Business as Unusual: the case for a corporate sector engagement with disabilities

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Recently, a major project being implemented by bilateral development partners working in Nepal, announced an opening for an internship specifically targeting disadvantaged youths.

Nothing surprising as, for the past few years, major development organizations have been trying to promote inclusion in their respective workforce.

The interesting thing this time around was that there was a genuine attempt at recruiting youths living with disabilities, a targeted group is considered as an “invisible group”, normally missing out on any kind of employability opportunities available in the country.

The recruitment officer, once contacted, did not hide a certain concern about the accessibility of the same office building hosting the internship program or the fact that they had no prior experience in recruiting or dealing with persons living with disabilities.

This frank introspection and self analysis is welcome and nothing to be ashamed of: only by accepting our own limitations and knowledge gaps in terms of accessibility and inclusion, can we steer a learning pathway on how to make our organizations not only accessible and disabled friendly but also more inclusive.

At ENGAGE, we learned the hard way how we should be more accessible and inclusive when we organize programs and events.

It was thanks to a polite but firm rejection of activist and friend of ENGAGE, Sagar Prasai, to attend one of our programs because the venue was inaccessible that we realized how equality in terms of accessibility and inclusion should be always translated every day in a way of thinking and a way of being an organization.

What counts are the attitude and the will power to work towards being an inclusive organization.

The development partner agency looking for interns from youths with disabilities can start a learning journey and prepare a multiyear action plan on how to become fully accessible, i.e. reasonable accommodation and inclusive.

Certainly there is a money factor one must consider, e.g., in doing structural adjustments of one's building there are many ways one can show their commitment towards the cause, also without additional resources.

Tools are available to learn and set an inclusive plan for your organization. For example, the ILO Global Business and Disability Network, an initiative that brings together the corporate sector, multinational companies and disabled people’s organizations, prepared a disability inclusion self-assessment tool “to assist companies in assessing their policies, plans and practices related to disability inclusion in the workplace and also serve as part of a benchmarking process”.

Based on 21 questions divided into four parts: 1) Disability Inclusion Policy, 2) Disability Inclusion Strategy, 3) Implementing the Strategy, 4) Accessibility, the tool while available only upon request, is inspired by the ILO Code of Practice for Managing Disability in the Work Place that offers an initial framework on how to make your organization more inclusive in matters of disability.

While there is room to translate this code of conduct in a more practical, user friendly tool kit, employers will find enough detailed information to start in-house brainstorming and set progressive milestones that will turn their organizations into a disabled friendly inclusive work place.

If donor organizations must necessarily wake up and do more in the field of disabilities, much more must be done by the corporate sector.

The Code of Conduct on Ethical Business promoted by the Nepal Business Initiative, while a laudable initiative, is totally silent in matters of disabilities.

Despite that, we should look at the energy within the disability movement in Nepal and offer support, not necessarily in the form of aid, to strengthen the issue of disabilities and employment.

Not that all over the world the picture is so rosy. With one in six people in the European Union having disabilities, the rate of employment for persons living with disabilities is still only at 50%, truly abyssal for European standards.

Yet the European Commission and the member states, at least theoretically, are trying to address the issues related to disabilities through “European Disability Strategy 2010-2020: A Renewed Commitment to a Barrier-Free Europe” centered on issues of accessibility, participation, equality, employment, education and training, social protection, health, and external action.


The last domain of action, external action, is particularly important for countries like Nepal as the EU Delegation here might be willing to promote a stronger engagement in the disability sector.


Another example, among others, is the European Network for Corporate Social Responsibilities & Disabilities (CSR+D) that tries to promote  bigger involvement of the European private sector in matters of disabilities. They even organize an annual European Social Entrepreneurship and Disability Award to highlight and promote incredible ventures promoted by persons living with disabilities.


While making the private sector more inclusive and accessible is not really a matter of CSR but rather a matter of rights and of new business opportunities, these initiatives in Europe are commendable and inspirational.


A rising trend among Nepali people tends to despise, often for some good reasons, the work of development aid. Yet donors, INGOs and NGOs are here to remain and while their work can be made much more effective, there is tremendous scope to forge new collaborations and partnerships with the private sector, including the emerging and tremendously important social entrepreneurship movement.

The ILO Global Business and Disability Network launched its first meeting in Geneva last October with the title "Business as unusual: Making workplaces inclusive of people with disabilities affirmed the strategic role of partnership and innovative approach into “transforming

disability inclusion into a usual, natural practice in the private sector.”


“Effective inclusion naturally entails the participation of those with the largest labour demand, i.e. the private sector. Multinational enterprises, in particular, are crucial players in the global arena”, said Guy Ryder, ILO Director General, while opening the global gathering.

Nepal could start with two initiatives: first setting up a loose network bringing together disabled people run organizations, INGOs, donors and the private sector to promote a new understanding of inclusion and disability in something that could be called Inclusive and Accessible Business Nepal; second let’s ensure that the next Surya Nepal Social Entrepreneurship Award can have a category dedicated to budding social entrepreneurs living with disabilities or new ventures in the disability sector.

There is still too much fear and ignorance about disabilities in the country. Corporate houses must be persuaded to embrace disability in their work places. Then, once the “pitching” is over, corporate leaders should be smart enough to understand that disability can make business sense.

Galimberti is Co-Founder of ENGAGE and Editor of Sharing4Goood




Position: Co -Founder of ENGAGE,a new social venture for the promotion of volunteerism and service and Ideator of Sharing4Good

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