Working Together: How to help People with Disabilities Succeed in Business

**Nota: ita bele mós lee istoria ne’e iha lian Tetun iha RHTO nia Blog.

International Labour Day, on Sunday 1 May, celebrates the world's workers, and recognises the contribution that they make. RHTO takes this opportunity to celebrate the work of a group of people with disabilities in Timor-Leste, who are overcoming huge barriers, and have successfully started businesses, are earning a living, and are contributing to their communities.

In Timor-Leste, discrimination and stigma against people with disabilities mean that they face barriers in accessing education and vocational training, which in turn hinders their ability to enter into employment. Indeed, of 49 women with disabilities recently interviewed by RHTO, 86 per cent said they had never accessed vocational training, and 65 per cent do not work or engage in any livelihood activities.

This situation is damaging not just for people with disabilities, but for the entire country. International research has demonstrated that economic losses occurring due to the exclusion of people with disabilities from the workforce can range from three to seven per cent of a country's Gross Domestic Product.

RHTO is working to help people with disability access employment and livelihoods through our National Disability Awareness Project (supported by The Leprosy Mission and the Australian Government). One example of our support, to one group of people with disabilities in Aileu, is demonstrating that by removing the barriers people with disabilities face, and providing targeted support, people with disabilities can work, can earn money, and can contribute to their families, communities, and country.

Photo: An RHTO staff member helps a RHTO member grind coffee.  Credit: RHTO

Photo: An RHTO staff member helps a RHTO member grind coffee. Credit: RHTO

The "Grupu Hakbiit Defisiensia" group in Aileu was established with support from RHTO in 2013, when 10 people with disabilities came together, in recognition that starting a business and advocating to their local community would be easier if they worked together, rather than alone. Since then, RHTO has provided the group with a microfinance loan to enable them to establish their economic activities, including agriculture, a fish farm, and a small kiosk. RHTO has also facilitated the group to receive support from the local government, particularly from the head of the village and local agriculture department.

RHTO has encouraged the group to share their experiences of establishing their group and various businesses with other people with disabilities as well as supporters and development partners. Representatives of the Australian Embassy in Timor-Leste, together with a disability inclusion advisor from CBM Australia visited the group in February 2016. During the visit, one group member explained what she liked about the group, and said: "I like that we have friends who come together and do activities. We also help each other solve problems".

RHTO's support for the "Grupu Hakbiit Defisiensia" self-help group was also boosted in 2015, when we were provided with a small grant from the Australian Volunteers International Community Grants Scheme. Part of this funding included support to undertake a baseline capacity assessment of our self-help groups across the country, in order to determine training requirements. During the assessments in Aileu, members of the group said they would benefit from training on business and finance management, as well as on community awareness raising and effective ways to advocate for disability inclusion.

RHTO used this information to design a specific training program which covered topics like group governance, decision-making, advocacy, business and financial management. Sixty-five participants from our self-help groups participated in the training in December 2015, including representatives of "Grupu Hakbiit Defisiensia".

After the training, during a follow-up visit from RHTO staff to see how groups have been implementing their new skills, the Aileu group members said that due to their expanded advocacy and business management skills, the group has been able to continue expanding their business activities in agriculture and fishery, and their income is higher.

The example of the success of Grupu Hakbiit Defisiensia goes to show that, when given the same opportunities available to others, like training and microfinance loans, people with disabilities can achieve their goals.

RHTO has written three case study stories of our livelihoods and self-help group support. You can find them on our Documents page:

  • People with disabilities earning an independent livelihood through coffee production in Ermera

  • People with disabilities helping to build the capacity of all community members in Manufahi

  • Supporting livelihoods for people with disabilities in Aileu through microfinance

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