Encouraging entrepreneurs with disabilities will boost the Kenyan economy and foster a more inclusive society

Lucy Murage Uncategorized December 11, 2023

Lylian Adhiambo’s doughnut business was struggling. She kept no records but knew the few doughnuts she sold each day was not enough to make a profit.

“Persons with disability most of the time are not recognised within the community,” Lylian said. 

“They see you as a burden because you cannot do anything.”

The discrimination Lylian describes is a key reason why the Kenyan economy is missing out on a rich — but largely untapped — source of talent.    

The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics puts the unemployment rate among people with disabilities at 40 per cent compared to 73 per cent for people without disabilities. The situation pervades both the public and private sector – with government data revealing only one per cent of people with disabilities are employed in the public sector.

This is despite Kenya having ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) in 2008, legally committing to protect and promote the right to dignified work and employment for people with disabilities. 

Article 54 of the Constitution of Kenya also mandates that people with disabilities must make up a minimum of five per cent of the public workforce. This together with the Persons with Disabilities Act, 2003 provides safeguards on the rights to education, employment and participation in all facets of society, including the labour market.

But many obstacles to economic inclusion persist. Widespread stigma and discrimination limit the ability of people with disabilities from gaining income, thus plunging them deeper into poverty.

A recent report by Inclusive Futures and USAID found “legal reform is sorely needed” in Kenya to ensure people with disabilities are not discriminated against in employment. Barriers persist in hiring, promotion, access to technology, and support, impeding the integration of people with disabilities into the workforce and the larger labour market.

Excluding people with disabilities from the world of work and entrepreneurship is not only discriminatory – it is also expensive. 

It can cost a country between 3 and 7 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) a year in labour market losses. Globally, this adds up to about $6 trillion a year, according to a Sightsavers analysis of World Bank and International Labour Organisation data.   

Yet when given equal opportunities, people with disabilities bring diverse skills to the workforce, sparking innovation which enriches Kenya’s socio-economic landscape. This not only improves the lives of people with disabilities but also boosts Kenya’s economic growth, creating a more inclusive and diverse society.

On December 3rd, the world celebrates the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. This year, with a rallying call for collaborative efforts in driving inclusive economic growth for, with and by persons with disabilities. And the realisation of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, particularly Goal 8, focused on economic growth and decent work for all.

Nearly 1,700 micro-entrepreneurs with disabilities throughout Kenya — half of them women — have been supported with business training under the InBusiness Programme. The programme includes practical skills training on everything from bookkeeping to branding, as well as the provision of business growth kits.    

InBusiness is led by Light for the World, an international NGO focused on development and disability inclusion in several countries, including Kenya. The initiative is part of Inclusive Futures, a flagship disability inclusive development programme funded by multiple partners, including UK Aid and USAID.   

InBusiness is designed to empower micro-entrepreneurs with disabilities by enhancing their business skills and integrating them into mainstream value chains, fostering an equitable entrepreneurial ecosystem.  

Successful entrepreneurs like Pascal Sumba and Vanandis Makokha, who completed InBusiness training, exemplify the potential of persons with disabilities as successful business owners. Their journeys, from local ventures to impactful businesses, underscore the resilience and capabilities inherent among people with disabilities in diverse value chains.

Pascal, a mattress entrepreneur went from selling out of his house to becoming a household name in the Western Province.  

“If I were to take my stock and put it in my house now, it would not fit!” Pascal said. 

“This journey has taught me that if you want to achieve something, you have to be patient and put faith in your future vision.”

Similarly, Vanandis, who spent nearly three years in hospital as a boy after contracting tetanus, now runs a thriving general store in Mumias, Kakamega County. 

“In life everything has a purpose,” Vanandis said. 

“Computers can’t walk but they can do a lot. As human beings what is important is that we become useful in life.”   

Lylian nearly tripled her profits after taking record keeping classes and expanding the bakery’s product range.
 “I never thought that there would come a day I would never have to borrow from someone and would be independent,” Lylian said. 

Yet, despite these strides, full societal inclusivity remains an ongoing journey. The accomplishments of entrepreneurs like Pascal, Lylian and Vanandis do not eradicate the discrimination faced by persons with disabilities. We must continue to advocate for equal rights and opportunities in workplaces, businesses and society at large.

As the world commemorates International Day for Persons with Disabilities, we must all galvanise our actions towards achieving economic justice for people with disabilities. Stakeholders across sectors – governments, the private sector, organisations of persons with disabilities and all Kenyans – must unite in fostering an environment that values and embraces the diverse talents of persons with disabilities. This entails not just legal compliance, but also a conscious effort towards dismantling discriminatory practices in employment, entrepreneurship, and societal inclusion. 

The time is rife to step beyond rhetoric and implement actionable measures and interventions that ensure equal opportunities, provide reasonable accommodation, accessibility and support for people with disabilities in the workplace and business environments.

Above all, persons with disabilities must drive the call for their economic justice forward and actively participate in all decision-making processes and policy formulation that directly impact their lives. By amplifying their voices, we elevate diverse perspectives and ensure that inclusivity is not just an idea but a lived reality. 

Additionally, businesses and entrepreneurs in diverse value chains must embrace diversity to foster innovation and economic prosperity, creating spaces that accommodate and celebrate the unique contributions of persons with disabilities. 

Together, let us commit to a future where everyone, regardless of ability, thrives in a society that promotes equality and embraces the invaluable diversity of talents and capabilities.  

Lucy Murage is the Head of Programmes at Light for the World Kenya

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