Zero Project India Conference and CII-IBDN National Conference Inspire Change and Innovation in the Disability Space

Zero Project India Conference and CII-IBDN National Conference Inspire Change and Innovation in the Disability Space

New Delhi, India – September 20, 2023 – The Zero Project India Conference and CII-IBDN National Conference, supported by Omidyar Network India and lead partner Youth4Jobs, concluded its two-day event on Wednesday. This inaugural conference, organised in partnership with GDi Partners, Axis Bank Foundation, and The Hans Foundation, brought together leaders, experts, and advocates from across the globe to focus on empowering individuals with disabilities and driving positive change.

The Conference marked a significant step forward in promoting disability inclusion in India and worldwide. The shared commitment of organizations, leaders, and advocates to build an inclusive society was evident throughout the event.

A Pledge for Inclusive Employment Opportunities

The conference brought together on one platform, stakeholders from every sphere of the movement. Prominently featuring in that list was Rajesh Aggarwal, Secretary, Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities, Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment, Government of India, who said that employment is very important for Persons with Disability to have a very dignified life. He shared the government's commitment to advancing disability rights and opportunities for all and spoke about the launch of the PM Daksh portal, which is a network of networks for skilling and employment opportunities, adding that they are collaborating with different stakeholders such as CII, Youth4Jobs, Enable India, and others to increase the number of job postings to 25,000 very soon. He also spoke about the possibilities of using technology, which are endless. “One language which sometimes gets missed out in all these translation and vernacular devices is sign language. Next week, on International Sign Day, we are releasing in open source 10,000 sign videos and talking to people in the AI field to create sign-to-text and text-to-sign functionality,” he added.

Bollywood's Contribution to Attitudinal Shift

Representing the voice of popular culture was Bollywood actor Saiyami Kher, Friend of Zero Project India Conference, who shared her experience while interacting with multiple para-athletes for her recent movie ‘Ghoomer’ and talked about how her perspective has shifted, " It is inspiring to see that PwDs have figured out that winning in their own minds is key and then everything else follows. That is why, the barriers faced by persons with disabilities are at a societal level and are not something that is intrinsic. The entertainment sector has the power and reach to make a societal change in the country and bring an attitudinal shift of the masses."

Investing in Inclusive Solutions

Shilpa Kumar from Omidyar Network India spoke about the role that investors and funders can play in altering the landscape, "India has seen an enormous change as entrepreneurs and technology have driven substantive change in almost every area. However, such tech-led innovations have led to a double divide for communities that don’t have digital access. This gap is particularly evident in terms of technology focused on persons with disabilities. This is where investors and philanthropists can help catalyze innovation. We can help build a community of changemakers and entrepreneurs who can focus their effort to build inclusive solutions."

The Lens of Enabling Inclusion

Venkatraman SV, Chairman, CII National Committee on Empowerment of PwDs & IBDN, said that in the inclusion eco-system, the charity lens needs to be replaced with the ‘enabling’ lens. The issue of disability diversity is especially crucial in today’s DEI agenda of organizations and the CII-IBDN, a network for engaging, enabling and empowering industry by promoting an inclusive, barrier-free workplace within the corporate sector is accelerating the change. He shared the 4 elements which are common to champion companies vis-à-vis D&I, which are the top management’s commitment leading to inclusive policies and strong governance, conscious inclusive recruitment practices, awareness and adaptation to break barriers, and forging strong partnerships that bring together complementary resources to create value.

ILO's Commitment to Inclusion

Satoshi Sasaki, Officer-in-Charge (India), International Labour Organization (ILO), said that persons with disabilities account for about 16% of the world’s population, of which around 80% are in the working age, and while much has been done for their inclusion, much remains to be done. ILO has a long-standing commitment to promote social justice, and inclusive employment is a key component of inclusive growth. "ILO takes a twin-track approach to disability inclusion. One track allows disability-specific programs/initiatives aimed at overcoming barriers. Other track seeks to ensure the inclusion of PwDs in mainstream services and activities such as skill training, employment poverty reduction strategies, etc.” He stressed that all partners – governments, corporates, NGOs, civil society – must work together to accelerate the pace of change.

Partnerships and Innovation for Inclusion

Meera Shenoy, Youth4Jobs said, “The unique feature of this conference is it brings all important stakeholders onto one platform. If India has to show the world a model of inclusion and impact, partnerships and innovations are the key.”

