebecca Baylor (@Baylor_314) is a William Davidson Institute Global Impact intern at the University of Michigan.

Education, Impact Assessment
corporate social responsibility, employment, impact measurement, infrastructure, poverty alleviation, skill development