When Shanti Raghavan received the bl Changemakers Award in 2020 she was delighted. But more than considering the honour as a feather in her cap, what gave her deeper satisfaction was the endorsement the award gave to the good work done by EnAble India. That’s the unique organisation nurtured by her and her husband, Dipesh Sutariya, that trains and ties up people with disabilities (PWDs) with prospective employers. Since its inception in 1999, EnAble India has touched the lives of tens of thousands of PWDs by securing them livelihoods.
Shanti vividly remembers the day she received the award. It was March 3, 2020. By mid-March the world underwent a sea change when the Covid pandemic hit. At first no one understood the enormity of what lay ahead.
Recalls Shanti: “In hindsight many of us foolishly thought the ‘flu’ called Covid 19 would blow over in a couple of weeks. Then reality hit, we were in lockdown mode with offices shut and staff working from home.”
So, what has changed with Shanti and her organisation in the three-and-a half years since she received her award? A lot, considering the unique challenges thrown up by the Covid outbreak had to be first overcome before EnAble India could forge ahead. But at the end of the day when she looks back there are enough reasons to smile because many lessons were learnt, and several initiatives launched.
The impact of the pandemic was indeed profound. Shanti recalls how industry came to a grinding halt and placements were put on hold as companies struggled to stay on course. “For us at EnAble India the key word was ‘Pivot.’ We had to reorient and turn on their heads training, candidate services and employee services to be able to effectively deliver remotely,” she says.
It was important to stay connected at such a time. Luckily, the management team at EnAble India was committed to keep the organisation on track. There was a Covid response team set up among the employees with support ranging from food, medicines and hospitalisation. Since half the staff were persons with disability and some were living away from home in Bengaluru, they experienced extreme isolation and needed all the support they could get.
Focus on disability sector
Meanwhile, Shanti’s organisation stayed on course in its plans to develop systems and platforms for the disability sector. The ‘See A Million’ mission towards digital literacy for a million persons with vision impairment further evolved into Eye-Tool (a self-learning tool for vision impaired to learn computers) and won an award at Zero Project, a Vienna-based non-profit that promotes and recognises inclusive and innovative solutions. EnAble India also launched ‘Hear A Million’ a collective of one million deaf and hard of hearing persons.
In fact, despite the pandemic, Shanti and her organisation has come a long way in the last three years and currently employs a staff of 140. She and Dipesh have even decided to hand over the reins of EnAble India to the next line of leadership. “Over the last year we have decided to keep an arm’s length from daily operations and spend more time focussing on new developments for the sector.”
Shanti points out that her organisation has also embarked on a journey to harness the potential of internet-linked aggregation. EnAble India and its partner Kenpath have taken the lead in applying aggregation to the disability sector. “The development of an integrated data store marks the beginning that will enable us to drive meaningful change on an unprecedented scale,” says Shanti.
Her organisation has also introduced the model for developing a ‘purple economy’— purple, incidentally is the colour of disability inclusion. Such an economy, Shanti says, has the potential to generate hundreds of thousands of job opportunities once the disability support systems become what healthcare is today—a thriving mainstream activity.
January 2023 saw EnAble India curating the Purple Fest in Goa along with the State Government’s Commission for Persons with Disability. The week-long mega event saw a footfall of around 50,000. It even found mention in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s monthly radio programme Mann ki Baat. Shanti and her team are now working on the Purple Fest International 2024.
Finally, what did winning the bl Changemaker Award mean to EnAble India? “The award enthused every member of the team,” says Shanti. “It was their award. The recognition was their recognition. It’s always a collective effort — as they say, it takes a village to raise a child. Everyone at EnAble India shared the success equally and this celebration gave us the impetus to go fight another day.”