Finally, inclusion becomes a yardstick for success

Modern America is essentially shaped by two men. The two, JP Morgan and John D Rockefeller, developed what would become the blueprint of ‘corporate success’ in the modern world. Though in different industries, Morgan and Rockefeller applied the same strategy to achieve growth and company dominance. They bought out small companies to become part of their big business empires. By buying out small oil distillers at the time, Rockefeller’s Standard Oil owned 90% of the oil fields in the US, with JP Morgan buying out diverse businesses such as a prominent steel manufacturing plant and the Thomas Edison electricity plant that became the behemoth that is General Electric. 

A recent example is the acquisition of YouTube by Google in 2006, and the buying out of Marvel by Disney in 2009. YouTube is a top revenue earner for Google and its parent company Alphabet and so is Marvel for Disney with blockbuster movies like the Spiderman franchise. In Kenya, KCB bought the nearly collapsing National Bank of Kenya ,Co-operative Bank bought out Jamii Bora Bank and made it a  subsidiary under a new name, the Kingdom Bank.

Recently, the International Finance Corporation (IFC), KPMG and the Nation Media Group announced a partnership for the 2022 Top 100 SME Awards. The awards are held annually with an exception being made for the year 2020 and 2021, to recognize and celebrate outstanding medium-sized businesses innovating to solve market challenges and making waves in Kenya. Statistically, 80 percent of Kenya’s job market is from the SME sector and the Government has been doing all it can to support it, including the stimulus packages to cushion it from economic shocks arising from the pandemic in the last two years.

The role of the SMEs cannot be understated. SMEs are the career launch pads for most people in the employment sector because they provide accessibility into the workplace  unlike multinationals which demand high grades and a ton of experience for one to get the job. Of course, this phenomenon has been challenged with the rise of the gig economy where one can learn a skill, and sign up for jobs on sites that provide on demand labor jobs. The disadvantage is that, unlike the packages that come with multinational jobs especially on the upper and middle management level, such as medical insurance, paid leave and all the benefits, there’s no job security for on demand jobs. Gig economy is like running a sole proprietor business. Without the owner the business is at risk. 

Small and medium enterprises allow one to sharpen their skills by allowing them to learn on the job and get better with time. This happens minus or with little remuneration, and the logic behind this thinking is that the employer bears the cost of training or retraining the employee so it would be unfair to them to be expected to pay the employee. This logic is very applicable to small businesses that do not have very healthy books in terms of profits. But if the organization is a big organization making profits, it's only fair to train and pay the employee. At Least they will learn the skill, get better at it, and place themselves at a position where the competitor can poach them. By this time the small organization is normally caught flat footed and there’s no possibility of countering what the competitor is offering. 

The immediate cost of inclusion might seem prohibitive at the start and this explains why most organizations avoid hiring persons with disabilities. Reasonable accommodation facilities and training comes at a cost, but it is not comparable to the costs that come about when an organization discriminates either directly or indirectly, against persons with disabilities. For instance, there are legal repercussions should a media house not have sign language interpreters. With the aid of technology like the AssistAll App, one can have the services of a sign language interpreter easily at an affordable cost. The opposite of that is that if a media house doesn’t have sign language interpreters, they lose an audience, legal fees to contend with, and renewal of license fees, since the punishment of not having interpreters may include suspension of the media license till the station puts its house in order. 

In this year’s top 100 SME Awards, one of the criteria is the implementation of ESG initiatives to include among them, inclusion. Inclusion is where disability involvement comes in. If disability inclusion is of such a key consideration in such prestigious awards, then persons with disabilities have won big and it's only a matter of time before the full benefits are everywhere to be seen. It also serves as a signal to the rest of the private sector to fast track their inclusion efforts to have more numbers in their sustainability reports before the IFC facilitates them to more opportunities, since the IFC is the World Bank arm that engages with the private sector by majorly providing capital injection for expansion to new markets or scaling their operations in the existing market.

What does this contend for persons with disabilities? It means a floodgate of opportunities. It could happen in various ways. First, existing small businesses may choose to engage disability employment organizations like Riziki Source to train them on disability accommodation in the workplace and then train their new employees themselves over time as inclusion becomes more ingrained in the organization’s culture. When the environment is right, they can seek to have persons with disability employees, with the security that the environment is right for them and that the PWDs have peace of mind at the workplace. This takes time as opposed to hiring persons with disabilities and learning on the job how to go about disability inclusion in the workplace.

Second, medium enterprises may choose to amalgamate with the small business and rebrand to become one organization. With that the inclusion is fused as the operations of the two organizations merge. From there it could just need more additional numbers of PWD employees, to bolster what is already in place. Third, an organization could choose to support disability employment organizations in terms of financial resources or in terms of expertise, so that the disability employment organization can recruit and train more persons with disabilities to work elsewhere and not necessarily the sponsoring organization. This means that the disability employment organization like Riziki Source is more resourced to look for and equip more persons with disabilities for the job market. 

I can only hope there will be more opportunities like this that help to gradually shove up the numbers of employees with disabilities. Thank you, KPMG, IFC and NMG.