On the 31st of May this year I attended the OECD forum at their conference centre in Paris, France. The theme was aptly called, ‘Productive Societies, Inclusive Economies’. Aptly, because this is something that currently consumes economists and business leaders alike.

For those less familiar, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) strives for ‘Better policies for better lives’ and counts 34 member nations. Over 2,000 people from governments, institutions and corporations attended the forum, interested in discussing and learning about the future. The OECD was first formed in 1960, under the Marshall Plan for the reconstruction of Europe after World War II, and was established “in order to strengthen the tradition of co-operation and apply it to new tasks and broader objectives”.


Though I knew the program upfront, I had hoped to learn a little more with regard to views and policies of persons with a disability. My perception is that after the excellent OECD report of 2010 titled; ‘Sickness, Disability and Work; Breaking the Barriers’, things with regard to persons with disabilities have fallen still a little.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s still high on the political agenda, or so they assured me, but it seems that specific solutions are a little in an impasse. When you speak to the political influencers, they say that corporations need to do more. Corporations will tell you that they are trying, but can’t find people, and persons with a disability themselves will point to both corporations and government for not supporting them to take a leap away from their benefit.

When I spoke to an old acquaintance at the Support exhibition in Utrecht last week, she mentioned that over the past decennia our society has become a hand-out society. It’s not quite the same as the fenced-off institutions of yesteryear, but just handing out money to keep a minority quiet is hardly somhand-outething that is productive to society, nor inclusive to the economy.

But the good thing is that the world-wide-web, or the cloud as it’s known today, lowers the barriers of isolation. Though persons with disabilities that work is 30-40% lower than without, the number of part-time jobs and the number of entrepreneurs is relatively higher. It tells me that people are willing to find a way.

There are also noticeable efforts to introduce programs that stimulate employment, but these are more often than not holistic or connected. And seldom are these tracked, or the effects discussed. At least not openly. And so it seems everyone muddles in their own little pond.

It’s a shame that the OECD does not pay more attention to this as the challenge is hardly a minor one. Across the OECD countries, 1.2% of GDP  means a staggering $560 billion of dosh the governent hands out (and the tax payer pays) without any expected return. Can you imagine reducing the cost of disability benefits by just 1%? In Belgium alone this would save $58M and fulfil 3,800 jobs, as well as improving the esteem and economic power of the individual.

I believe we are overthinking solutions. Everybody wants change but nobody is willing to change. Pragmatic solutions require an increased understanding and an improved willingness to cooperate.

People receiving money need to be guided, either by carrot or stick, to participate and to increase their economic and social self-worth. The government needs to create programs stimulating those that can work, to work. And if companies wish to be true to their inclusion programmes, then they need  cast aside their fears and look harder to seek and recognise talent.

There is a great chasm that can be bridged if we all work together.

The good thing is that there are bridges. But these are made of rope: hardly sustainable unless well-kept or replaced with steel and concrete. At the end of the OECD forum, Kailash Satyarthi an Indian children’s rights and education advocate and Nobel Prize Laureate told a story:

hmbirdfcts-01One day, a long time ago and in a faraway place, or so the legend goes, there was a huge forest fire that was raging the countryside. All the animals were terrified, running around in circles, screaming, crying and helplessly watching the impending disaster.

But there in the middle of the flames, and above the cowering animals, was a tiny hummingbird busy flying from a small pond to the fire, each time fetching a few drops with its beak to throw on the flames. And then again And then again.

After a while, an old grouchy armadillo, annoyed by this ridiculous useless action of the hummingbird, cried out: “Tiny bird! Don’t be a fool. It is not with those miniscule drops of water one after the other that you are going to put out the fire and save us all!”

To which the hummingbird replied, “Could be, but I’m going to do my bit”.

There are many humming birds out there carrying drops of inclusion. Instead of ignoring, watching or supplying them drops, wouldn’t it be much better if we all carried a drop instead?

Just imagine if 1% more of all people did this….

Servaas Kamerling