Hiring for Inclusion

As companies begin to focus on hiring people with disabilities, we need to shape how they think and act on this interest.

Courtesy: United Nations

By Meera Shenoy
HYDERABAD, TELANGANA, India, Sep 20 2019 – As companies begin to focus on hiring people with disabilities, we need to shape how they think and act on this interest.

In the first decade of this century, Andhra Pradesh had several self-help groups (SHGs)–women who were saving, borrowing, and generating livelihood opportunities for themselves as well as their communities.

As these groups grew, the government began to notice that the aspirations of children were different from their SHG-member mothers, who were mostly marginal farmers or weavers. The state felt that they needed to do something to fulfil these aspirations and from this was born the Employment Generation and Marketing Mission (EGMM)–a skilling mission under the Department of Rural Development in undivided Andhra Pradesh.

EGMM started in 2004 with a pilot–a Rural Retail Academy was set up in Warangal for youth who were 10th and 12th standard dropouts; local school teachers were taught to train them on customer-facing skills, and after six months they were ready to be placed.

Higher efficiencies, near-zero errors in an industry where margins are small–opened up almost 50,000 cashiering jobs for disabled youth in the retail sector.

Kishore Biyani of the Future Group was the first one to hire these young people, and him doing so changed the way India looked at rural youth. It made people realise that: a) you didn’t need graduates with degrees for customer service, and b) rural youth, if skilled right, could get formal private sector jobs.

Prior to the establishment of the EGMM, government skilling programmes didn’t think of job placement as something they were responsible for. All of them did skilling for skilling’s sake. Now placement has become the norm in every skilling programme offered by either the government or the private sector.

EGMM was also able to demonstrate innovation at scale. However, it’s relatively easy to achieve scale when you are sitting inside the government. When I thought of what to focus on after rural youth, it was important for me to enter a space where there wasn’t an existing model for scale, and to prove that it could be done outside of the government as well. Disability was that space.


Moving to disability

The statistics around disability are alarming–80 percent of the world’s disability population is in developing countries like India. Despite this, a decade ago, little was being done about it.

Cities with a booming IT industry like Bangalore and Delhi, had organisations training and placing disabled people in jobs, but this was limited to 30 people a year at best. And, most of them were urban and educated. However, 69 percent of the disabled youth in India live in the villages–and at the time, in 2012, nobody was focusing on less-educated rural youth with disability. 


There were many challenges

When we went to the villages, we faced several obstacles:

  • Getting youth to join: Disabled youth who lived in rural areas were doubly disadvantaged: they were cut off from the job market because of their rural location, and they (and their families) didn’t believe that they could ever get a job.
  • Finding trainers: We were also faced with a shortage of people who could train these youth. Disability is one word but within that word there are different kinds of disability–speech impaired, visually challenged, physical disabilities, and so on–and each one of them has different needs. Even when we did find trainers who could work with disabled youth–sign language instructors, for example–they were ill-equipped to train in the short-term training formats that we had developed.
  • Providing them job opportunities: Companies came with a lot of mindsets. They would ask us “Can you give us youth who look like you and me? Will it be expensive to hire and manage them? Will my other employees have a problem if I hire your youth?”


There is a gap in the urban disabled space as well

As we started working with the corporates, some multinational companies started asking us, “Where are the youth with English, the ones who are educated?” The perception is that if the disabled youth are educated, they will perhaps get jobs on their own.

However, in most cases, educated youth with disability have low skill levels. They qualify as engineers, have an engineering certificate and so their aspirations are to get into the well-known global and Indian tech companies. However, their technical knowledge is poor since colleges don’t have special educators to guide them.


The perception is that if the disabled youth are educated, they will perhaps get jobs on their own. However, in most cases, educated youth with disability have low skill levels. Picture courtesy: Rawpixel

The perception is that if the disabled youth are educated, they will perhaps get jobs on their own. However, in most cases, educated youth with disability have low skill levels. Picture courtesy: Rawpixel


The market is beginning to think about disability more actively

We are hearing companies talk about focusing on disability. So, while the timing is right, we need to shape how companies think and act on their interest.

Here are a few approaches that skilling organisations that work with disabled youth can adopt to ensure that larger numbers of corporates hire and retain these young people and that they do it in the right manner.


1. Try to place youth with disability in customer-facing roles

When they have to interact with customers, awareness about the issue of disability goes up automatically; you don’t have to work on that separately. We piloted this hypothesis by placing a speech- and hearing-impaired individual in a cashier’s job, with some simple workplace adaptations.

Three months later the retailer ran a survey to ask their customers for feedback and 95 percent of the respondents said that having ‘silent’ cashier had led to faster service. This insight–higher efficiencies, near-zero errors in an industry where margins are small–opened up almost 50,000 cashiering jobs for disabled youth in the retail sector.


2. Create a sensitive ecosphere

Hiring youth with disabilities is not just about matching profiles to jobs. We do sensitisation workshops, low cost adaptations, accessibility audits, going as far as to sync companies’ existing software to ensure that hired youth are productive. Otherwise, it merely reiterates the myth that youth with disabilities cannot work.


3. Build up jobs sector by sector

We did this with the automotive industry. We started with one company–Valeo–and hardwired all our best practices over there. More importantly, their HR director and I started talking about these innovations and the value provided by these youth at conferences and forums. As a result, 15 more auto companies started hiring disabled youth.


4. Teach portable skills and not specific job skills

Typically, skilling organisations give youth job-specific training–like say a three-day training in folding clothes. However, the danger with this approach is that if the folding clothes process stops, so does their job. It is important therefore, irrespective of the sector, to teach English, communications, and life skills–skills that they can take across jobs. This allows them to be mobile across jobs and capitalise on the opportunities available.


