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Building a Disability-Friendly Workplace: Why Includability Matters

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An includable leader knows that not everyone comes from the same space with the same privileges. They are aware of systemic barriers that dictate interactions between people of different genders, classes, or abilities, according to the author. Credit: United NationsOpinion  bengaluru, indiaThursday, December 02, 2021Inter Press Service

The consequence of the single story, according to Adichie, is that it robs people of dignity. “It makes our recognition of our equal humanity difficult. It emphasises how we are different rather than how we are similar.”

Take the example of my brother, Hari. He topped the MBA programme in Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies. He has a visual disability, and he managed his education with the help of audio cassettes, screen reader software, and the internet. But when it came to his placement, none of the employers wanted to hire him because of his ‘blindness’. He went through 70 interviews.

The problem was not that the interviewers saw him as a person with vision impairment, but that they could see only one ‘story’ of him—his disability. It created fear and discomfort, and took precedence over any other stories that would have helped the interviewers see his personality, conduct the interview, and gauge his competence.

They focused so much on how he was different from them that they did not even try to look for similarities. Hari likes cricket, a sport with billions of admirers across the country, and this could have been a conversation starter for some of them. Or someone could have simply said, “Hey, I have never met a blind person. How do I interview you?”

EnAble India’s idea of includability—the ability to include—emerged from this and many other experiences I had with leaders, managers, and employees across organisations. I realised that awareness of differences is not the barrier to includability. It is the inability to create a common ground for dialogue, which requires strategic planning and building competency.

What is includability quotient?

Becoming an includable leader requires cultivating what we call an includability quotient (IncQ)—a competency framework for leaders on how to include diverse people in their organisation. A leader with a high IncQ is able to get the most out of their team, and is guided by three broad principles:

1. Internalising the landscape

An includable leader knows that not everyone comes from the same space with the same privileges. They are aware of systemic barriers that dictate interactions between people of different genders, classes, or abilities. They are also aware of how these barriers intersect, and actively plan strategies to overcome them.

For example, disability, lack of access to education, and poverty are often interlinked. To overcome this, we urged the leaders in a multinational corporation (MNC) we had worked with to hire persons with disabilities who had earned diplomas—for a position for which a degree was otherwise necessary.

The leader took the right decision to hire and provided a level playing field to overcome the inequities which come with the landscape. Their next step was to offer the employees a scholarship to pursue their degree later. Similarly, there are information technology (IT) companies that provide a loan for modified two-wheelers to people with disabilities for easy access to the workplace. In each example, the leader used their competency to distinguish a level playing field from an ‘excuse’.

2. Normalising the differences

To go beyond the differences, a leader must focus on the commonalities between them and the person they are interacting with. An includable leader does not function with an us-versus-them narrative. They actively try to facilitate conversations by using appropriate language and triggers.

However, like all conversations, this normalisation of differences is a two-way process. Employees with disabilities must be equipped with self-advocacy tools that help them to identify as more than their disability. The tools can include hobbies, adjectives, and aspirations that might spark an exchange.

For example, when a leader met Ajay*, a person with intellectual disability who is 38 years old and speaks in monosyllables, the leader didn’t know what to say. However, when Ajay presented them with a card where he described himself as a cricket lover and as Mr Dependable, the leader asked him about cricket. With this topic, Ajay gradually opened up and spoke a couple of sentences. The leader could see his personality, which may not have been possible if only the term ‘intellectual disability’ was ringing in his head.

In another instance, a manager had to familiarise his interns with domain-related video content in an American accent. To make it easier for the interns who might have found a non-Indian accent a barrier to understanding, the manager first introduced similar content in an Indian accent to them. This was a learner-centric approach that worked for people from different backgrounds.

3. Changing expectations    

Every person is capable of growth. Our inadequacy as leaders and managers is that at times we fail to remember this. An includable leader uses appreciative inquiry (AI)—an evaluation mechanism that focuses on the strengths rather than the weaknesses of an employee. This is applicable to employees coming from all kinds of spaces—be it a person with or without disability. And it is done with the belief that what you focus on will grow.

Whenever a new employee joins the team, the leader figures out their strengths and gains an understanding of the systemic barriers they face. From here both of them can go on to co-create solutions. Once this is done, the boundaries need to be pushed by focusing on the employee’s strengths.

Take, for instance, the case of an MNC that hired a person with intellectual disability for an internship. In the initial days, the intern mostly interacted with their manager and a colleague who was assigned to them as a buddy. With time the intern was made to attend presentations, which interested them enough to want to present on their own.

The MNC’s strategy was to make the intern speak on any topic of their choice for five minutes to a small team. As a second step, the management provided the intern with the topic to speak on. And, finally, the intern was asked to make a formal presentation to a larger team.

