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Tiziana has enjoyed a successful career in international development working principally in Africa. She joined the charity from the VSO’s global leadership team, where in her position as director of Africa she had responsibility for operations in 18 countries and three regional hubs.

Prior to VSO, she worked in senior leadership roles in Merlin and CARE International, with field work on humanitarian interventions as well as long term recovery and development programmes.


Interview with Tiziana Oliva, International Director, Leonard Cheshire Disability

  1. Would you describe the key components of “Bridging the Gap”, the ongoing Leonard Cheshire Disability’s International Strategy? Which are its innovative components? What does Leonard Cheshire want to achieve with this strategy?


Our ’Bridging the Gap’ strategy revolves around the inclusion and participation of persons with disabilities in development processes. Historically persons with disabilities have been excluded from policy making, ignored in legal frameworks and have been invisible in international law. Whilst this is starting to change, many are still not able to access services, often live in poverty and experience high levels of marginalization, especially in low income countries.


Our strategy aims to address this in a number of innovative ways. Firstly we are supporting a stronger disability movement. We work with Disabled Peoples’ Organisations to ensure that persons with disabilities are truly at the heart of development processes – whether it be monitoring the implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) or ensuring the participation in the nationalization and realization of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).


Our programmatic work focusses on developing models of inclusion in education, economic empowerment and overall participation in society in countries across Africa and Asia. Our integrated approach looks beyond simple service delivery; we take a broad systems approach to foster inclusion and to tackle the deeply entrenched barriers persons with disabilities face – focusing on the individual, their community and the systems and institutions responsible for service delivery. Girls and women with disabilities are a priority group due to the triple discrimination they encountered of gender, poverty and disability and we also work with youth with disabilities to support them to be agents of change. Our programmatic interventions are underpinned by evidence and research undertaken by our research centre, which gives us unique insights into disability and inclusive development.


We are also member of the Leonard Cheshire Disability Global Alliance, a network of over 200 independently managed Cheshire organisations which work in over 50 countries across Africa, Asia, the Americas and Europe. The network facilitates the sharing of skills, expertise and good practice, whilst raising the voice of persons with disabilities across the world.


We also work at a global level to ensure that inclusive development remains high on the international agenda. We have formal partnerships with various international agencies such as the World Bank, UNESCO and the ILO to provide technical expertise on disability. We want to make sure that our work and research from the local level informs and connects with the global development agenda and supports national implementation.


  1. What’s your take on the importance of social inclusion, especially disability rights within the SDG framework? Do you think we are making enough inroads worldwide in terms of ensuring disability rights are at the center of the Agenda 2030?


The Sustainable Development Goals present an important opportunity for disability inclusive development. Explicit targets and indicators around inclusion now create a strong framework for governments to include persons with disabilities in policy development, budgeting and implementation. Consequently, LCD has a strong focus on the SDGs and the data needed to support implementation.


We’ve undertaken research in four countries – Kenya, Bangladesh, Zambia and Bangladesh - to assess how persons with disabilities and their representative organisations have been engaged in SDG nationalization processes. To date, it has been ad hoc and informal. The lack of engagement and participation of persons with disabilities often reflects the lack of inclusive implementation of the SDGs. Accountability processes need strengthening as stronger mechanisms to engage DPOs and civil society will in turn contribute to better policy planning and implementation.


The lack of data is also a significant barrier to implementation and contributes to the slow pace of inclusive implementation. We know more needs to be done. We are working with DPOs to collect data so they can assess the level of implementation, highlight gaps and then advocate for change. We are also working with donors to develop initiatives to collate data and best practices. We want to ensure that no one is left behind.


  1. Which best practices did you discover around the world in terms of social inclusion of persons with disabilities?


Our collaboration with the private sector has yielded great success in supporting persons with disabilities into waged and self employment and highlights how NGOs can work in partnership with a range of organizations to improve employment practices.


For example, we’ve worked with Accenture since 2008 on ‘Access to Livelihoods’ to support persons with disabilities to gain the skills they need to enter employment or start their own business, starting in four countries (India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh) and then expanding to the Philippines and South Africa. Since the project started, nearly 25,000 persons with disabilities have received skills training and about 18,000 are employed or have started their own business, covering over 70 sectors.


