“If organizations get solution-based and more inclusive, then we will have a better India, and a better life for disabled people.” So says Shanti Raghavan, founder of EnAble India.
I don’t remember when I first heard of EnAble India, but I distinctly remember the first time I met Shanti Raghavan, it’s exuberant confident founder. I was struck very forcefully by her conviction, her enthusiasm and a refreshing go-getter attitude, something I personally had not found in too many social sector organizations. Back in 2004/5, a social enterprise working to provide employment opportunities for persons with disabilities (PWDs) was like a fresh breath of air to the few corporates who were keen to recruit PWDs, but who were also somewhat at a loss to choose from the under-qualified and under-trained candidates being provided by disability NGOs.
Today, EnAble India is no longer an individualistic entrepreneurial social startup, but a well-known and growing organization with diversified programmes and services. One way of looking at EnAble is to understand how they brought scale and depth to employment of PWDs, a segment until recently unrecognized and untapped by mainstream corporates. The genesis of Enable goes way back to 1992 when Shanti’s brother, 15 year-old Hari Raghavan was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa, a degenerative eye disease. With the deteriorating vision progressing towards blindness, Hari visited his sister Shanti Raghavan, who was working in USA with an IT company. Shanti and her husband Dipesh were deeply involved in Hari‟s rehabilitation which included teaching him computers with special screen software. As part of his rehabilitation, they worked on his mobility and life skills and in 1997 they themselves returned to India. In 1999, EnAble India was formed by Shanti and Dipesh to use their experience to provide services to more people. Shanti started working in this sector part-time while also working as a Programme Manager in an IT company. EnAble India activities, which were initially limited to computer training, transcription services etc were conducted from one room in their house with some computers donated by various people.
As the work continued and grew, Shanti tried placements for some of the visually -impaired candidates but found it impossible when it came to a full time job. There was a growing feeling in Shanti and Dipesh that although many people expressed the desire to employ PWDs, actual employment was not happening. Shanti and Dipesh felt that here was a glaring gap that needed to be addressed and in 2004, Shanti quit her job and started working full-time at EnAble India.
Between mid-2004 and beginning of 2005, EnAble India started working with persons with other kinds of disabilities (physical, hearing etc). From 2005 to 2007, the operations expanded significantly with employability training, computer training and placements across multiple cities including Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Kolkata and Pune with the help of NGO partners in these cities. In 2008, a dedicated placement cell and training centre was established at EnAble India. This gave needed momentum and scale required for expanding activities in the form of Employment Guidance and Placement (EGP) services to capitalize on the abilities of PWDs while giving them access to assistive technology via training-cum-resource centre.
While addressing the supply aspects on one hand, on the other hand EnAble India worked to address the demand aspects as well. They developed the business case on why companies should hire the disabled. The employer outreach program model was conceived to collaborate with companies. The collaboration helped EnAble India work towards a forecasted demand of jobs for which workplace solutions have been evolved and for which candidates can be developed and trained in advance. Initial companies who started collaborating from 2004-2005 include Shell, Café Coffee Day, IBM, Mphasis, Infosys and others.
What differentiates EnAble India from many other NGOs working in this sector is their attention to details and processes. Once registrations of candidates is done (walk-in at the office plus remote facility to register), the PWD undergoes a series of tests to evaluate his skills. At the end of evaluation, a personal development plan (PDP) is prepared suggesting suitable pre-employment training modules at the EnAble India training center for candidate development. PWD profiles are standardized into manual/unskilled, semi-skilled and skilled jobs suitability during profiling to be fed into Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software later. Profiling (not just education and skills but also psychological profiling) is critical because it allows the evaluator to fine-tune his suggestions for suitable employment avenues.
The CANDIDATE DEVELOPMENT PROG (CDP) is another critical element of EnAble India’s process. The CDP is extremely relevant because it has been developed after in-depth analysis of, and consultation with, different industries/companies’ process and culture. The course content consists of not just domain knowledge but also life-skills, coping with the environment (e.g. accessibility issues), analytical skills training etc. Some of the courses offered include Medical Transcription and Computer training for the Visually-impaired and BPO training for the hearing-impaired.
EnAble India has an Employer Outreach Program, which is a long-term collaboration with companies to create job opportunity for PWDs by identifying the types of jobs which can be performed by PWDs. Then, for the identified jobs EnAble India works with the company and provides information on how the work would be actually carried out by PWDs via workplace solutions (if any). Then they work on training candidates, placement, post placement and other services to company. The latter may include sensitization for company employees, access audits, workplace solutions and consulting to create a barrier-free work place for the disabled.
In the post placement retention services, periodic reviews (separate reviews with employer and employee) are done by staff or volunteer of EnAble India. Based on the feedback, consultancy services, troubleshooting or need based training for the employee is organized.
Shanti has a fundamentally different approach to looking at problems. PWDs are very solution-based, she says. The same can be applied to her methodology as her. Never saying No, and actively looking for solutions to every challenge, is what differentiates Enable India and its founder from others. Shanti says that although the challenges are many, it is a fact that teams with disabled hires have better employee engagement indices, and managers have confirmed that a PWD adds so much value to the team just by virtue of being so solution-based. As Shanti says “What value does dealing with a PWD, day in and day out, add to YOU as a person? If you can deal successfully and empathetically with someone with a sensory impairment, aren’t you growing as a person?”
Last year EnAble India submitted to a Social Accounting and Audit process which computed the economic impact of the organization’s work. The SAN audit concluded that the ratio of economic activity directly generated by EnAble India’s work (through employment of PWDs) to the income/funds raised during the same period, was an impressive 6.55. If there are any nay-sayers to the business case for employing PWDs, this should be a statistic to ponder on!