Disability Inclusion: 3 Key Insights from India

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An MFI branch manager proudly displaying an internal company award for disability inclusion

Since I’ve written a good bit about microfinance these last weeks, I want to turn back to disability inclusion for my last post of the summer, and think beyond financial inclusion a bit. I’m lucky to have had the opportunity to get a glimpse into a program that’s supporting not just the base of the pyramid in India, but a particularly vulnerable segment of it. As can be expected, though, there is much more work to be done. Disability inclusion is hard – really hard. Just as they are in many other social institutions, people with disabilities (PWD) are frequently excluded from the benefits of well-thought through and intentional development (including financial inclusion) programming. While disability inclusion is definitely on the international development agenda, it’s certainly not the day’s hottest topic or sexiest research agenda. A few of the main challenges I noticed during field work, in talking to disability NGOs and in desk research are as follows:

Making downward accountability a priority

Disability inclusion can’t be tacked onto a development program later on, even if the after thought is well-intentioned. Therefore, program design, whether as an NGO or an MFI seeking to fulfill a social mission, should be disaggregated to highlight how PWD will be involved and affected. And part of downward accountability should also be including the voices of PWD in assessing needs and planning interventions from the beginning. I’m not sure MFIs know whether PWD need credit and if so, how they will productively use it and mitigate potentially negative externalities. PWD should be integral to answering these questions.

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Women learning about finance at a Bangalore MFI branch office

Dedicating staff

In assessing how MFIs are progressing with disability inclusion, it was clear that good intentions alone are not enough. It’s common sense, but people are busy – adding a new mandate to someone’s job, without their buy-in and without training them thoroughly – isn’t going to have much of an effect. Leaving disability inclusion to the “train the trainer” method is a little like kicking the can down the road (which is easy to do when the population you’re hoping to help is inherently less able to advocate for itself), especially in a for-profit environment. However, MFIs have an established corporate social responsibility culture in India, and empowering these dedicated, socially-minded staff to hone in on disability inclusion could be part of a solution.

Leveraging disability serving NGOs

Community disability serving organizations can play an important role in any disability inclusive development program. The NGOs I visited and researched were robust and professional, working hard at the grassroots level to provide services and care for people with disabilities. Their competencies, though, aren’t being disseminated to the extent that they could. There’s a lot of room for these organizations to not only raise industry standards through collaboration and sharing of best practices but also to identify larger disability community needs and make those known.

Accion Ambassador Mandana Nakhai is working deployed to Accion’s local hub office in Bangalore, India, to work on developing strategic partnerships between MFIs and organizations that serve people with disabilities to understand their financial needs and link finance to livelihood and entrepreneurship programming.

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