The MNC’s process of gradually moving the metre helped the intern gain confidence to speak in front of people and accumulate technical knowledge from the interactions. This kind of intervention helps employees not only in their current job but also going forward in their career. Additionally, a leader skilled enough to design and implement such a process gathers the confidence to work with team members from various facets of society.

Lessons for nonprofits

These are not easy lessons to learn for even the most eager leaders and managers—not because they do not want to engage, but often because they do not have a language to communicate their guilt, worries, and discomfort when they encounter a person they see as different from themselves.

Finding that common language requires a leader and a colleague to first learn to self-include. This involves feeling comfortable about themselves by gaining awareness of their own space, which comes with its own difficulties. It includes being able to speak openly about their problems and concerns—be it personal or professional. It is only then that a workplace can become truly inclusive.

As facilitators working with organisations, our job is to make space for these conversations at various levels. This requires us to build a nuanced understanding of the various elements that form an organisation—only then can we come up with tools, methods, and strategies. Here are some of the lessons I have learnt over the years:

1. An includable workplace is more than the leader

While speaking with and educating leaders is an essential part of creating an inclusive workplace, the idea needs to travel across the organisation. The leadership has to play the role of an implementer in bringing changes at various levels. This includes individuals being comfortable with and understanding the needs of a colleague with disability, as well as people with disabilities being able to assert an identity that is more than their disability.

2. ‘Peacetime’ interactions go a long way

We have seen that people with disabilities and those without have more fruitful interactions when these are facilitated during ‘peacetime’—an informal, non-work setting. For instance, when a person without disability studies with a person with disability at school or when they work together as volunteers, there’s a chance that they might be able to build a sustainable bond that’s beyond notions of ability and disability. Peacetime creates an exposure opportunity where the knowing and acceptance happens in a non-threatening way.

3. Facilitators need to keep introspecting

Conversations around disabilities demand a space of vulnerability. This is true for participants across the intersections of people with disabilities, non-profit facilitators working with people with disabilities, and leaders. It is easy to form attachments, look out for each other, and become protective of each other. However, as facilitators, we must be wary of our actions that stem from these emotions.

Our well-intentioned protectiveness can stand in the way of a person being able to push their limits and prepare for the competitive world of employment. This is a clear deviation from our own idea of building together a more equitable world. Thus, we need to constantly evaluate our actions. Because that equitable world—in Adichie’s words, “a kind of a paradise”—will emerge not from our guilt or pity, but from our rejection of the singular narratives of individuals.

*Name changed to maintain confidentiality.

With contributions from Gayatri Gulvady.

Shanti Raghavan, the author of this article, is a social entrepreneur and the co-founder of EnAble India, which works towards providing economic independence to persons with disability

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

© Inter Press Service (2021) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

Original Post: globalissues.org

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When Will Countries Ever Learn How Well to Do Fuel Subsidy Reforms?

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View of downtown Nur-Sultan, the capital of Kazakhstan. Credit: World Bank/Shynar JetpissovaOpinion by Alan Gelb, Anit Mukherjee (washington dc)Friday, January 28, 2022Inter Press Service

Amid alarming reports of deadly violence in Kazakhstan, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Central Asia called for restraint and dialogue. 6 January 2022

Protestors are out on the streets, clashing violently with security forces called in to maintain law and order. They vent their frustration not only with rising fuel prices but also with living costs, lack of social services, crumbling infrastructure, corruption and political repression.

Faced with the prospect of a popular uprising, the government backtracks on reforms and re-institutes subsidies, postponing the hard decisions for a later date.

This is Kazakhstan in 2022. It is also Ecuador in 2019, Nigeria in 2012, Bolivia in 2010, Indonesia in 2005 and several other energy exporters which have tried to end, or at least reduce, fuel subsidies over the last two decades.

The list will grow significantly if we include importers who are more exposed to the vagaries of international energy prices. What is interesting is that the story plays out in almost exactly the same way, and the consequences of both action – and inaction – are very similar as well.

For resource rich countries like Kazakhstan, Ecuador, Bolivia and Nigeria, subsidized energy, especially from fossil fuels, is one of the few tangible ways by which citizens can feel that they have a claim to a national resource.

While the level of subsidies varies, at some $228 dollars per head or 2.6% of GDP in 2020, those of Kazakhstan are high but not the highest among exporters. In a situation where the government is generally perceived to be repressive, incompetent and corrupt, food and fuel subsidies keep a lid on deeper grievances. It is economically damaging but politically expedient, a delicate equilibrium that many countries have sought to manage over the last several decades – with little success.

Our research has shown that there is a better way to do energy subsidy reform. Providing direct cash transfers to compensate for the rise in energy prices can be a “win-win” solution. To put it simply, energy compensatory transfers (ECT) enable households, especially the poor and the vulnerable, to absorb the shock and reallocate resources as per their needs.

