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    Giving Wings to the Differently Abled


    Scott Hamilton is quoted saying–the only disability in life is a bad attitude. Nothing better could set the tone for what you are about to read–an article on how differently–abled people can gel well within our organisation and work at par with, perhaps even better than, the rest of the workforce. And helping them in this endeavour is PANKH–Wings of Destiny, an initiative by Trust for  Retailers and Retail Associates of India (TRRAIN) and Youth 4 Jobs Foundation (Y4J). The initiative aims to train people with disabilities (PwD) and provide them employment opportunities in retail.

    When Eswaramma, a young girl with a lower limb disability, from a small village in the Nellore district of Andhra Pradesh became a part of the Pankh training programme, she went ahead to not only inspire other people with disabilities but also employers looking to employ them. Post her 90-day training, she was placed with as a cashier. The year was 2012 and two years down the line today, she has not only managed to awe her colleagues at work with the awards and recognition, but has also gone ahead to make her parents proud of her who were all set to get her married as early as possible; owing to her disability. In the last two years, Eswaramma’s pay cheque has grown more than 30 per cent and she also bagged the ‘cashier of the month’ award for 10 months. To hear it in her own words: “My parents would always worry about me. Today, I have given them the confidence that I can not only earn my living, but also support my family. This gives me a great sense of achievement. My parents are very happy to see me as an grow up to be an independent person, as I have proven that I am no less than anyone else.”
    Pankh–Giving wings to the disabled
    Inspired by Meera Shenoy’s work at Youth 4 Jobs Foundation, B.S. Nagesh, Founder, TRRAIN, set up Pankh and the organisation set off to spread its wings in May 2011, with mapping of various roles in retail that complimented people with a disability. Citing the idea behind the inception of Pankh, Nagesh shares: “Pankh was launched with the idea of creating a means of livelihood for the differently-abled. This has been an objective of our trust – TRRAIN. While visiting Shenoy’s Y4J foundation, I realised that PwD can be a big source for livelihood creation in retail as well, as the retail sector can create a major impact in society with the inclusion of PwDs in retail. This led to Pankh, which is an initiative of TRRAIN–Youth 4 Jobs and is housed in our trust.”
    Out of the 110 roles identified, 30 were mapped to people with locomotor and speech and hearing disabilities. Since then, 500 people with disabilities have been trained and employed in the retail industry under this programme. Elaborating on the initiative, Nagesh shares: “Pankh – Wings of Destiny is a project to create sustainable livelihoods for people with disabilities and build an inclusive workforce in retail. Since TRRAIN works as a thought leader and as a catalyst, we had to work on creating a model wherein we work along with other NGOs and create an impact. The initiative itself is a partnership of two non-profit organisations–TRRAIN  and Y4J. To work with other NGOs, we had to create a model that could be executed using our strengths and still achieve the right impact. Pankh brings together the content, train the trainer, creates the marketplace for retailers to provide on-the-job training and ultimately provide the job, whereas the NGO partner sources the candidates, trains them and provides the infrastructure for training, boarding and lodging. TRRAIN funds the programme through its donor base.”
    Elaborating on the funding for the initiative, Nagesh says: “Until March 2013, the major funding was taken care of by me. However, as the model is now established, we are approaching individuals, families, foundations and corporate entities to support the cause either by adopting an individual, a batch or a centre for the years ahead.” Elaborating on the reach, he reveals: “Our centres are located at Hyderabad, Nalgonda, Rajmundry and Tirupati (NGO partner–Y4J Foundation), Bengaluru (Samarthanam Trust for the Disabled and Alamba Charitable Trust), Dharwad (Samarthanam Trust for the Disabled), Ahmedabad (Blind Peoples’ Association) and Mumbai. We have trained and employed 620 youths with disabilities and 190 youths, currently under training at various centres, would complete their training by the end of this month.”
    In 2014-15, Pankh plans to train and provide livelihood to 1100 PwDs. Nagesh adds: “To accomplish our aim, we want to raise ` 1.1 crore towards this cause.”
    Talking about the time it takes to put the entire programme in place and see through its completion, Nagesh says: “All our projects are done in three phases: testing the concept in a lab environment; doing a pilot and developing a scalable model with a consulting firm; and then scale. Pankh was supported by Accenture in creation of the model for scale-up. It took us a year to complete the pilot; six months to develop the model and thereafter for scaling up. We hope to provide 1,100 livelihoods in 2014-15 compared to 600 in 2013-14.”
    In its effort to sensitise the industry towards creating employment for the disabled, very recently, Pankh along with Accenture launched a whitepaper titled, ‘Breaking New Ground: Empowering Persons with Disabilities to Succeed in the Retail Sector’. The study highlighted the fact that if given a fair chance, employing people with disabilities would not only help organisations to build a strong brand image for themselves but it also leads to significant business benefits.
