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Episode Flyer for #90: B2B Disability Inclusion Efforts and Progress in Bangladesh
Episode Flyer for #90: B2B Disability Inclusion Efforts and Progress in Bangladesh

Guest: Murteza Khan      Guest Company: Bangladesh Business and Disability Network

Date: January 11, 2017              


[Intro Music]


Debra:                     Hello Everyone, this is Debra Ruh and you’re listening to Human Potential at work. I have a guest, I have a tiny bit of a cold so I apologize up front for that. I’m really excited to introduce my guest Murteza Khan. He is joining us from Bangladesh. I had the pleasure of meeting him when I went to Geneva to speak at the International Labor Organization’s, Global Business Disability Network. I was very impressed with him and I think you’re going to be impressed too. The association that he runs is only a year old, and yet they’ve made a lot of progress. It’s very exciting to have him on the program today and he is joining us late in Bangladesh, which we appreciate him staying awake for us, but welcome to the program.

Murteza:                Thanks so much Debra. It was an absolute pleasure to meet you as well in Geneva. I really appreciate this opportunity to talk to you and your audience today. Thanks again for having me.

Debra:                     I talked to Claudia, with the Mexican National Network yesterday and I was telling the audience that there were a couple of networks that really stood out and were very impressive. You were one of them. The thing that was really interesting is that yours is such a young network but you made some really impressive … Already you have made some really impressive progress. Tell us more first of all, about who you are. I know you’re joining us from Bangladesh, but tell us a little bit about who you are and then tell us the association.

Murteza:                Sure. Yes, I’m calling you today from Chittagong Bangladesh, which is the second largest city in the country, it also happens to be the port city. I grew up here till I was about 16 or 17 after which point I left for Canada and I studied there for a while. Then I moved back here in 2009. Since then, I’ve been working with AK Khan and Company Limited, which is a conglomerate here that is really is in different kinds of projects in textiles, and we’re also looking into infrastructure. It’s a fairly diversified group. It also has a philanthropic arm, which is the AK Khan Foundation. Through the foundation’s work actually, we got involved with disability locally. While I was working at the foundation, we set up a rehabilitation center, which is providing physiotherapy, occupational therapy, speech and language therapy and also a prosthetics and orthotics, artificial limbs and braces. Next to that, a vocational training and job placement service.

                                    We did this is in partnership with a disability NGO called CRP, the center for the rehabilitation of the paralyzed. They have been active for about 40 years or so. We’ve really learned a lot working with them through AK Khan Foundation. Next to that, through my work there, we came across the ILO and their global business and disability network essentially. In fact, the first time we heard about it was probably around 2010-ish and after that, but we had focused our efforts towards this rehabilitation center. We had actually joined the global network at the time, but there was no network locally. Fast forward to 2015, I had just attended ILO’s Global Business and Disability Network event, which you attended this year Debra but in 2015. I cam across an ILO representative from Bangladesh who was there. We were talking how about bringing this kind of a platform to Bangladesh. It exists on this global level and I think a few other countries had networks at the time. Through the ILO’s efforts, you’ve really seen a few new countries come up, Bangladesh being one of them.

                                    Honestly, its really been through their support that we were able to get this off the ground along with the Bangladesh Employers Federation. We came back from that meeting and the Post Employers Federation because they have the credibility, the Employers Federation already had a network of members. They were really tapped into the business community here. The president of the Employers Federation was very receptive to the idea. Since they work very closely with the ILO, we had a couple of workshop seminars to get a sense of what does the business community think, what do the NGOs think, what do the other disability organizations think, what does government think, what does the development partners we’re working here think. Everyone essentially though it was a good idea to have decentralized platform.

                                    We started working on that from the second half of 2015 and then it took most of 2016 to get things in shape, and then we finally launched it last December.

Debra:                     Yes, it was very impressive because we’ve seen how much progress you’ve made, I should finish that sentence. There were about 20 national disability networks at the ILO event in Geneva. Some of them have been around for many years. It was really interesting to see a brand new network like yours already have so much progress. One thing I’m blessed to have audience members in 80 countries right now, but a lot of our audience is still in the United States and other European countries but I was wondering, will you take a little bit of time and talk a little bit about Bangladesh because I know that there is a lot of business, there is a lot of multi-national corporations that are doing business in Bangladesh and bringing business to Bangladesh. Would you just talk a little bit about the business part for maybe some of our listeners or viewers that are not as familiar with Bangladesh.

