VIEWS: CEO of CBM Australia on disability inclusion in the pandemic recovery

One of the wonderful things about my role as CEO at CBM Australia is that every day is different! I focus on raising awareness of the needs and rights of people with disabilities in the poorest communities, who are amongst the most marginalised in our world. Engaging CBM supporters, the wider community, parliamentarians, government, and business in the fight to end the cycle of poverty and disability means sharing the powerful stories of real people and the positive change that is possible when we work together.

I also love providing leadership that unlocks potential and seek to enable our staff and volunteers who are so committed to our mission.

Diversity and inclusion is at the heart of our work at CBM Australia. People with disabilities are often invisible and as a result, routinely excluded from health, education, livelihood opportunities and the chance to fully participate in their communities.  Poverty and disability go hand in hand, creating a cycle of inequality, isolation and exclusion that leads to the most extreme forms of poverty.

CBM’s disability advocacy approach amplifies the voices of those we seek to serve. It brings the voices of people with disabilities to strengthen the systems that support them. This means that people with disabilities and their organisations inform our work about their own needs and the best ways to enable access to education, health or jobs.  CBM builds the skills of people with disabilities to bring their perspectives when advocating for change. Inclusion in community organisations and government is strengthened by changing attitudes, advising on inclusive practises and policies and ensuring that disability champions are supported.

My experience as a young, female journalist in the 1980s was one of proving I was able to do the job as well as male colleagues. While there were many times in the initial months in my first job I thought about resigning, I stayed focused on telling the story of others and learning my craft which enabled me to grasp a great opportunity 18 months later. That early experience laid the foundation for the feminist leadership approach I bring.

Across the globe, around 93 million to 150 million children live with a disability. These children are less likely to go to school, and are more likely to face stigma and discrimination, but it does not have to be that way.  Working toward full social inclusion means we are all enriched and benefit  benefit from the immense skills, value and potential that these young people hold. 

My message to any youth with disabilities or facing any form of discrimination is to treasure the enormous capacity you have, and to not ever let anyone underestimate you. I’ve seen young people who have defied the most incredible odds in remote parts of places like Ethiopia and the Philippines to be recognised as role models in their communities.    

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Together, we can build a society where all are included.

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