We feel privileged that Foundation IDEAL has been selected by the Social Innovations Journal as a country-building organization contributor. Nowadays, in Colombia, to build a country is similar to building peace because we cannot dismiss the reality that we are facing. We are inhabiting a moment of transition that, as such, requires time.
Building a country is not a one-person job. Every Colombian citizen has the power to do something for the country. Every member of society has the potential to take actions to achieve a positive impact on the lives of the people within their community. Regardless of the motivation, if we work in an organized, committed, self- conscious, and creative way, it is possible to strengthen the link with civil society for a common purpose.
The government is not the only one responsible and committed to bringing about peace in the country, it is the responsibility of the whole society. The country we want is a fair and equitable one with a sustainable peace where the articulated participation of the State, the entrepreneurial sector, and the social sector together will achieve a measurable and long-term impact.
The third sector, due to its experience and ability to address unmet needs, has a role in the process of building the country we want by acting as a complement and alternative to the work carried on by the State. They are not there to replace it but to complete its role.
For over 55 years, IDEAL has shared that view. People with disabilities needed to improve their quality of life in terms of change and opportunities. It was this motivation that led Jeanette Perry and Judith Gutterman to create our organization. Back then, inequity gaps in our country were stronger in the social, political, and economic aspects and even so, those two women struggled for their dreams, which are still alive today.
Recently, joined by the Foundation Compartamos con Colombia (Let’s share with Colombia), we finished a process to strengthen our institutional capacity our reflections about our role, what we do and how we do it, and the way to continual be as effective as we have been for more than five decades. We found that the formula to achieve this goal is explained by the tree, our symbol, to explain, a tree grows and continues to renew itself as long as it receives the appropriate care, through taking care of its needs and threats. It cannot die. When the environment has demanded it, we have accepted the challenge to renew ourselves, because we must be firm in our commitment to continue contributing to the country, even when we have transformed ourselves, we have never lost the focus of the service we provide: Inclusion for people with disabilities.
The problem we are working to address is the need for employment faced by a large part of the Colombian population, but the situation of them being disabled makes it more urgent, when in addition to the lack of opportunities and difficulty to access in the labor market, they also have few chances to compete, making them more vulnerable than other groups.
People with disabilities face inequality and discrimination in the dynamics of the labor market, contributing to social inequality, poverty, and social exclusion. This group is at risk of becoming second-class citizens, by not being able to access to a decent job, nor the ability to work in equal conditions that the rest of the citizens have or are protections they receive.
In Colombia, more than half of the people with disabilities are in a productive age, they are young people who are under the age of 30. According to the Fundacion Saldarriaga Concha, “there are about three million disabled people of which 52 percent are of productive age, but only 15.5 percent do some type of work.” The rates of inactivity and employment of this population are much lower compared to other vulnerable groups.
To achieve the reduction of inequality and discrimination, the Colombian state has implemented active employment policies aimed at improving the employability of persons with disabilities, facilitating their transitions to employment, and boosting their professional development. The normative framework provides the tools, the challenges is to make them the answer.
The pending task that we have as a country, is to work for the labor inclusion of people with disabilities. It is necessary to increase the opportunities of training and learning in order to expand presence in the labor market. Organizations such as IDEAL that promote this theme must have a focus beyond preparation of employees and work hard in the practice and soft skills development. Training is not enough, the task is also with families and companies, we want and need inclusive programs in the production sector, but before these opportunities can exist the employer must be clear how to participate.
The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities establishes the basis of job inclusion based on equal opportunities, remuneration, protection against harassment, healthy working conditions, and other issues related to decent work.
IDEAL´s approach reflects the current disability vision of the Convention. Our experience and the lessons acquired in the Productivity Pact of the Foundation were key to rethinking the intervention model three years ago, which includes the essential elements to respond to the needs of the disabled in the country.
Our Integral Adaptation Program
In our program of Integral Adaptation, we start from the premise that the training must respond to the interest of the population and must be varied, we provide training in soft skills and productive activities required in the labor market. The goal of the program is to prepare people with disabilities to acquire the social and labor competences necessary to achieve inclusion in society, placing them in the same job and under the same conditions and requirements as any other person in the labor market.