Murteza:                Sure, absolutely. The first remarkable thing about the county is obviously its size. We’re not geographically very large but our population is on a little north of 160 million. It’s a very large market in a concentrated area. Its got its pros but also its challenges accordingly. What has been really exciting is the rate at which we’ve been growing recently has been over 6.5%, we’re closing in on 7% GDP growth annually, which is actually one of the fastest rates globally speaking. We’re one of the next 10, 11 countries that people at Goldman Sachs are looking at as growing emerging economies. The main drivers right now are of course very well know the apparel industry. A lot of clothing is manufactured here. That’s also one of our largest employers. Next to that, agriculture is still quite big locally speaking.

                                    What the government is looking to do in terms of its expansion going forward is similar to the policy that China took on of having industrial parks and industrialized zones that focus on manufacturing both the local economy and to export. There is a strategy to create about 100 of these economic zones where foreign companies will get really good infrastructure, really good access to electricity. The other facilities that multinationals really look for when they’re coming to set up shop in other parts of the world. What’s really exciting, we’re also diversifying our manufacturing base. For example ship building has come back to Bangladesh in a big way. The leather industry is really expanding and IT is slowly also starting to really expand.

                                    What we’re seeing now is also regionally, companies looking at a China plus one policy. Where obviously it’s very well known that China is the manufacturer of the world really, but now as the labor costs are increasing and things like that over there, and with other challenges and there are some industries they’re leaving behind as they go to higher value products. I think it’s a really exciting time for countries like Bangladesh and a few others in the region, who are taking up some of that business. The apparel industry is a good example. China is still the largest producer of apparels, but we are number two globally.

                                    A lot of exciting things happening. Our current government and leadership is very pro-business, pro-entrepreneurship. It’s a definitely an exciting time and a good time to be working and doing business in Bangladesh.

Debra:                     I’ll just for a point of reference, you said that Bangladesh has over 100 million people, just for a point of reference, in the United States, we have 341 million. You’re talking about a lot of people there. I know that often when I’m purchasing clothing and products, I see made in Bangladesh on them more and more and more. It was funny for me, a silly person but, I traveled to speak in China one time and I was there and I went to buy some gifts but it was made in China, but so much is made in China in the U.S, it’s like, “No, I actually bought this in China.” It is exciting to see it happening and of course as the country grows and evolves and I really like that the country is putting extra focus on entrepreneurship because entrepreneurship obviously is near and dear to my heart as an entrepreneur. But it is also something that can be very valuable to the community of people with disabilities.

                                    Often, they’re becoming entrepreneurs. Sometimes because they’re not included in other employment opportunities, but I think it’s very clever and smart of Bangladesh government to realize how important that can be to the economy. We’re very pro entrepreneurship here in the United States. Do you have a census or any grounded information where you know how many people with disabilities are in Bangladesh? Are you sure about the numbers? I know the World Health Organization has given some estimates of between one to seven people around the world, but how is that working in Bangladesh? Do you have good numbers?

Murteza:                The number we usually work off of, there was an income and expenditure survey done back in 2010-2011, which was one of the first times they looked at disability in the number of people with disabilities. They came up with a number around 9.07% of the population, which I think approximates close to the 10% that globally accepted, like being the average 10 to 15% of the population. What has been interesting looking at percentages, it seems to also change as your demographics change. As you have a more aging population, it seems you have higher percentages globally speaking. That’s the number we’ve been working off is that it’s between nine to 10% of the population.

Debra:                     The reality is, it’s probably higher than that as we know. I know that Bangladesh is one of the signers and has ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Of course, I complained about this a little bit on the program, the United States has signed it but we haven’t ratified it. Well, why does that matter, we have the Americans with Disabilities Act that’s 27 years old, but it matters for a couple of reasons. First of all, if you’re a multinational corporation like Cisco. I know Cisco was at the meeting and is also doing business in Bangladesh and has had some really interesting successes in Bangladesh with hiring people that are blind, that they talk about it on the program. The reason why it’s important is because the way that we define disability in the United States under the Americans with Disability Act is actually different. There are some differences on how the United Nations are defining disability under the convention on the rights to persons with disabilities. Then we’re not comparing apples to apples and that becomes a little bit more difficult for multinationals.

                                    We’re trying to figure out what the numbers are. Let’s talk a little bit more about the association. I know that your association is a business to business association, but you also bring it DPOs, disability persons organizations. Do you mind talking a little bit just about the structure and also give some shout outs to some of the businesses that are part of it. I know it’s growing. I was very impressed with your numbers.