By removing the arbitrage between subsidized and market prices, ECTs can also reduce corruption, improve distribution and incentivize efficient use of energy. Countries like Iran, India, Jordan and the Dominican Republic have been relatively successful in this type of reform, and their experience holds lessons for other countries that choose to embark on this path.

Digital technology can help significantly to identify beneficiaries, provide them necessary guidance and information, and transfer payments directly to individuals and households. Three key enablers of ECTs are an identification system with universal coverage of the population, strong communications and wide access to financial accounts.

Multiple databases can be cross-checked to verify eligibility norms and grievance redressal systems can help reduce exclusion of genuine beneficiaries. As shown, for example, by India’s LPG subsidy reform, countries can progressively tighten the eligibility criteria over time to target the poorest sections of the population.

Finally, ECTs can provide the impetus for a more transparent and accountable system of subsidy management, helping improve public confidence and support to the government’s reform agenda over the long run.

So, why don’t more countries follow this approach? For one, most energy subsidy reforms are pushed forward in times of economic crisis. ECTs require political commitment, openness to engage in public dialogue, building consensus among stakeholders and powerful vested interests, setting up implementation systems and working across different government ministries, departments and agencies.

Direct compensation is also more transparent than the frequently opaque systems of price subsidization that favor the rich, with their higher energy consumption, even if justified by the need to protect the poor.

ECTs are not simple solutions and often require time to be put in place. On the surface, it may seem simpler to just raise energy prices overnight through an administrative order. But the payoffs are significant in terms of sustainability, economic outcomes, social cohesion and political stability.

The sooner countries can take a longer term approach, the better will they be able to manage the transition to a more sustainable system that supports those who need it most.

Kazakhstan is the first country in 2022 to see popular unrest due to fuel price hike. It almost certainly would not be the last.

Anit Mukherjee is a policy fellow at the Center for Global Development. Alan Gelb is a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development.


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© Inter Press Service (2022) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service


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Griffiths to Security Council: ‘Your Responsibility Is Not Over’ to Syrian People

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© UNICEFChildren sit outside their family tent at the Alzhouriyeh makeshift camp in east rural Homs, Syria.Thursday, January 27, 2022UN News

“It is not over for the Syrian people,” said Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths, as he outlined the myriad challenges.  “And your responsibility is not over either.”  

As I’ve said before, we’re failing the Syrian people, young and old. Failure each year can’t be our strategy.

This year, we have to lighten the load on Syrian civilians.

I urge Member States to work with the UN and other key humanitarian agencies on a new approach.

My remarks:

— Martin Griffiths (@UNReliefChief)

January 27, 2022

Early recovery essential 

The humanitarian affairs chief said it was essential to scale up early recovery programmes – aimed at addressing needs that arise during the humanitarian phase of an emergency – which can offer a pathway to more self-sufficiency and restore basic services.  

Perhaps most immediately, he drew attention to the hundreds of children who this week, have been trapped in a terrifying prison siege in Al-Hasakah, in Syria’s northwest. 

He cited reports announced by Henrietta Fore, Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), on 25 January, of fatalities among children besieged inside the Al-Hasakah’s Ghwayran military detention facility, and of children trapped as ISIL-affiliated inmates battled Kurdish-led Syrian Defence Forces (SDF), being forced to take part in the fighting. 

News reports indicate the siege is now over with the Kurds regaining control of the prison, but Mr. Griffiths told ambassadors that it was of “critical importance that all children are accounted for, evacuated to safety, and supported,” he insisted.   

Their predicament echoes that of the country, Mr. Griffiths stressed.  He described Syrian girls and boys shivering in tents in the snow, while others are stuck in displacement camps or detention facilities, and millions more – lucky enough to have housing – are still missing out on a healthy diet and reliable schooling. 

Failing the people 

We are failing the Syrian people, young and old,” he said.  “I urge you to work with the United Nations on new approaches.”  

The Under-Secretary General recalled that six civilians were killed on 20 January when missiles landed in Afrin city, while another airstrike in early January, severely damaged the main water station servicing Idlib city.   

Alongside security concerns, unusually bitter winter storms last week damaged thousands of tents in camps in the northwest, forcing those displaced to burn garbage to stay warm and risk asphyxiation, sheltering from sub-zero temperatures. 

Just not enough 

With the cost of a food basket reaching new highs in each of the last four months, and international aid declining, “the food aid we provide to millions of people each month is just not enough,” he warned. 

He called for ongoing support for the UN’s six-month plan for humanitarian operations, drawing attention to early recovery projects to support food production and the cross-line delivery of aid to Syria’s northwest.  Two such operations have been completed and a third is expected to take place soon, he added. 

