|Self-Employment for Disabled People - Experiences from Africa and Asia (ILO, 1989, 100 p.)|
|3. Disabled entrepreneurs: Case studies|
Although some of the five businesses described are still receiving modest external assistance, this is relatively insignificant in relation to their earnings. All of them, however, have benefited significantly from assistance of various kinds received earlier. We have attempted to present the case studies in a sequence of decreasing order of magnitude with regard to assistance. However much they have been helped, however, all the enterprises have relied mainly on the efforts and initiative of their founders, owners and managers.
Babu was clearly in desperate need when he lost his leg. The staff suggested what he should do, gave him the necessary training and arranged for finance from a bank. Their most important contribution, however, may have been the psychological encouragement they gave him when he was first admitted to the rehabilitation centre. Without this intensive counselling, it is doubtful whether he would have achieved anything at all.
One of the major distinctions between promoting self-employment for the disabled and assisting others who are not disabled may be that disabled people sometimes need this type of encouragement, as well as more familiar services such as training, advice and finance. It has already been pointed out that self-employment is not for everyone, and assistance agencies - even if they do not recognise this fact - are usually compelled by their shortage of resources to be very selective. They thus tend to select people who display initiative, have ideas, and are willing and able to demonstrate their commitment by obtaining information and generally participating in and taking over the process of setting themselves up in business.
Disabled people such as Babu may be different; he may indeed have possessed the qualities of enterprise before suffering the shock of cancer and amputation, but the staff of the centre had no way of finding out what he was like before this happened to him. All they could do was to offer him, and other patients, intensive counselling and encouragement in order to identify those who responded by coming out of their depression and taking control over their own lives.
Disability, like the loss of a secure job, unexpected bereavement, becoming a refugee or any other shock, can sometimes be the very stimulus that drives somebody to self-employment. Even if it were possible for rehabilitation staff to find out what sort of people their clients were before they were disabled, this would not necessarily be an accurate guide to their personalities afterwards. The experience may significantly enhance their energy, self-confidence and initiative or it may have precisely the opposite effect.
It is important to note that Babu, like most successful entrepreneurs, made some commitment to his enterprise from his own resources from the very beginning. He was not given or lent all the necessary money, but had to invest Rs 300 from his own funds. Although this was a negligible amount compared with the total of Rs 1 1,000 which he needed to start his dairy enterprise, it was probably significant in relation to his limited means. The rehabilitation centre helped him to make up the necessary amount by putting together a package from his money, their own small grant and a substantial loan from the bank. Assistance agencies must often recognise that their main function is to mobilise other resources rather than using their own. The Soroptimist Club of Bacolod helped the members of the Rainbow Kiosk with some funds, but it also used its contacts to persuade a private sector company to help and it no doubt facilitated the granting of rent-free space for the kiosk which was constructed with its money.
Disabled people are often even less able to obtain access to the authorities or to potential sources of assistance than are other marginalised groups because of their lack of physical and social mobility. The external agency that is able to help them bridge this gap can thus render a vital service which may be more useful than long-term financial assistance.
The rehabilitation centre gave Babu a regular supplement to his income, but only for three years. This was probably a very valuable cushion in the early years of his business, but it was rightly withdrawn when he showed that he was able to earn sufficient income from his enterprise without further subsidy.
Bob Sabio is continuing to receive P 1,000 a year, or about US$ 50, although this is less than 1 per cent of the profits he earns from his figurine manufacturing enterprise. This small amount was probably very important to him at the beginning, and has of course been enormously devalued over the years by the effects of inflation. Nevertheless, it may be better for assistance institutions to follow the example of the rehabilitation centre of the Indian Cancer Society in Maharashtra and to cut off subsidies when they are no longer necessary. This enables the money to be spent on helping others to overcome the difficulties of starting on their own and also ensures that disabled people themselves recognise that their goal is to move beyond the needs of the subsidy.
Binti Manoa and Bob Sabio both showed how people themselves are often more able to come up with good ideas for self-employment than are outside advisers. Binti Manoa carefully appraised her own situation and the market, and selected a business for which there was a demand and which she could see would use her skills and avoid the problems posed by her disability. It is unlikely that any external adviser would have suggested making figurines as an enterprise and this is the kind of activity for which project profiles and similar pre-prepared studies are manifestly inappropriate. However, Bob Sabio's enterprise is probably the most successful so far described. Like any entrepreneur, he was alive to opportunities and picked up the idea with enthusiasm when it was suggested to him by his friend.
It may sometimes be necessary, as in the case of Babu, for an adviser to suggest what some people should do if they have no ideas of their own. The staff of assistance agencies must recognise, however, that their own ideas are unlikely to be as good as those which people have for themselves. The most carefully researched project, suggested to and undertaken by an unenthusiastic entrepreneur, is unlikely to succeed as well as an apparently foolish or unconsidered idea implemented by someone who believes in it because he thought of it himself.
Like all the subjects of the case studies, Fely Lucas displayed remarkable persistence and resilience in the face of continued difficulties. It is interesting and typical of classic entrepreneurial behaviour that she still wishes to continue and indeed expand her activities although her responsibilities for her children's education are more or less completed. She has all kinds of other plans and successful business achievement has become an aim in itself rather than a means of increasing her income for the benefit of her children.
Many of the disabled business people covered by our inquiry expressed a desire to help other disabled people achieve independence through self-employment. Some may want to do this before they themselves have reached the stage where they can afford to help others or where they have anything worth showing in terms of an example. It may also be a standard response to interviewers, but the effective collaboration of the Rainbow Kiosk group showed that even people who suffer from a variety of disabilities are able to work together more effectively than many who do not suffer any common hardships.
Perhaps the most encouraging evidence in favour of self-employment for the disabled is Bob Sabio's statement that he is now happier than he used to be when he worked as a salaried employee, even though he had a senior job and was not disabled. Self-employment has provided him with an opportunity to obtain self-fulfilment in terms of personal creative self-reliance and support for his family; this is surely as much as anyone could ask.