Murteza:                Sure, absolutely. When we set out to start this network, obviously, we wanted to always retain the business focus and that’s why even at the name, we have the Bangladesh Business and Disability Network. The main objective was to of course see how we can increase employment of people with disabilities in a systematic way through collaboration. At present, we’re operating under the Bangladesh Employers Federation. For short, I’ll use BEF. The membership essentially consists of, as you were saying, employers in different sectors. Anyone who is already hiring people with disabilities and any company that wants to hire people with disabilities are welcome to join. We’re not putting any restrictions in terms of having had past experience. It’s very open in that sense. It’s open to companies of all sizes and all industries at the moment.

                                    What we wanted to do was … If we call the employers of the demand set of the equation, because they’re the ones who are demanding the skills, who are demanding the skilled labor force, we also wanted to create a linkage with the supply side of the equation. The supply side are of course the educational institutions, the vocational training institutions, both governmental and non-governmental, private as well. Because it’s a multi-stakeholder challenge. It’s not something that just corporations are going to solve, it’s not something that just the NGOs can solve on their own, or the development partners. Everyone-

Debra:                     Or the government.

Murteza:                Or the government in that sense. Everyone has been working in their own, fragmented, siloed way and the idea here was, how do we link the various sides and bring them together? That was the core objective of this. We’ve been close to 35 members now in the one year since we’ve been active. While that number we’re happy with it, obviously we’d like to see much higher numbers down the road. To give you a point of reference, the British Forum, which has been around for 20 odd years, has around-

Debra:                     And they’re Rockstars.

Murteza:                Absolute Rockstars, they’re really what I aspire to be down the road, have about 300 members. The good thing is our members are paying membership fees because we also looked at the sustainability of this thing. We’re like, we don’t want this to be seen as a charity or anything like that. We’re working towards becoming a non-profit organization. Side by side we have development partners like the ILO who are funding our projects at the moment. That’s how it’s structured. We’re mainly working on three key objectives. One is of course, how do we deliver jobs and create employment for people with disabilities and support the companies to become more inclusive. Secondly, it would be, how do we pave that pathway to employment, which is what I like to use, which is things like education, skills training. Maybe inclusive internships and apprenticeships. This is of course where the supply side partners are very important. The third piece is of course getting the government involved. That is course to look at inclusive legislation and seeing what other enabling policies and practices can be put in place.

                                    That’s in nutshell what we’re trying to do. I would say our most successful activity till date that I’m happy to report is a job fair that we had earlier this month actually. Right after World Disability Day. We were able to deliver 150 jobs.

Debra:                     Wow.

Murteza:                Through just our job for initiative.

Debra:                     Wow, excellent.

Murteza:                But Debra, what was fascinating about working on this thing is a lot of issues also came up. I’m not going to say, it was not perfect, it was our first time trying it. But what was great about having the network is that … This is what I tell other people who join our network is, look, we’re a young organization, but we’re leveraging the experience that all of these other great institutions have. We might have only 30 odd members, but if you look at the profile of our network members, it’s pretty impressive because they collectively employ over 100,000 people. We’re talking about large corporations in some cases, and we’re also talking about large NGOs such as BRAC, who’s actually one of the largest globally speaking in terms of number of employees that they have. We’re talking about people like CRP that I was talking to you about earlier, who is one of our partners in my other profession as well, part of the AK Khan Foundation. They have been working on disability for 40 years. That we have other partners such as USEP who have skills development expertise and has been fantastic seeing them collaborate and see how they can help each other out and beef up the supply set of things and to see employers … Honestly, we were only able to do 20 stalls. We had demand for probably 25 or 30, which was great-

Debra:                     That is so cool.

Murteza:                Really cool, and some employers, this was the first time they were doing it. Some had already had experience hiring people with disabilities. We really had a range of experience over there. Large companies such as Raminfo, which is Telenor’s local operation. A multinational like Telenor was onboard. Coca Cola has joined our network.

Debra:                     That’s twice we’ve heard Coca Cola. We heard Coca Cola’s name yesterday from the Mexico one. Congrats to Coca Cola.

Murteza:                Right. We’re getting that global multinational traction somewhat and also a lot of large local companies that are coming onboard. It’s very exciting, we’re off to a good start I would say. The other interesting thing has also been showcasing it to government because we had our chief guest at our event were government officials, and they were really seeing it as something they’d like to see scaled up. That’s where I think partnerships are so key. We did this in our capital city of Dhaka, because that’s where we have the largest population of people living. We also want to do this in the other major cities of the country because issues came up in terms of things like, we only focus this job fair on Dhaka specifically because transportation is a big issue here, accessible infrastructure. There is a lot of issues and little things that you don’t always consider that have come up that’s really been a great learning for us. I could go on about this, but it has been a great experience and a good start I would say.

