My 7 talking points from the World Economic Forum

Yetnebersh Nigussie reflects on what you need to know about the Davos world leader’s gathering if you want to drive disability inclusion forward.
Yetnebersh Nigussie speaking at WEF

1. At last: increasing focus on disability inclusion

For the very first time, the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting put disability inclusion prominently on the agenda. This is a big deal – and high time, considering that at least 15 percent of the world’s population are people with disabilities! The Forum was established in 1971 to improve "the state of the world by engaging business, political, academic, and other leaders of society to shape global, regional, and industry agendas". The Annual Meeting in January in Davos draws immense global attention and I feel hopeful about the increased participation of experts with disabilities and how disability and diversity gained traction in the Forum’s sessions, side events and exhibitions.  Business leaders launched the #valuable campaign, led by the amazing Caroline Casey and other inclusion champions aimed at committing businesses to putting disability on the boardroom agenda. 

2. Discussing with global leaders about inclusion in education, business and employment 

I was delighted that the Forum put inclusive education on the agenda. As Light for the World’s Disability Inclusion Advisor, and also from my perspective as a disability rights lawyer, I was invited to speak about inclusive education and disability in the workplace which brought me in contact with policy leaders and fellow inclusion activists. Having these topics included in such an influential platform gives me hope that business and politics are catching on to the fact that inclusion is not only a human rights issue but makes economic sense as well.  

Read more in Susanne Bruyère’s fantastic article on hiring staff with disabilities as a sensible business choice here.

3. However, there’s still not enough diversity

Despite those amazing developments, the forum is rather dominated by representatives from countries in Europe, Asia and North America. The Forum is such an important platform to discuss and find solutions for the most urgent challenges of our world, from inequality to digitalization and the changes happening in our societies to the climate crisis and disasters. To find those solutions, every voice, from every community must be heard and a diversity of stakeholders is needed.: from the African Region, civil society in all its diversity, women from the global South and representatives from the disability movement. 

4. It is a powerful platform to forge connections

The great thing about the Forum is how it provides space to meet new allies, learn from inspirational individuals, companies and communities and to bring our cause to the attention of world leaders. It might be that Angela Merkel suddenly stands next to you, you get to sit down with the Director General of the International Labour Organization Guy Ryder or to hug Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (like I did). Anything is possible in Davos. 

5. The power of women is inspiring

In Davos I felt so encouraged by meeting inspiring women who are fully committed to disability inclusion. There is Sinéad Burke: Irish writer, speaker and activist, who strongly believes in the power of education and exposes the lack of inclusion in fashion and design. Watch her TED talk “Why design should include everyone” and get inspired like I was!

Or the British Paralympic swimmer Susannah Rodgers, with whom I discussed during a panel session how to make education inclusive. 

This time last week I had an amazing opportunity to moderate an incredible panel of speakers at the @wef Annual Meeting in Davos on Designing for Everyone. This was my call to action from that insightful discussion (for me as well). You can watch it here:

Or the Official Ambassador for the Sustainable Development Goals –none other than Her Majesty the Queen Mathilde of Belgium. 

6. You can learn about innovative inclusion technology 

For people with disabilities, technical progress and developments are crucial to access the world on an equal basis with others. It was encouraging to see how businesses – like Microsoft, SAP, Sales Force – grasped the importance of accessibility (a smart business decision too!) and presented inclusive technologies. This might broaden how these crucial stakeholders think and mean they include disability in their decision making.I got the chance to test and explore inclusive technology at the Forum’s exhibition space. See what I discovered in this LIVE video by EuroNews.

7.It is a great way of influencing global priorities

The World Economic Forum is a great way to position messages on disability and inclusion on the world’s agenda. Through speeches, workshops and meetings, but also by engaging with journalists like Catherine Cheney from Devex. 
Watch my conclusion on the #WEF19 here: