Promoting entrepreneurs with disabilities

Friday, 20 November 2020 02:20 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


  • Employers’ Federation of Ceylon Specialised Training and Disability Resource Centre initiative for Global Entrepreneurship Week – #GEW2020

Manique Gunaratne


 Disability does not impede enterprising entrepreneurs from pursuing their dream business pathways – thanks to the ‘Promoting Entrepreneurs with Disability’ program of the Employers’ Federation of Ceylon (EFC), initiated by the EFC Specialised Training and Disability Resource Centre, steered by its capable Manager, Manique Gunaratne. 

The program has enabled several aspiring entrepreneurs with diverse disabilities to set start-ups in a professional manner.

The program has reached out to people with diverse disabilities including the vision impaired, hearing impaired, physical disabilities, multiple disabilities, speech difficulties and those with psycho-social disabilities. “Very often those with psycho-social disabilities such as the depressed and others with certain mental disorders do not come into the mainstream of society let alone the business fabric, largely due to stigma,” observes Manique whose mentoring over the years have unearthed this cross section of our society shunned by many.

The learning will not only benefit the entrepreneurs but also their communities and they are to be catalysts of change in a community. Their knowledge will be shared among their community members who too will be empowered partners in the exercise.

There is a good market for the products of those with disabilities, but to create more opportunities for them, we need to expand our loan base for which we need to engage with corporates. These small scale business owners also need to be empowered in areas such as value addition and quality control to win a better market. Leading retail stores in the country must come forward to offer space for the products of these people. Online platforms for their merchandise are also envisaged.

What the EFC Specialised Training and Disability Resource Centre envisions for its beneficiaries is a world which will offer them opportunities as against sympathy. If we give one opportunity it will open multiple doors for entrepreneurs with disabilities. In a country with a majority of women, their contribution to the workforce still needs to be improved. In this setting, the contribution of women with disabilities cannot be underpinned. It is crucial for a woman to be economically empowered as she can play a more proactive role in the decision-making of the family. Most importantly, she will have access to information which is crucial for the wellbeing of a family as well as the community and increased social status and enhanced self esteem as other benefits in this aspect.

The Specialised Training and Disability Resource Centre of the Employers’ Federation of Ceylon (EFC) was shortlisted for ‘Zero Project 2021’ – an initiative of the Essl Foundation which focuses on the rights of persons with disabilities globally. An Austrian foundation set up in 2007 by Martin and Gerda Essl and their children for social purposes and scientific research, its mission is to support social innovation, social entrepreneurship and persons with disabilities. The Foundation is also in special consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations since 2014 (ECOSOC status) and a member of the European Foundation Centre.

The Zero Project of the Essl Foundation provides a platform where the most innovative and effective solutions to problems that persons with disabilities face, are shared. It is committed to assist in creating a world without barriers, based on the Articles of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Each year the Zero Project focuses its research on a particular theme from the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (UN CRPD.) The themes revolve around the key areas of employment, accessibility, independent living, political participation and education.

The EFC’s Specialised Training and Disability Resource Centre was among the 178 nominations which made it through to the shortlist out of 475 nominations for the Zero Project Award 2021. ‘The nominated practices and policies have made it through a detailed quality check and through one round of peer-reviewing from experts, with and without disabilities, from around the world,’ according to the project details. Applauding EFC Specialised Training and Disability Resource Centre Manager Manique Gunaratne for “her commitment towards improving the lives of persons with disabilities,” in a congratulatory note, the Zero Project Team has further acknowledged her efforts to be having a “significant impact on inclusive economic development”.

The Specialised Training and Disability Resource Centre of the EFC which is now into its 11th year, is a benchmarked platform for its “innovation and uniqueness,” says its Manager. “The opportunities afforded by the Centre are multiple including employment opportunities for people with disabilities, additional training opportunities, app users, etc. All these services are geared towards the open labour market in the country and extend to persons with diverse disabilities, diverse age groups, covering all corners of Sri Lanka,” notes Gunaratne who is a globally recognised activist for people with disabilities.  

Steered by a person with a disability for persons with disabilities, the Specialised Training and Disability Resource Centre rests on the concept of “nothing about us without us,” says Gunaratne who herself is visually impaired, having lost her vision in her late twenties due to Retinitis Pigmentosa.

Calling for a national will to champion the rights of people with disabilities, Gunaratne urges for expeditious passage of the Disability Rights Bill. “The COVID pandemic has taken a toll on everyone and it is imperative to identify the concerns of people with disabilities and empower them especially during a testing time such as this.”

She also invites more companies and stakeholders to join hands with the EFC to provide more employment opportunities for persons with disabilities and promote inclusive workplaces.

Commenting on the recognition as a “huge honour for the EFC,” EFC Director General Kanishka Weerasinghe noted: “I would like to thank the members of the Employers’ Network on Disability, those who have supported us over the years and especially those who have committed themselves in assisting persons with disabilities over the years. A special thank you is extended to my colleagues Manique Gunaratne and Ayasana Gunasekera.”