In Conversation With Prarthana Kaul on Her Social Enterprise GiftAbled, Need to Revamp Education & Accessibility For People With Disabilities & More

It's always great to see people in the social sector, who are passionate about not only helping those in need but about an everlasting change. And we recently got to meet someone exactly like that- social enterprise, GiftAbled's founder, Prarthana Kaul.

Like any other young gun with aspirations, Prarthana completed her MBA in Finance from Symbiosis, Pune and went on to work with IBM as a Senior Procurement Specialist. But her heart was set on something else. She wanted to do something for people with disability, which made her start volunteering with iVolunteer, an organisation connecting volunteers with various NGOs. And there was no looking back for Prarthana from there.

Today, she runs a successful social enterprise- GiftAbled, which provides livelihood opportunities for persons with disabilities, connects corporates with them for right employment opportunities, accessibility solutions, inclusive gifting and much more. In a very insightful conversation with Inclusive India, Prarthana told us about how GiftAbled is making a difference, what can be done to make the situation better for persons with disabilities and more.

Hi Prarthana. Coming from a total corporate background, how did the switch to social entrepreneurship happen for you?

While working with IBM, I used to volunteer on weekends, and that ignited my interest in this social cause. Because I felt just weekends are not enough. I even spoke to my parents and thankfully they were really supportive. That's when I joined iVolunteer back in 2006, which connects volunteers to various NGOs. And I realised this is where my passion lies and this is what I want to do.

Could you tell us how & why did you conceptualise GiftAbled and what's the entire concept of this social enterprise?

While volunteering with different NGOs, I realized disability as a cause comes at the bottom of the pyramid. Sensitizing the people around us and building a truly inclusive society is what made start the GiftAbled. We believe in holistic approach, an end to end platform, where not just the corporates but anybody who wants to reach for any services related to disability- it could be sensitization, training people with disability, inclusive gifting, right from spreading awareness to their livelihood, we wanted to be one platform where people could get what they want. We have an e-commerce store where we have products made by people with disability for people with disability. So, the whole idea was can there be one platform which has a holistic approach and that's who we are.

We do projects in rural India with a focus on health & livelihood for people with disability. Even though there are now a lot of organizations which are working with people with disabilities, but a huge chunk of the disabled population is in the rural sector and we realized they'll not get employment in the organized sector. So, I started Gift Abled in 2013. The idea is to create opportunities for them where they are, and hence we started with inclusive gifting at livelihood centres in rural India. We also partner with local NGOs and train them.

As per Census 2011, 26.8 million people (2.21% of the total population) in India are disabled. Out of which only 36.3 % (9.8 million) people are employed. However, the World Bank data on the total number of persons with disabilities in India suggests the number is between 40 and 80 million. Which means that the actual number of people with disabilities in the country could be much higher.
So, in such a scenario, how do you feel the Corporates & Government can help to make the situation better? Especially in context with accessibility, since it remains the burning issue concerning the differently-abled in the country.

We can see a change happening all around us- whether it's the Government's skilling programs or D&I initiatives of corporates. But the number is too big. So there needs to be knowledge and best practices sharing too. For example, Cisco is doing some great work in the disability space, in terms of hiring them, volunteering, ensuring the websites are accessible by visually impaired. The idea is can we have companies like Cisco talk to 100 other companies that and learn the best practices from their initiatives.

In fact, it's not always about direct hiring. If you are buying a product/gift made by a person with a disability, that's also indirect employment, you are contributing to their livelihood.

Also, corporates should look at making their offices more accessible. We also need to start sensitizing Government bodies- hospitals, police stations, education institutions etc.

Lack of education for the differently-abled remains the base issue for the differently-abled. As per Census 2011, only 8.5 % of disabled people in the country acquire a graduate degree, which is alarmingly low. How do you feel education can be made accessible to the differently-abled in the country?

During our visits to tribal area schools, we noticed that there weren't any disabled student there. When out of 300 children in a school, there's not a single child with a disability, it's a problem. Usually when a school has 5-6 children with disability, it becomes a case study. That shouldn't how it should be. It may be a role model institute, but each and every institute should have disabled students It needs to be a norm rather than an exception.

Could you also tell us about a few corporates you have tied up with for inclusive gifting and accessibility solutions?

To name a few, we have worked with Cisco, Intuit, Microsoft and Google.

Lastly, please tell us what kind of impact GiftAbled has created in the last few years.

We have partnered with over 40 NGOs who already have vocational training setups for creating livelihoods for the people with disabilities. And they range from rural areas in South India to Kashmir. So that's the kind of reach we are looking at.We have also helped around three thousand artists with disability including people with autism.