Management Sciences for Health, Inc.

A Billion Voices: Leaders with Disabilities Building Inclusive Societies Highly Ranked

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To learn more about – or provide significant funding to – this project, please contact Lever for Change.

Project Summary

One in eight people lives with a disability. The world’s largest minority, 80% in developing countries, disabled people face social exclusion, abuse, poverty, and discrimination denying them health care, education, employment opportunities, and basic human rights. Governments are slow in translating global disability-rights commitments into policy and practice. Disabled people’s organizations (DPOs) have passion and vision, but often lack the organizational capacities, policy skills, platforms, and resources to mobilize their communities, get seats at the table, and drive concrete improvements in disabled people’s lives. In three countries across three regions (as models for global scale-up), we will support local DPOs—through a proven combination of leadership and organizational development, rights-based policy knowledge, and catalytic funding—in taking action to advance disabled people’s rights and opportunities, strengthen and expand advocacy networks, and partner with governments to build inclusive societies. Disabled people themselves—organized and empowered—will lead in driving transformative change.

Problem Statement

More than a billion people—80% in developing countries—live with disabilities. The world’s largest minority, many face intersecting layers of discrimination, exclusion, and denial of basic human rights. When noticed at all, they are viewed through a lens of charity and dependency, and left out of personal, community, and national decision-making that directly affects their lives. They are silenced, and they suffer: more likely to face poverty; be denied healthcare, education, and employment; and experience violence and abuse. Disability activists have demanded (and increasingly achieved) acknowledgement that disability is best addressed not through institutionalization, segregation, or silence, but by reorganizing society to redress inequities and accommodate differing needs. A new global politics of disability—framed by the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (CRPD, ratified by 177 countries) and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)—has created a global mandate for inclusion and recognized disabled people themselves as the essential engine of change. Many countries have been slow to translate these commitments into policies and programs that produce tangible improvements in the well-being of people with disabilities, who too often lack the platforms and political voice to confront discrimination and exclusion, demand accountability, and participate fully in policy-making and program design. Local DPOs are poised to lead, but their impact is hampered by insufficient technical knowledge on rights-based policies and programs, fragile alliances and networks, underdeveloped organizational capacity and infrastructure, and limited resources. Without investment, disabled people will continue to be left behind on the journey to sustainable development.

Solution Overview

Our solution puts disabled people front and center, supporting a critical mass of DPOs to take leadership roles in addressing laws, policies, and programs that currently fail them. The Billion Voices project will demonstrate that—when they have space, skills, and resources to exercise their agency and apply their ingenuity to knocking down the persistent barriers that deny their rights and limit their participation—people with disabilities can be leaders of transformative social change.Leveraging extensive relationships with DPOs and governments in three countries across three regions (Latin America, Africa, and Asia), we will deliver a proven combination of leadership and organizational development, practical knowledge for rights-based policy-making, coaching, and catalytic funding. DPOs from rural areas to urban centers will prioritize their communities’ most pressing challenges, receiving support and feedback from the project as they marshal evidence to spotlight barriers, articulate and demand rights, mobilize allies to co-create solutions, put ideas into action, and create new norms—including disabled parents enjoying community life with their children, disabled teachers on education councils, and candidates with disabilities winning elections. Learning as we go, our approach will be adapted to on-the-ground realities, capturing a host of practical innovations for addressing and removing obstacles faced by disabled people every day. As DPOs network together, develop capacities, and effect changes that measurably improve inclusion, each focus country will become a regional learning hub, engaging DPOs in four neighboring countries and linking to a global knowledge exchange platform to facilitate wide and rapid spread of lessons learned.

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