India’s 2011 census reported that 27 million people — about 2 per cent of the population — were disabled. Probably an underestimate, noting that the World Bank estimates the global rate of disability at 15 per cent.
Yet, the country is a difficult place for persons with disability to work. There are limited educational and professional opportunities for persons with disabilities to freely pursue careers of their interest.
In recent years, there are a number of budding social entrepreneurs who are working towards creating awareness and promoting inclusive workplaces that provide employment opportunities to persons with disablities. These inclusive leaders have been pivotal in making spaces accessible, creating opportunities for self-empowerment and instilling sensitivity into the discourse on disability in the workforce.
Here are a few social entrepreneurs who are disrupting the ecosystem through their innovative organisations with the support of UnLtd India Incubation Program.
1. Maitri Shah, Mind Assets
Maitri Shah, a Mumbai-based social entrepreneur founded Mind Assets – A social enterprise that aims to empower persons with disabilities through digital skill trainings and provides employment opportunities through virtual placements.
The idea for Mind Assets first emerged during Maitri’s computer engineering placement process, where she was rejected by several companies solely due to her physical disability. Taken aback by this experience, Maitri decided to dedicate her life towards enabling persons with disabilities to gain equal access to job opportunities and become independent individuals in society.
During the nascent stages of setting up Mind Assets, Maitri faced a lot of resistance in terms of acceptance and understanding from society. This hurdle arose from the existent stereotypes and lack of awareness. Maitri believed that with technological advancements, a work-from home set-up would reduce the mobility challenges and thus open a spectrum of employment opportunities for persons with disabilities to work freely in a familiar environment. Mind Assets believes that ‘Empowering persons with disabilities must be a national service.’
Maitri’s association with UnLtd India has been truly encouraging as it has provided her with utmost courage and perseverance to keep going and never give up. “UnLtd. India has introduced me to other such social entrepreneurs who are building an inclusive society for people of all segments and meeting them helps me sustain that there is still a ray of hope,”
Through Mind Assets, a number of persons with disabilities have been placed in jobs of their interest and are pursuing careers with established organisations from virtually any location. According to Maitri, ‘Disability is not a barrier but lack of cooperation and inclusivity is.’
Reaping the benefits of technology, Maitri is bringing livelihood opportunities to the doorstep of people with disabilities while mobilising a largely untapped pool of labour.
2. Samson and Annie Theodore, LOGOS Transformation
“Opportunity and not Charity”
This is the philosophy on which LOGOS Transformation has been founded. Samson and Annie Theodore started this initiative that has become a voice to dispel the notions of ‘incapability’ or ‘helplessness’ that persons with disabilities face from society.
Samson and Annie Theodore started LOGOS Transformation to create a platform for persons with disabilities who have a flair for writing to further develop their skills and find employment opportunities in digital & print media companies. Through a 12-day curated curriculum of experiential workshops and one-on-one interactions, they are exposed to real-life workplace situations and provided skill-training through customised activities. This helps in instilling confidence in their skills as well as helps them to adapt seamlessly to the external environment.
“We’ve reached out to over 50 people through different motivational engagements and workshops, and recently moved into the skill-building training sessions for them. We have trained 10 PwDs (Cerebral Palsy) on Content Writing skills, and realised that inclusive facilities, transport options, and technology implementation still tend to be the major challenges,” states Samson.
According to LOGOS, the biggest challenge is overcoming the social stigma that exists. LOGOS Transformation also ensures that parents of the beneficiaries are active participants in the process. From engaging the parents to building up the self-expression of the beneficiaries, LOGOS Transformation is creating a world of opportunities, instead of charity.
As Annie aptly states, “The world outside is very bright and beautiful and we want them to interact with it”
She further avers, “With UnLtd. India being by our side, we feel immensely confident by their mentorship and guidance as we move forward to sustain the organisation on an upward growth trajectory. It is only due to their unconditional support and guidance, that we are able to access the vital and critical resources to shape ourselves in a systematic way.
3. Sushama Nagarkar, Yash Charitable Trust (YCT)
Mrs. Sushma Nagarkar, Founder of Yash Charitable Trust, has been contributing immensely to the field of psychology and disabilities since the last three decades.
Sushma’s drive to empower persons with disabilities stems from her own personal experience, and the struggles she faced while taking care of her daughter, Aarti. Living in the United States, she found a huge void of unacceptance by the community towards people with disabilities. She decided to look for ways to drive community inclusiveness and awareness towards this cause. She chose to begin her journey of bringing about a change in societal attitudes and perception in her home country. Born and brought up in Mumbai, Sushma started the Yash Charitable Trust in 2014, and ever since then, there has been no turning back.
“The Trust aims to assist persons with developmental disabilities to successfully transition into adulthood, become responsible & productive members of the community, and have a wonderfully satisfying & fulfilling adult life,” informs Ashaita, Trustee, YCT.
Sushma and her team of 12 have discovered innovative ways to improve the quality of life of their beneficiaries; relationship with the community, with themselves, and securing an adequate future in terms of finance stability. Community participation along with inclusive work experience is key in making YCT’s vision a reality.
YCT began their supported employment journey with Arpan, a lunch dabba service, in 2015. In order to capitalise on the untapped potential, passion and strengths of persons with disabilities, the Trust set up Arpan – a home-cooked tiffin service. Arpan (meaning offering) delivers freshly cooked meals on a daily basis to a number of homes. Each individual is encouraged to actively contribute to the process by taking on a role that best suits them; some prepare the food and carefully pack the tiffins, while others go grocery shopping and deliver the food with the biggest smiles. Since then, they have opened up Cafe Arpan that is solely run by persons with disabilities. They have also grown and expanded from 4 direct beneficiaries to 16, and several indirect beneficiaries. Furthermore, YCT has several other community-based initiatives, run independently and in collaboration with other organisations, such as Adult Support Kendra, that helps families to address overwhelming issues related to persons with disabilities.
According to Ashaita, being a part of UnLtd India has been instrumental in helping them streamline their thoughts and add structure to their organisation. She affirms that the workshops conducted by Unltd India has helped gain insight and information on a variety of topics like fund-raising, social impact and financial planning that has been very helpful. “Having a coach we can connect with whenever necessary is also very useful and reassuring,” Ashaita states with a smile on her face.
These are the heroes silently creating pathways to ensure every individual has an equal opportunity to live a life of dignity and self-respect.
The reason society is unable to change their attitude towards people with disabilities is because they are not seen in public. Companies hiring disabled people can help to eradicate stigma and prejudice. By creating awareness and employment opportunities for disable people, these social entrepreneurs are building an inclusive society that is sensitive and supportive while changing the skill development sphere in India. What unites them is the belief that each of us hold within us the ability to take on society’s toughest challenges, and through that, the deep conviction that we can leave the world a better place than we found it.
If you are an early-stage social entrepreneur passionate to solve pressing problems in the country, you can apply for UnLtd India’s Incubation Programme to receive year-long personalised coaching along with access to mentors, experts and peer learning.
Apply here: http://bit.ly/UnLtdForm