Technology as a Tool for Inclusion

Martin Essl, CEO and Founder of the Essl Foundation and the Zero Project, inspired attendees with his vision for a more inclusive world: "We believe in the power of technology as a unique toolset to create change. But it has to be done inclusively and accessibly; working with people with disabilities at all stages of development. We see Artificial Intelligence opening up new opportunities which we have to seize to create this world with zero barriers that is our vision. Technologies also allow for effectively transferring innovation to new regions and countries, so we need to make sure this potential is realized and support the most promising solutions to realize it as quickly as possible.”

Critical Discussions and Notable Launches

The conference featured six thought-provoking panel discussions on critical topics, including employment opportunities, assistive technology, and policy reforms.

The two days saw the following launches:

1. The Disability Inclusion & Support Hub (DISH) Database: A groundbreaking resource that connects individuals with disabilities to a wealth of services, support, and opportunities, aimed at simplifying the journey towards inclusion.

2. The Women Entrepreneur Platform (WE-DO): A pioneering initiative that aims to empower women with disabilities to become entrepreneurs and leaders in their respective fields.

3.The Accessibility Playbook: A comprehensive guide designed to facilitate the organization of events that are accessible and PWD-friendly.

Showcasing Assistive Technologies

In addition to discussions and launches, the conference hosted an exhibition showcasing the latest assistive technologies for persons with disabilities. Attendees had the opportunity to explore cutting-edge innovations that promise to enhance the lives of individuals with diverse abilities.

About Zero Project

The Zero Project is a global initiative with a powerful mission: Working for a World with Zero Barriers for Persons with Disabilities. Zero Project brings an extensive wealth of experience gained from working with partners worldwide to promote the implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. With its entry into India, Zero Project aims to contribute to the country's efforts in advancing disability rights and fostering inclusive development by finding and sharing solutions that improve the lives and legal rights for persons with disabilities.


CII is a non-government, not-for-profit, industry-led, and industry-managed organization that works to create and sustain an environment conducive to the development of India. CII has especially set up the India Business & Disability Network (IBDN), a country network to engage, enable, and empower companies to become inclusion champions. The CII-IBDN National Conference is the annual flagship event, and this year, CII-IBDN is organizing its National Conference with the Zero Project.

About Youth4Jobs

Youth4Jobs' vision is that every youth with a disability should be poverty-free. Towards this goal, Y4J gives youth 21st-century skills and links them to resilient livelihoods at scale. Y4J has partnered with 1500 companies, government, and NGOs for providing quality jobs to youth with disabilities through its fully accessible Job platform, called Swaraj Ability.

About Omidyar Network India

Omidyar Network India invests in bold entrepreneurs who help create a meaningful life for every Indian, especially the hundreds of millions of Indians in low-income and lower-middle-income populations, ranging from the poorest among us to the existing middle class. To drive empowerment and impact at scale, ONI works with entrepreneurs in the private, non-profit, and public sectors, who are tackling India’s hardest and most chronic problems. ONI invests in the areas of Advancing Cities, Digital Society, Education & Employability, Emerging Technologies, Financial Inclusion & Well-being, and Property Inclusivity. Omidyar Network India is part of The Omidyar Group, a diverse collection of companies, organizations, and initiatives, supported by philanthropists Pam and Pierre Omidyar, founder of eBay.

About GDi Partners

GDi is a New Delhi-based social impact consulting firm. In a mere span of two years, the firm has come to occupy an interesting space that ties philanthropies to government systems. Putting to effective use philanthropic funds, GDi sets up Programme Management Units within government departments that are run by the brightest minds in the sector. At GDI, we draw the most brilliant minds out there towards the public sector… they lend their time, their expertise, as they immerse themselves within government systems – working hand-in-hand with bureaucracy and political leadership. We bring nuance into big numbers collected using the best of tech, devise solutions for the long haul, making it easier to resolve public problems with precision and empathy.

About Axis Bank Foundation

Axis Bank Foundation works towards making rural communities self-reliant through its Sustainable Livelihoods Program set up in 2011. For the last decade, the Foundation has been addressing the socio-economic and ecological challenges faced in some of the most remote regions in India. Under the program, the Foundation focuses on creating stable livelihoods for rural communities and skill development for rural and semi-urban youth. Axis Bank Foundation’s vision is to create resilient communities, with self-sustaining ecosystems that are managed by the very people they benefit.

About The Hans Foundation

The Hans Foundation, established in 2009, is a Public Charitable Trust that works for the improvement of the quality of life for underprivileged communities across India. The Hans Foundation is currently working across states to provide access to promote good health and well-being for all, with a special focus on children, women, and persons with disabilities. The foundation also works in for education and livelihood programs for holistic development of the communities where it is significantly engaged.

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