We are convinced that having a chance for a job opportunity, the disabled person who aspires to a position, can be considered for his skills and competences. The success of the program is in finding the potential of the person, his strengths and his abilities, showing that he is capable of learning and doing for himself.
To reach the goal of the program, it is essential from the first contact with the person, to determine if he wants to work and if he is able to work as an employee in a company. It is necessary to know his family, his past, his present, his expectations, and his surroundings.
The person goes into a full point evaluation, it is an integral process in which his interests are taken into account to be able to establish their strengths, potential, skills, and powers. The outcomes, let us build for each beneficiary and his family, a plan with goals and objectives along with a life plan.
We have divided the program into two phases:
- Evaluation Period: In this assessment phase, the person enters an integral process where we talk with them in order to determine their strengths, skills, and potential. The results are assessed and from there, we design a living plan with goals and objectives for them and their family.
- Training Period: The assessment phase is followed by the training process with a duration of six months. This period is divided into two cycles, in the first one 50 percent of the time is for training and the other 50 percent for labor activities, while in the second cycle, 70 percent of the time is in labor activities and 30 percent in training. At this stage, the beneficiaries are involved in activities that allow them to learn about ordinary tasks in a workplace, to enable them to acquire work habits in a work context. At the end of the training period, it is expected that the person reaches levels of functionality, knowledge, technical, and social skills allowing their inclusion.
The Role of Companies
The best ally of the integral adaptation program is the enterprise. IDEAL puts all of its efforts in training people by identifying, strengthening, and enhancing their skills and competences, but alone it would not be an effective contribution to inclusion if job opportunities do not exist.
The Integral Adaptation program needs companies, therefore IDEAL needs allies from the production sector in the promotion of decent, productive, and remunerative labor jobs in order to achieve full inclusion. It is necessary to matriculate the entrepreneur to the training programs, but it is a gradual change in which we are contributing to the construction of a country through the promotion and generation of knowledge on labor inclusion and disability.
Work inclusion is an option for the company, it is to adopt non-discriminatory practices and have an infrastructure with conditions of accessibility for all. From this perspective, the company assumes that they are part of an initiative to hire people with disabilities from a social perspective.
A puzzle has pieces that make up its whole, it is a great challenge to put it together when the pieces are different. Just as there is a difference between each of the pieces of the puzzle, in our community each member is different, IDEAL has bet on these differences to build social capital, it is not about working for a minority, it is contributing to make a better society. We are a living organization, able to adapt to changes without losing our philosophy. Our model is creative because we build it from experience, research, and achievements. We have been wrong, but here we are, learning from the mistakes that we have made and being challenged with new ideals, we are able to face the task to provide support for each person who comes to IDEAL.
Foundation IDEAL is an organization of values, the program of Integral Adaptation that we offer is based on the dignity of the person and deep values that promote inclusion, rights, and self-determination. We believe that inclusion is the recognition and appreciation of diversity as a reality and as a human right, of which all people are apart, to improve the quality of life of all, there is the need to be able to understand diversity, which is simply to respect the circumstances of the person.
Our proposal is innovative because it is based on research and the experience that both mistakes and achievements have taught us.
It is fair to mention our mistakes. We failed to diversify the people helped when the program was not ripe enough; we failed when we set goals without taking into account people from all of social statuses; we failed to reinforce our speech to companies about inclusion with numbers showing our value because we were afraid to be exposed and make them mistake social responsibility with philanthropy. However, once we identified them, we decided to focus on how way to solve them. This exercise has allowed us to discover new and innovative ideas and with that, to understand that we are capable of accomplishing our mission no matter the size of the challenges that each person is facing who comes to IDEAL for help.
The results speak for themselves:
- 37 percent of individuals from the Integral Adaptation are included.
- 67 percent of included people have at least one year in their job.
- 17.5 percent are working with their families.
- 82.4 percent of the people a hired with a formal contract.