‘From war to hell’ 

Jan Egeland, Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council, agreed that conditions have grown “dramatically worse,” amid renewed armed conflict in Dara’a, Damascus and Eastern Ghouta. 

Mr. Egeland – who was formerly UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, from 2003 to 2006 – said the economic crisis, exacerbated by drought, is now so deep that families he had met during his recent visit described their journey as one “from war to hell”. 

He implored the Council to end this “suffocating paralysis”, requesting “help from you as members of the Security Council, and from you as influential powers with parties and actors in the region.  “The situation demands it.” 

Humanitarian diplomacy 

Specifically, Mr. Egeland called for help to end access restrictions on all sides of the conflict lines, stressing that humanitarian work is still too often held back by administrative, logistical, legal and physical barriers.  More effective humanitarian diplomacy is needed.  

For example, he said the Russian Federation can help on the Syrian Government side, where the Norwegian Refugee Council is still unable to provide legal aid to displaced people and returnees, while Turkey and the United States can help with de facto authorities in opposition-controlled areas.  

He also called for help in negotiating solutions to conflicts in Idlib and elsewhere, emphasizing that “we cannot allow a war to rage in what is, in reality, a gigantic string of displacement camps.” 

A call for solidarity 

Meanwhile, he said civilians must be able to seek protection and emphasized that “now is not the time to close borders.” 

It will also be essential to resume a deconfliction system, ensure cross-border and cross-line relief, secure access to water and agreement around waterways from the north, support the rehabilitation of civilian infrastructure, enable durable solutions for refugees and close the funding gap for humanitarian operations. 

“2021 was one of the worst years on record for civilians in Syria,” he said. “We urge donor countries not to turn their backs in 2022.”

© UN News (2022) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: UN News

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In Central Sahel, ‘needs Are Growing Faster Than Generosity’

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© UNOCHA/Michele CattaniA portrait of a Malian refugee in Tillaberi region, Niger.Thursday, January 27, 2022UN News

According to Martin Griffiths, nearly 15 million people in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso, will need humanitarian assistance this year. That’s four million people more than a year before. 

The UN humanitarian affairs office (OCHA) led by Mr. Griffiths, and its partners, will need close to $2 billion for the humanitarian response in these three countries alone. 

In the Central Sahel, needs are growing faster than the support that is available.

Yet, the Sahel is also a region of enormous potential.

Working together, we can reverse the trend with more efforts focused on resilience, sustainable solutions and cooperation.

My full remarks:

— Martin Griffiths (@UNReliefChief)

January 27, 2022

It is a grim picture. Conflict, drought and food insecurity, gender-based violence – all growing more quickly than the support that is available”, the Emergency Relief Coordinator explained. 

The online meeting was a joint effort by the United Nations, the European Union, the German Federal Foreign Office and the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Denmark. 

Fact-finding mission

Last week, Mr. Griffiths visited Nigeria and met people affected by the Lake Chad Basin crisis. 

“The stories they told me are emblematic of the struggles people across the central Sahel face: violence, repeated displacement, and difficulty finding sustainable livelihoods for themselves and their families”, he recalled, saying he hopes to visit Mali and Niger in the months ahead.

Together, conflict, climate change, political instability, lack of sustainable development opportunities, and poverty, are driving millions into increasingly desperate conditions. COVID-19 has only made the situation worse.

Violent attacks went up eight-fold in the central Sahel between 2015 and 2021. In the same period, the number of fatalities increased more than ten-fold.

Millions displaced

“The result is more than two million people displaced including half a million internally displaced last year alone”, the humanitarian chief said. 

In the meantime, insecurity and attacks continue to disrupt already weak basic social services.

More than 5,000 schools are closed or non-operational. Many health centres are not working. Displacement and increased insecurity have disrupted access to water, sanitation, and hygiene services. 

According to the last estimates, the number of people facing severe food insecurity has tripled in Mali and doubled in Niger compared to November 2020.

During the lean season, more than eight million are expected to be affected.

Obstacles to aid

While needs grow, the central Sahel remains “one of the most dangerous places in the world for aid workers”, said Mr. Griffiths, noting that one-third of all abductions of aid workers in the world in 2020, occurred in Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso.

“Despite these difficulties, humanitarian organizations reached more than seven million people in the region in 2021 and raised $700 million”, he added. 

Unfortunately, the UN relief chief informed, this is not even halfway to meeting the needs of people in the Sahel.

To help bridge that funding gap, the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF)released $54.5 million in 2021 for Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger. In the same year, OCHA established the first-ever regional pooled fund, last totalling nearly $33 million.

The humanitarian chief concluded on a positive note, noting that the Sahel is “a region of enormous potential” and that, working together, it’s possible to reverse the current trend. 

© UN News (2022) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: UN News

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