Debra:                     I think what comes out clearly, and I saw this is Geneva when you spoke on the first day and then again when you did another presentation, the passion that you have for this. Comes out very clear. I think that’s one reason why you’re going to be very successful and why you are being successful. I think that part is very exciting. Some of the stuff with the job fair and others, did you find that the media got around it to really tell your story? I know some of it is about changing the minds of culture, helping people understand in Bangladesh and around the world what people with disabilities can actually bring to the workforce. The value, the innovation, the bottom line value.

Murteza:                Absolutely. Yes, I should have mentioned this considering you’re in communications. I will send you some of the links. Honestly, we were overwhelmed.

Debra:                     I love it.

Murteza:                We were overwhelmed by the response that we-

Debra:                     You were overwhelmed but, yay.

Murteza:                I was honestly overwhelmed by the media attention. It was for a couple of reasons I would say. A lot of the TV channels picked it up, which was great. The thing is, they actually gave it proper couple of minutes coverage. Not just, oh, and this also happened. It was proper coverage. You won’t understand the language but you will see the kind of-

Debra:                     That’s okay.

Murteza:                I will share some … Also the News outlets picked it up because it really captures people’s imagination when they do hear it and they see it. The thing is, when you are in a developing country context, you talk about the passion. Why, I thank you for recognizing that but honestly when you’re growing up here, what you see is people with disabilities are the people you often see unfortunately on my way to school, I would see them at the stop lights coming asking for money and things like that. From that context to push it towards, no, let’s empower them. It’s about empowerment and making them inclusive and part of our society in a positive way rather than that negative perspective that has been around for a long time.

                                    You’re absolutely right, the media has a huge role to play here and I think they’re slowly certainly stepping up.

Debra:                     It’s exciting, and you’re right, I’m into marketing communications, and telling the stories of what is happening all over the world because there is actually a lot happening. I know there is still a ton of work to do. You mentioned the accessibility issues, the physical as well as the technological issues that people with disabilities are facing. In some countries it’s a lit bigger of a problem. Transportation you mentioned, transportation is still a huge challenge really all over the world. There is really no country that has nailed that across the board. We’re hopeful with some of the innovations in the new technologies that the Ubers and the Lyfts, just some of the things that are happening. The driverless cars, all of those things hold promise about making sure that people with disabilities are fully included.

                                    It’s very exciting to see the progress that is being made, that’s one reason why we have this program. Whenever you’re talking about people with disabilities and who you are supporting, did you start with a certain part of the population or did you open it up to the full definition of a person with a disability under the convention on the rights of persons with disabilities. How did you all decide to handle that?

Murteza:                At present, our network is obviously open for all types of disabilities. We’re not limited in any way at the moment. But if I go back to the job fair and how we approach that because it’s about trying to create that pathway to the employment for them. This is why I think the supply side partners are very important because even in Bangladesh, a company coming forward and saying, “Look here, I’m interested to hire 10 people. I have vacancies, can you help me find 10 adequately skilled, adequately educated people with disabilities?” The way we’ve done it so far is to work with the supply side partners because they’re the ones who have that grassroots connection. That access to people with disabilities because often these are the only organizations that people with disabilities go to for support or educational assistance or vocational training, et cetera. We’ve really been working through them.

                                    What’s been nice to see is there are for example, some organizations who are focused on say, neural developmental disabilities, whereas others are more focused on physical disabilities. There are some companies that have more experience with one type of disability versus another. I would say it is a bot of a mix and it varies organization to organization that we’re working with. We’re not limiting our approach till now. I would say neural developmental is still somewhat behind here. There is more inclusion probably of physically disabled people and there is still more work that needs to be done. In fact, or Prime Minister’s daughter has been doing a lot of advocacy for neural developmental disabilities locally, particularly autism.

                                    It is slowly changing, the awareness raising is happening but I would say we’ve been more effective in certain areas versus others.

Debra:                     That’s okay, you have to start somewhere. I think that’s really the way we did it in the U.S and a lot of other countries are doing it that. At some point you just have to start. Two more questions, I know we’re almost at the end of the interview, and I really appreciate you staying up late to talk to us, but how can businesses help you? How can we make sure that any multinational business that is doing business in Bangladesh, how did they find out about you? If they’re a national business in Bangladesh, how do we help businesses find out about you? What’s your website, are you on social media? How do we really turn up the volume to make sure people know that you’re there and that they can come in. They don’t have to try to do this by themselves. I’ll give you an example, I was talking to client of mine, he is a very large multinational client and they said, “We want to employ people with disabilities in multiple countries.” They actually named China, Poland and Bangladesh for example. Those were the three.

