Lagos Nigeria: In a bid to scale up disability-inclusive workplace culture in Africa in line with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Access Corporation hosted Sightsavers Chief Executive, Dr Caroline Harper and key stakeholders in the human resource management and sustainability space to a breakfast roundtable recently at its Access Towers headquarters, Victoria Island, Lagos.
Welcoming guests to the occasion, Bolaji Agbede, Executive Director, Access Corporation, who revealed that the roundtable primarily aims to establish mutually rewarding partnerships between Sightsavers International and Nigerian private sector leaders primarily to scale up disability-inclusive workplace cultures, thanked the NGO for their commitment to ensuring disability inclusion especially across Africa and across the world since its establishment some 70 years ago.
“Part of the things that you have been able to do is capacity building and creating opportunities for people living with disabilities to be employed. It has been reported that over a billion people representing about 15% of the population of the world live with one form of disability or the other.
“If we are to bring it to Africa, we have about only 10% of children living with disability actually have the opportunity to get education. This is something that we need to think about especially when we say our children are the future leaders of our world.
“Now let me bring it home to Nigeria. I think you have come at a time when this is very important. In Nigeria recently, an act has been passed called the Nigeria disability Law that prohibits discrimination based on disability. It is now mandatory that the minimum of 5% of our workforce are people living with one form of disability or the other,” she said.
Urging participants to avail themselves to having an open-heart conversation about how these policies can be implemented in the workplace and on the key strategies and effective approaches to inclusive development and the protection of human rights of persons with disabilities, she revealed that there is so much that needs to be done about disability inclusion as this is just scratching the workplace.
Following her welcome address, Country Director for Sightsavers in Nigeria, Dr. Sunday Isiyaku laid the background on the work of the organisation in Nigeria and why it is focusing on disability inclusion on the continent. “Disability is something we all potentially live with. It is estimated that we have 25 million living with disability in Nigeria. The population of Senegal is 17 million, the population of Ghana is about 25 million, the population of Sierra Leone is seven million, Liberia, five million. This means that we have enough people living with disability in Nigeria to form a country of its own. That just tells us that these are the group of people we really need to pay attention to.
“What I have found out in my years being with Sightsavers is that the persons living with disability have something extra that a lot of us don’t have. My understanding is that once someone has a disability, they get something extra, There may be six persons in a room but the person with disability knows what is happening around them more than the other five because they have something extra about them. What we found out is that when these persons are employed, they give their organisations an edge.
We do appreciate that employing people with disability comes with its challenges, but they are not insurmountable. Our Inclusion Works Programme has demonstrated that we can do that very well. The programme helped us with the leadership that Access has provided for us to set up Nigeria Business Disability Network.
Now, for us, we took the first step to create that awareness about disability and the fact that the recently passed act requires that we employ 5% of people with disability. We need the same momentum to push and ensure that we are compliant with that act,” he said.
Caroline Harper while giving her address revealed that though this wasn’t her first time in the country, having been around in states like Zamfara, she revealed that so much has changed for the better, in the works that Sightsavers support since the last time she was around.
“Sightsavers is not some kind of organisation that flies in people, does some sort of operation and flies off again. But beyond their work of preventing, treating and educating people about blindness among other eye-related issues, Harper says Sightsavers primary objective is for people with disabilities to fight for their rights, speak up for themselves and ensuring that governments are not just passing off these acts but also enforcing them.
“What we are doing and is increasingly becoming important to us is economic empowerment hinged on our inclusion works programme. Though that programme officially came to an end in June, it was so successful that we are recognising it as stage one of our economic empowerment programme and we are moving on to a much bigger programme in nine countries across Africa, including Nigeria.
“We are going to be investing five million dollars into helping disabled people into work and helping employers learn how to employ them. So, that partnership between the employer and the employees is to ensure that the 25 million people with disabilities in Nigeria will have the right and ability to go to work,” she said.
But employing people with disabilities should not be a form of ‘CSR’ or ‘feel good’ initiative or something organisations should be compelled to do by the government, Harper argued. “Employers are starting to recognise that this is not a charitable thing to do. This is not about feeling sorry for people with disabilities… “because we are a nice organisation, we should employ you” …it isn’t even about because the legislation says we must. What this is really about, is a whole group of people with tremendous potential talent that have been left out, that have gone to waste.
“Now, we all know in today’s world that there is a fight for good talent. It is not easy to find good people. There is a lot of competition, there is a lot of staff turnover right across the world. And yet, we seem to leave out 15 percent of the people that could be part of the workforce. It’s time we recognised that these people can tremendously add to the economic success of your company and also the country.”
While thanking Access Bank for chairing the disability network in Nigeria, she called on other organisations and stakeholders to join in leading the way in disability inclusion across their organisations. She called on businesses to reserve a quota of employment positions for persons living with disabilities, assuring them that it will be one of the best decisions they would be making for their respective organisations. “We want this movement to grow. We want you to become ambassadors for this movement. We are out shouting about it…be leaders in this space and help people recognise how important it is to bring people with disabilities into work, to give them access to work,” she concluded.
In her vote of thanks, the Head of Sustainability for Bank Plc, Omobolanle Victor-Laniyan thanked participants for taking time out of their busy schedules to be part of the all-important discourse on disability inclusion.
In attendance at the event are key stakeholders in human resource management and sustainability including Chief Executive Officer, Prunedge, Joel Ogunsola; Country Manager, Microsoft Nigeria & Ghana, Olatomiwa Williams; Human Resources Director, Guinness Nigeria, Ayodeji Ajibola; Executive Director, Access Bank Plc, Dr Gregory Jobome; and Chief Executive, CSR-in-Action, Bekeme Masade-Olowola, Human Resources Director, Guinness Nigeria, Ayodeji Ajibola; Bolaji Agbede; and Director, Programme & Operations, Sightsavers Nigeria, Dr Joy Shu’aibu.
Others are Chief Executive Officer, Awesome Communications, Joshua jayi; Program Development Advisor, Sightsavers Nigeria, Rasak Adekoya; Human Resources Director, Guinness Nigeria, Ayodeji Ajibola; Group Head, Customer Experience Management & Sustainability, Polaris Bank, Bukola Oluyadi; Sustainability Manager, Standard Chartered Bank, Olaitan Olatunde; and Talent Engagement Manager, Diageo, Tolulope Osisi, among others.