    Talking about the roadblocks and challenges, Nagesh minces no words when he says: “Most roadblocks have been mindset issues; the belief that two NGOs cannot work together, or professionals and qualified people will not join NGOs. Also, most donors want to support individual PwD’s livelihood creation cost and not the corporate or infrastructure cost. Most of these challenges will be overcome as people are seeing the model being executed and benefits being delivered. However, the biggest challenge revolves around sourcing PwD youth for the programme, providing accommodation post their training and during their first 6 months of employment when they are most vulnerable. We have seen them transform into very confident individuals in 6-9 months and start contributing to the retail organisation.”
    Some facts and figures
    As India moves ahead to make a mark for itself globally attracting foreign investments and brands to set their base, retail happens to be the second largest employer in the country by employing 33 million people. As mentioned in the white paper, 7 per cent of total costs in retail is of manpower and in spite of that, the need for skilled workforce continues to grow unabated coupled with the challenge of over 6 per cent monthly attrition. Another challenge that the industry faces is that of disengaged front-end staff. All these combined, put a greater onus on discovering and tapping new talent pool that can be relied upon. Nagesh points out: “Persons with disabilities, with a population of 70 million but less than 1 per cent employability, provide a unique opportunity as they are a largely untapped source of manpower, with the right skills to play a multitude of roles in the sector.” What causes a hindrance, though, is the employers’ lack of experience and understanding about how to assess their abilities and contributions. Nagesh adds: “There is also a tendency to club people with disabilities into a homogenous group, even though capabilities may differ from person to person.”
    Why employ PwD
    The stress on equal rights and equal opportunities sans biases based on caste, community, sex and physical attributes guide the social framework of our lives today, or at least that is what people like to believe. Today, organisations across the globe are increasingly realising that inclusion and diversity can be a source of competitive strength. By hiring PwD, organisations convey to consumers their willingness to embrace diversity. The initiative also sensitises other employees to the needs of their PwD customers. This in turn promotes creativity, innovations and better decision making.
    Legally speaking, as per the draft rules of the Company Act, 2013, all public companies with a paid-up capital of over Rs. 100 crore are bound to spend 2 per cent of their average net profits before tax for the previous 3 years on CSR activities. The allocation of funds also includes any income resulting from CSR activities. Skilling and employment of youths fall within the purview of social responsibility. According to Nagesh: “Today, several organisations and industries are embracing PwD in their workforce to fulfil their corporate social responsibility objectives as well as business goals.”
    The whitepaper highlights that employment of PwD drives diversity and builds a strong brand image of the organisation amongst its customers. The research reveals that PwD has a lower monthly attrition at 3.3 per cent compared to the industry figure of 6.8 per cent. Lower attrition further compounded by EPF or ESI benefit rewarded by government to organisations for employment of PwD can lead to benefits as high as 8 per cent annual salary of the employee. The graphs below highlight some other advantages of employing PwD in organisations.
    Sourcing PwD
    As observed from the table above, NGOs are a haven for sourcing PwD. However, the responsibility does not rest just with sourcing. An organisation looking at hiring PwD has to work its way to ensure that the work, policies and the team is supportive to people with disabilities. Nagesh shares: “For successful inclusion of PwD, organisations need to develop robust practices of sourcing, training and retention. Effective PwD inclusion and PwD requires identification of relevant roles for people with specific disabilities and development of their career paths.” The white paper reveals that store operations account for 75-80 percent of the total workforce employed in the organised retail sector. Of these, the majority of recruitments are for front-end or retail associate roles, which require people with sound product knowledge and soft skills, such as communication and life skills.

    A few online sources for potential PwD employees include:
    Disability employment portals
    National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP)
    Karnataka Government Job Portal for People with Disabilities
    Ability Foundation
    Enable India
    Anubhuti HR Solution for Differently Abled
    Role disability mapping
    One of the key challenges faced by organisations in sourcing PwD is the lack of awareness about what roles they can be hired for. Hence, an organisation should undertake a detailed exercise to identify roles and map each role to the ability a person has. Nagesh reiterates: “It should also be cognizant of the fact that people with disabilities are not a homogenous group; they can have different levels of ability.” To substantiate this, let’s take the example of Lifestyle, which has successfully hired three hearing-impaired individuals as cashiers, as interaction with customers tends to be quite limited. When there are specific queries, they are assisted by other cashiers.”
    Disabled people can be a great asset for any organisation. What perhaps needs to be understood is how best they can be placed to be a part of the system without any ‘prejudice’ or ‘pity’. Retail has the capacity to absorb a million such individuals if the government, retail associates and retailers join hands with NGOs and social enterprises to provide impetus to this initiative