Our Girls’ Education Challenge programme in Kenya, funded by the UK Department for International Development, used a systems model to target girls with disabilities, their families and community, local and national policy makers and schools to support girls with disabilities to access primary education. Following this success, we are now focusing on supporting these girls through the education system through similar interventions into secondary and vocational education. We want to ensure they continue in education so we are working with policy makers to ensure that good practices are adopted in local and national policies.


We’ve also undertaken research with the UN Girls’ Education Initiative, which looks at the barriers to education for girls with disabilities and brings together evidence of effective or promising programme approaches that address these barriers.


  1. Leonard Cheshire recently presented the findings of “Bridging the Gap: Examining Disability and Development in Four African Countries”. Despite many efforts and economic growth in several countries, persons with disabilities are still left behind. Which are the major challenges you see in the emerging/developing countries to really mainstream disability rights in the national development plans?


Our pioneering research project ‘Bridging the Gap’ shows a widening disability gap, and that disability inclusion is not keeping up with gains in development. Even where policies are in place to support equity and inclusion, implementation remains a significant challenge. Adults and children with disabilities are at risk of being left behind in education, employment and social protection compared to their non-disabled peers.


Implementation, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, is key. And to achievement implementation, clear, strong plans that feature inclusion are needed. There need to be clear objectives, clear timelines and lines of authority and strong and effective coordinated both within and across sector.


These plans need to be complimented by strong and accessible complaints and enforcement mechanisms. The implications for not following the law need to be known and punitive measures need to be utilized for non-compliance.


Again, we need data to monitor implementation. And we need transparency. Budgets and budgeting processes should be transparent and should feature a budget for inclusion. Our research shows that there is still a long way to go before this is achieved.


  1. Which will be the bedrocks of the new international strategy for Leonard Cheshire Disability? Can you anticipate anything on this regard?


Moving forward, our focus will remain the same, but we have ambitions plans for growth as we do not underestimate the scale of the challenges – and opportunities- that lie ahead.


Over the next five years, we aim to increase our reach and support over 80,000 children and persons with disabilities; train and raise awareness of over 100,000 direct secondary customers (including non-disabled persons who receive direct intervention/support such as teachers, parents, school management board members); and touch upon over 800,000 indirect customers through our programmes work, research and policy influencing.


We want to expand our global reach with a dynamic and powerful network of diverse partners which will work to influence change and ensure our research centre continues to tackle complex development challenges through research, knowledge and evidence on disability inclusion globally. We also aim to provide pan disability expertise to even more global agencies and also continue to support DPOs to advocate for the implementation of the UNCRPD and SDGs.


  1. What is Leonard Cheshire Disability doing to promote quality inclusive education for children and youths with disabilities around the world?

Apart from our inclusive education programmes in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, we also focus on how inclusive education practices can be rolled out and embedded more widely. We provided research and best practice to the UK Department of International Development on the development of their new Education policy ‘Get Children Learning’, which now contains targeted support for the most marginalized – including children with disabilities.

In the countries where we work, we also support national governments of policy development. We’ve worked closely with the Government of Kenya on the development of the new Inclusive Education Policy. With contribution from our work in the GEC project on the education of girls with disabilities, a number of counties around the project in Kenya had enacted local disability Acts as well as an Early Childhood Development and Bursary Bill.

We are also investigating ways in which we can support DPOs to better monitor the implementation of SDG4 on inclusive and quality education and strengthen accountability processes.

  1. Last question about a previous working experience of you. You have worked in the promotion of volunteerism for many years when you where you were Director of Africa for VSO, coordinating the activities in 18 countries. How do you see the challenging task of promoting volunteerism in emerging/developing countries?

I am a great believer in volunteering as a means to support development and particularly foster young people’s participation in making a change, be active citizens and engage in public life. Getting involved in the life and future of one’s community is essential for true, sustainable change and long term development. Volunteerism can input skills and capacity as well as develop leadership and talent. In LCD we have experienced that in our Young Voices programme and the change the intervention was able to drive, both in the communities and in the life of the participants; and we are seeing that experience replicated in our new Youth project engaging young people in the SDGs debate. While the concept of volunteering time for public benefit seems like a challenging concept in environments where often focus needs to go into providing for basic needs, the spirit of community support and safety networks is strong in such environments. When the benefits of volunteering in gaining skills and building confidence is proven, particularly for young people, it becomes easier to promote and foster.   


Position: intern

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