> Posted by Josh Goldstein, Principal Director for Economic Citizenship & Disability Inclusion, CFI

On July 17, I addressed delegates from more than 100 countries at the United Nations on CFI’s initiative to make microfinance institutions disability-inclusive and free from discrimination, in accordance with the Smart Campaign guidelines. The Center (with Smart) is establishing guidelines for a model comprehensive nondiscrimination policy which we are now testing at the award winning MFI, Fundacion Paraguaya.

I also emphasized that government cash transfers and other social welfare measures must be designed to complement employment schemes and not have the unintended consequence of pushing persons with disabilities (PWDs) into dependency.

The occasion was the annual Conference of State Parties that monitors compliance with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the transformative 2006 treaty that mandates equal rights and opportunities for PWDs and has now been ratified by 133 countries.

The theme of this year’s conference was identifying best practices to build “disability-inclusive” development by improving social protection and reducing poverty. The United Nations states that about 80 percent of the more than 1 billion people with disabilities around the world are of working age, and face physical, social, economic, and cultural challenges in gaining access to the building blocks of economic independence.

Among the other speakers, Javed Abidi of Disabled People International impressed me with particularly trenchant and important comments. He emphasized the consequences of lack of accurate data when it comes to persons with disability. Without accurate data, the government policy that responds to that data will be flawed, which in turn leads to the development of social programs that are built on a faulty foundation.

We know with certainty that a vast majority of PWDs are poor and live in the developing world. This is where, I argued, microfinance should play an important role, since self-employment in the informal sector is often the only option. Yet to date, no more than 0.5 percent of microfinance clients around the world are persons with disabilities, even though they are among the largest vulnerable populations in the world at 15 percent of humanity.

At the Center for Financial Inclusion, we want MFIs to recognize that a diverse workforce and client base is not only morally and legally the right thing to do, but that inclusion makes good business sense. That is why the Center is leading a global initiative to rectify this market failure.

Image credit: United Nations

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