Putting entrepreneurship on the agenda
A groundbreaking program for people with disability is turning obstacles into opportunities. IgniteAbility taps into individual’s ambitions and motivations, laying the foundations for sustainable self-employment through entrepreneurship.
UTS Business School
Australian Research Council Linkage Scheme
Over 2.2 million Australians of working age have a disability. Nearly half are unemployed, and another 200,000 work part-time despite having the ability and desire to work more.
According to Ron Lewis, Managing Director of Break Thru People Solutions, many are hampered by “the soft bigotry of low expectations”.
Unemployment and underemployment are not only barriers to financial independence, they contribute to lower standards of living, social exclusion and poorer mental and physical health.
“In response to the desperation that people with disability have been feeling with their restricted opportunities, some have taken control of their own lives and created their own employment,” says UTS Professor of Social Inclusion and power wheelchair user, Simon Darcy.
Now, a collaboration between UTS and three disability services providers is tackling the problem head on. Capitalising on opportunities created by the NDIS, and building on previous collaborations with Settlement Services International, the IgniteAbility pilot program is empowering people with disability to become entrepreneurs.
Professor Darcy says, “The introduction of the NDIS is fundamentally changing the Australian disability policy and program landscape by replacing a welfare model with an insurance model. This gives consumer choice to people with disability, rather than block funding disability service organisations.
“The outcomes of this project can feed into this new environment by empowering individuals through a design-thinking process to put entrepreneurship on their agenda.”
The expertise Professor Darcy brings to the project includes strategic planning for more inclusive organisational practices in areas such as the private vehicle modification market, mobile phone technology, the performing arts, accessible tourism and children’s sport.
Professor of Social Economics, Jock Collins is co-leading the research, having previously led a three-year study into entrepreneurship among refugees, who face similar barriers to employment.
He says, “People with a disability have a rate of entrepreneurship 50 per cent higher than the Australian average, yet we know very little about their story—the barriers they have faced, the strategies they have used to overcome these barriers, the dynamics of their business enterprises and the economic and social contribution they make.”
IgniteAbility connects participants with an ecosystem of support, advice and resources to build capacity, facilitate networking and help to address obstacles. Research evaluation of the pilot will provide the evidence and insights to inform a robust and sustainable model.
Chris Sparks is a paraplegic who launched his first private business in IT consulting back in the 1980s and now runs 3 Wheeled Ute. “I found the flexibility of being my own boss enabled me more freedom to explore global travel and I learnt a lot about what makes a good business work”.
Sparks went on to establish and mentor assistive technology (AT) SMEs and employed many people with disability as part of his teams. “Our AT businesses thrived, due in part to the personal experiences of our employees and their own passion for AT and the vital role it services in the lives of those with disability”.
In addition to the research expertise UTS brings to the project, the support and know-how of the university’s Research Office enabled the initiative to secure $235,000 in federal funding. The industry partners are contributing a further $139,500 in cash and $140,000 of in-kind resources for the three-year pilot, which will provide the basis for an ongoing program.