RETHINKING DISABILITY EMPOWERMENT IN THE MIDST OF AN ECONOMIC CRISIS

The current fuel price hike and an expected economic turmoil as a result of the pump changes signal an uphill task for the Government, as it seeks to put itself in order and sort out the issues like it promised during the campaigns. As the needs outstretch the resources available, there is bound to be an effect on the livelihoods of the people, including persons with disabilities who have for a long time, been in the cold as far as economic empowerment is concerned. 

From the look of things, social protection programmes might take a hit given that there is no return on investment on the money spent on these programmes. There is also the challenge of sustainability, meaning that the money spent on these things is more or less the extra money earned after an activity. At the height of its peak, Kenya Airways supported the national rugby team as part of its Corporate Social Responsibility. After profits took a hit and the company survived on Government bailouts, the CSR support of the national rugby team had to go. 

With most of the social protection programmes being donor funded from development partners outside of the country, it remains to be seen how the donor community will synergize with the new administration. Donor relations are sometimes delicate depending on the political relationship between countries and its leaders and these things change just like normal human relations. For instance, the former US President was fond of threatening developing nations of reducing donor aid should they take a stance that is contrary to his wishes. Such issues are sorted out within diplomatic circles and normalcy is quickly restored for mutual benefit between countries. 

In a seemingly gloomy situation, one may wonder whether there is a saving grace in all these. And the good news is, there is. In his campaigns and inaugural speech, President William Ruto talked of a Last Mile connectivity for internet penetration in every home in the country. Given that the Kenya Power and Lighting Company is thinking of the same thing (providing home internet services through its large electricity network to rival telecommunication networks), the President will be supporting an initiative to unlock the potential of the internet to connect people to jobs and business opportunities, now that working from home culture seems to have taken root across the world. With disability centric organizations such as Riziki Source and StepWise coming together to empower persons with disabilities with digital skills, the opportunity for remote working is a huge economic empowerment for persons with disabilities. Of course, this is a good platform for persons with disabilities to gain experience and expertise on how to navigate the increasingly digitized world. 

As persons with disabilities work in the digital space, organizations of persons with disabilities can spread their wings and guide other organizations on how to go about disability inclusion, without losing the value of technology in the organization. In fact, technology should not be used to suppress inclusion of persons with disabilities, but rather, it should be used to enhance and entrench inclusion. For instance, Microsoft uses the Minecraft video game in the interviewing process for persons with autism in its Autism Hiring Programme. 

With this in place, companies would be more than eager to employ persons with disabilities, or develop mechanisms that support businesses owned by persons with disabilities, in a business to business (B2B) setting. All this is possible by utilizing the ESG and sustainable finance tools that are growing in value by the day.

More to this is the fact that, most of the ESG initiatives in Kenya are coming from Nairobi Securities Exchange (NSE) traded companies, and the NSE has a reporting mechanism for ESG performance which took effect this year. This means organizations are technically in a race to implement these initiatives, lest they will be called out by investors and be left in the dust by the competition. The end result is that there will be a ton of economic empowerment opportunities for persons with disabilities and organizations of persons with disabilities without the financial involvement of the Government. 

Be of good cheer. Things are looking up.