5. Encourage companies to measure impact

An executive from a multinational company that we at Youth4Jobs work with said that our alumni manage 75 forms a day versus their average of 45-50. Once companies experience the business case and see the results, their senior executives become champions for the programmes.


6. Prepare companies to be ready for changes in the law

It is likely that one day, a particular state might suddenly decide to make hiring of disabled youth mandatory in sync with the Right to PwD Act 2016 which speaks to the right of disabled to education and employment. And if that happens, other states will follow. It is important that companies are ready for it when it happens.


Meera Shenoy is the founder of Youth4Jobs, where she works on skilling young people with disabilities. She has been at the forefront of job-linked skilling for rural youth, tribal youth, and now youth with disabilities, at a scalable level. She was previously Executive Director, Employment Generation and Marketing Mission (EGMM), the first state government skilling mission. Meera has also consulted with the World Bank and the UNDP.


This story was originally published by India Development Review (IDR)


Why We Need Religion More than Ever in the Pursuit of Peace

By Blerim Mustafa
GENEVA, Sep 20 2019 – The proliferation of political crises and armed conflicts in every corner of the world does not exclude religious groups, which unfortunately also contribute to animosities, intolerance and hatred. The Middle East has been on the hit-list of violet extremist groups for decades. One telling example is Syria where clashes have on occasion taken religious or denominational overtones, fracturing Syrian society for decades to come. They have given rise to sectarian divisions along ethnic and religious lines in a country where inter-religious harmony once prevailed. We observe a similar situation in Iraq. In Myanmar, government security forces unleased a brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing and hatred against the Muslim Rohingya population. The military crackdown on the Rohingya community has significantly aggravated inter-communal violence in the country. And in the Central African Republic, armed militant groups sloganizing misrepresentations of Islam and Christianity, commit abuses and human rights violations on each other on a daily basis.

The conclusion that can be drawn is that the proliferation of political crises and armed conflicts indiscriminately target communities and societies regardless of religious beliefs or denominations. Violent extremism cannot be ascribed to one religion or region of the world. The recent appalling violent extremist attacks in Christchurch, Oslo and Colombo illustrate that violent extremism targets societies and communities blindly and where we least expect it to happen.

In a time where racism, racial discrimination intolerance and the fear of the other is on the rise, defusing inter-religious conflicts and enhancing understanding for religious diversity is needed more than ever.

In this spirit, inter-faith dialogue and cooperation remains an essential vehicle for religious believers to know, understand, and respect one another. Interreligious and religious-secular dialogues have the power to promote lasting change through a dialogue that fosters mutual coexistence, tolerance and empathy. This entails sharing a relationship of respect and mutual confidence as well as to identifying commonalities among religions, creeds and value systems in promoting multidimensional equalities, accepting diversity between human beings and promoting empathy. As His Holiness Pope Francis reminded us in Sarajevo in 2015 during his visit to Bosnia-Herzegovina:

“We need to communicate with each other, to discover the gifts of each person, to promote that which unites us, and to regard our differences as an opportunity to grow in mutual respect.”

This is a telling reminder that interreligious dialogues can serve as a vector to help break down the walls of ignorance that characterize many societies around the world. There is a need to build alliances between all religions and faiths to address the surge of racial discrimination, intolerance and prejudice. The visit of Pope Francis to the United Arab Emirates in February this year, for instance, and the historical signing of the joint document on “Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together” between the Pope and the Grand Imam of Al Azhar Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb are eloquent examples of endeavours made by religious leaders to promulgate a vision of unity in diversity.

It is likewise one of the greatest paradoxes of the contemporary world that major world faiths and creeds are being perverted by violent extremist groups to justify hatred and exclusion. All major world religions advocate peace and justice. The religious teachings of many traditions recognise that prevention of conflict in society by acceptance of the other is rooted in the dignity endowed to the human being. It is through unity — not division — that humanity can promote a world living in peace and harmony. All religions can play an important role.

Let me cite some examples.

Islam, for instance, puts strong emphasis on equality, proclaiming that all human beings are borne free and equal. During the era of Prophet Muhammed (PBUH), he said to his followers:

“An Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over a black nor a black has any superiority over white except by piety and good action.”

In Judaism, equality before the law plays a strong role in the enhancement of human dignity, human conduct and responsibility towards one another. Sanhedrin 4:5 teaches us that “(…) none should say, (my) Father is greater than yours,” for we are all descendants of the same ancestor.

In Christianity, we are taught in Galatians 3:28 that equality must guide our actions. “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

The right to equality is also emphasised in Hinduism. The Vedas – the sacred scriptures of Hinduism – observe: “No one is superior or inferior. All are brothers and all should strive for the interest of all and progress collectively.” So too in Budhism, as indeed Buddha taught a social message of love, equality and fraternity which underpin equal citizenship rights.

In Confucianism, the notion of “datong” or ‘Great Community’ symbolizes a world in peace and unity in which all people live in harmony with each other, collective and individual human rights being affirmed and closely interwoven.

These examples illustrate that religions and faiths themselves are not the source of hatred and intolerance, but only their distorted instrumentalization for vested interests by violent extremist groups. One must therefore harness the collective energy of all religions and faiths in the pursuit of peaceful and inclusive societies as stipulated in Sustainable Development Goal 16 of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. There is no reason for religious communities to fear one another as our commonalities clearly exceed our differences.

Blerim Mustafa, Project and communications officer, the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue. Postgraduate researcher (Ph.D. candidate) at the Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Leicester (UK).