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Themes: Culture and Participation

Investing in Disability Inclusion: An Opportunity for Employers and Investors

Written by: Rudaba Zehra Nasir and Daniella Decker (IFC) with Victoria Austin, Catherine Holloway, and Tigmanshu Bhatnagar (GDI Hub)

Persons with disabilities make up one of the largest minorities in the world, with approximately 1.3 billion individuals, or 16% of the global population, living with a disability. This presents a significant and timely opportunity for businesses, corporate leaders, and investors worldwide to lead by example and realize the economic potential and inclusion of persons with disabilities as corporate leaders, employees, entrepreneurs, consumers, and community members.

As we approach COVID-19 recovery, businesses, regulators, and impact investors are taking a more active role in promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), including disability inclusion. This shift toward investing in businesses that embrace disability inclusion is seen as the right thing to do and as a sustainable and profitable business imperative. This blog explores disability-inclusive investments and business and builds on IFC’s inclusive banking report, which highlights the need for financial inclusion for the community. IFC is working with companies and investors to advance the economic inclusion of persons with disability as corporate leaders, employees, entrepreneurs, consumers, and stakeholders. This blog delves into the business case for disability inclusion and the steps corporate leaders and impact investors can take to create a more accessible and inclusive world.

Companies can diversify their value chain and realize business benefits by investing in entrepreneurs with disabilities

Recently, the National Disability Institute (NDI) released the report, Small Business Ownership by People with Disabilities: Challenges and Opportunities. The report finds that, with a significant portion (74 percent) of persons with disabilities outside the labor force, entrepreneurship is an important employment option for this population. However, they are often hindered by limited access to affordable startup capital, contracts, and a scarcity of support, services, and programs tailored to their needs. Despite barriers, entrepreneurs with disabilities demonstrate resilience and can act as change agents by, for example, offering products and services that meet the needs of their community. By tapping into this market, companies can diversify and strengthen their value chain, increase their market share, enhance their reputation, and boost profitability. Investors, including banks and financial institutions, can benefit too. For example, U.K.-based investors stand to gain over £500M a year by investing in entrepreneurs with disabilities.

As an example, Justin Jesudas, an Indian entrepreneur and co-founder of Thryv Mobility, embodies the spirit of entrepreneurship driven by the personal lived experience of a disability. Justin, who uses a wheelchair himself due to a life-altering event, co-founded Thryv Mobility with a strong desire to create meaningful impact. Thryv is an assistive technology solution that is used to create personal mobility solutions and assistive mobility aides, such as wheelchairs, walkers, and canes. Thryv Mobility has received resources from the Indian Institute of Technology Madras (IIT Madras) and has secured accelerator funding.

"As an entrepreneur with a disability, I am proud to be a part of a movement that is shaping up social and workplace inclusion. At Thryv, we are driving the evolution of personal mobility for a more inclusive world" - Justin Jesudas, Co-founder, Thryv Mobility.

Companies can offer products and services to unlock the purchasing power and brand loyalty of persons with disabilities

In recent years, pioneering companies have created inclusive products and services in consultation with communities to meet their diverse accessibility needs while creating a profitable business line. MAS Holdings, a Sri Lankan multinational company, has recently developed an Adaptive Centre of Excellence known as “Lable > by MAS” and is designing inclusive, adaptive apparel. The products have been co-created and tested with over 450 MAS-employed persons with disabilities, the Sri Lankan Paralympic Team and the company’s growing US Consumer Group made up of persons with disabilities.

Persons with disabilities often face physical and digital challenges when it comes to accessing products and services that meet their accessibility requirements. A report by Microsoft found that 65 percent of disabled consumers feel restricted in their daily buying decisions due to various accessibility barriers. As a result, several banks and financial institutions around the world have made changes to their in-person and online services to make them more accessible to all customers. For example, Bancolombia, with a presence in countries such as Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Panama, and Peru, has developed a dedicated website for customers and users with disabilities, mobility, or reduced functionality. Santander Argentina has developed an app called “Háblalo” (Talk about it) to encourage communication with people who face difficulties using banking services.

RightHear is paving the way for accessible and future-forward innovation to benefit the blind and low-vision community. Using beacon technology, which requires onsite radio transmitters (beacons), blind or low-vision customers receive orientation support directly to their earpiece once the app has recognized their location. As of 2022, RightHear had more than 30,000 customers worldwide and covered more than 2,100 locations in Australia, Israel, the United Kingdom, and the United States. RightHear and its competitors have raised over $5.54M since its founding in 2015 and have received funding across 6 funding rounds involving 10 investors.

Companies can expand their talent pool and boost profitability through disability inclusion strategies

The current disability employment gap means that persons with disabilities represent a large, untapped talent pool globally. Employers can realize a host of business benefits when they choose to invest in inclusion. According to a study of companies in Brazil, Germany, India, Japan, UK, and the US, conducted by the Center for Talent Innovation, employees with disabilities are more likely to have an idea that would drive value for their company (75 percent) compared to their non-disabled colleagues (66 percent). IFC’s report on disability-inclusive banking also highlights several practices adopted by global banks to support persons with disabilities, both as employees and as customers, and the business benefits gained as a result of disability-inclusive strategies.

Persons with disabilities hold the key to unlock tremendous economic and social change – What can investors do?

With a growing cohort of investors prioritizing the environmental, social and governance (ESG) impacts of their investments, integrating disability inclusion within ESG frameworks can augment company value, amplifying shareholder returns and mitigating the disparities encountered by employees with disabilities within today's workforce.

Investors can drive the inclusion of persons with disabilities through their influence and capital. To be more disability-inclusive in their investments, investors can consider investees that:

  • Have significant representation of persons with disabilities in active leadership and board positions; are owned/founded by persons with disabilities
  • Employ persons with disabilities across different levels of their staff and workforce
  • Offer adaptive and accessible products for persons with disabilities
  • Support entrepreneurs with disabilities in their value chain
  • Support the disability community through financial and non-financial means

Investors can also ask their investees to report on ESG and DEI disability-inclusive metrics as part of their sustainability reporting framework while safeguarding the rights, data, and privacy of entrepreneurs, employees, and customers. GDI and IFC have been working together to develop resources for disability investing and provide more resources for investors and private sector organizations. Watch this space:

In the meantime, if you would like to follow IFC and GDI Hub’s activities in the global disability innovation and inclusion space, you can:

  1. Catch-up on the Global Disability Summit recordings, including a session on inclusive finance
  2. Find out about £31m investment into the AT2030 program to get life-changing Assistive Technology for all, through increased ground-breaking innovation and research
  3. Catch-up on CNBC news piece covering the scope of GDI Hub’s work and the global need for AT. In this interview with Arabile Gumede, Vicki discusses GDI Hub’s mission and impact to date
  4. Read IFC’s report on Inclusive Banking: Emerging Practices to Advance the Economic Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities
  5. Read more about Social Bond Principles, which include disability considerations