                                    They said, “We don’t even know here to begin. We don’t know who the people are.” What I did was I sent them to the ILO, Global Business Disability Network because that’s where brads are going, that’s where disability national networks are. It’s becoming the global hub. Why? Of course, you want to do under the international labor organization because it is part of the UN. Tell us, how can some of this listing a brand that is listing, get engaged, get involved, support you. Tell us more about what you wish that the international community, the national community could do and how do they find out about the work that you’re doing? That’s the big question.

Murteza:                You can visit our website at I repeat that, We have our Facebook that just launched on Disability Day this year. It’s still quite fresh. We’re still hoping to power through 100 likes right now. Very early stages, but that said Those are the two main platforms we’re using at the moment. In terms of what we would like businesses to do, firstly of course, joining the network would be a great way to start. We’ve developed some guidelines in terms of helping companies become inclusive at a local level. We can pull in the resources from our resource partners. We’re on the supply side, so if you need things like accessibility audits done, or other procedural things that you need assistance with against sourcing candidates, things like that, we have a database set up since conducting the job fair. We’re also setting up partnerships with chambers of commerce and other parts of the country. Depending on where you are geographically, we can support your initiatives of companies.

                                    I really think, just to get the conversation started, if they’re looking to dip their foot in the water, definitely starting off a conversation with us, we can guide them in the right way. It really depends on how dip they want to go with the relationship and with their commitment to inclusion. There is a lot certainly that can be done.

Debra:                     Let me ask you one more question that I just thought whilst you were so eloquently answering that question. I can see a lot of benefit myself, but why do you think it was important for your association to join the ILO< Global Business Disability Network? Let me say one thing, if you are a business to business organization, like what we’re talking about here in Bangladesh, it is free to join the ILO GBDN. There is a charge for a corporation to be part of it, but of you’re a national disability network, it is free to join, there is no charge. The ILO wants to support these national networks, but why did you find it valuable? I know you were 20 networks there, but I forget the numbers between 196 and up of how many countries there actually are. We actually have a lot more work to do to make sure all countries are represented. Did you find value in being part of this and getting to know other networks?

Murteza:                Debra, the fact that I’m talking to you is the value. I might be saying obviously I’m happy to be here, but honestly, the network part of it is what’s truly exciting. This would not have been possible if I wasn’t there. I would not have met the person from the ILO at that 2015 meeting that facilitated the launch of this network in Bangladesh. Then there are so many other incredible organizations that I have been able to meet, whether it is BDI and Susan Scott Parker and the great work that she is doing out in the UK. She has then connected me with some of her contacts who I am in conversations with. Things like that.

                                    Of course, the knowledge sharing that happened there is fantastic. I’m sure you can attest to that. That really goes on throughout the year. They’re really feeding us with all these great global best practices and the guidelines that have been developed that are just so useful in the success stories that are being shared. Really, what we’re looking to replicate here and then to hear about these multinationals that are mind boggling numbers in employing hundreds of thousands of people all across so many countries. It’s really inspiring to see what’s possible.

                                    I see tremendous value in this network and I think it’s only going to continue to grow honestly. The people that I have met equally passionate, the people who have been … I’m fairly new to this compared to someone like yourself or the Leonard Cheshires of the world and others who have been pushing for the disability agenda for so long, it’s to meet them and honestly we ride on your shoulders and to learn from it. Like the Tommy Hilfiger story that told us about. I was seeing your chat that you had with one of your board members on the 6th of December-

Debra:                     Yes, Rich [crosstalk 00:36:16]

Murteza:                What a great … Right, these are stories that need to be told that people need to hear about. There are so many other organizations who were present in Geneva and are part of this network who have this fantastic stories that are just so fantastic and really can be replicated. That’s the thing I’m looking for here, is what’s the value that I can add? What can I learn that I can bring back home and do here. That’s really where I see the tremendous amount of value. Obviously, today being heard in over 70, 80 countries was it that you said? That’s tremendous value right there.

                                    I see absolutely what the ILO is doing, and the fact that it’s part of the STGs now, this global alignment for this initiative. Timing wise, I think the disability movement will see a lot of progress. I’m hopeful for the next couple of decades. It’s very-

Debra:                     It is very exciting. We talk all the time about having disability as just part of the normal human experience. It doesn’t mean you’re broken, it doesn’t mean anything. What we need to do is like you said, we need to make sure we’re empowering people with disabilities so all of our societies will benefit.

                                    Thank you, thank you for being on the show. I think everyone can see what I saw when I met him in Geneva. This is a leader to watch. There are amazing things happening in Bangladesh, and I’m going to have come and see you so that I can get even more stories to share. Thank you so much for joining us today and bye everyone.


[Outro Music]


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