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Our impact, their stories

Enabling people with disabilities to start their own business

An ILO-funded Start Your Own Business training and mentorship programme brings financial independence to people with disabilities in Vanuatu.

Feature | 02 December 2016
Peter Dick
SANTO (ILO News) – Peter Dick is a 36 year-old single man with a disability from the rural Banban area of Santo in Vanuatu who lived in poverty for many years. He is among 195,000 people, many with disabilities, whose livelihoods were impacted by the devastating category Five Tropical Cyclone Pam that struck the South Pacific Ocean nation in 2015.

“Cyclone Pam followed by El Nino made things much worse as there was a shortage of water and very limited food for families,” he said.

One day, Peter learned about the possibility of taking part in an ILO-funded Start Your Own Business (SYB) training and business mentoring programme for unemployed people with disabilities in Santo.

A total of twenty-two budding entrepreneurs benefited from the five-day training sessions in August run by the ILO in partnership with the Vanuatu Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VCCI) and the Ministry of Justice and Community Services. It was the first time the VCCI employers’ organization had extended its work to the outer island of Santo and provided business development services to disabled people.

Peter now runs a successful business from his home selling fabric prints, paintings, wood carvings and other crafts. When a cruise ship arrives, he goes into town to sell his wares to tourists. His wood carvings can take up to three days to complete.

I wouldn’t have been able to start my own business without this training. It gave me the confidence to go ahead."
Peter Dick

“I wouldn’t have been able to start my own business without this training. It gave me the confidence to go ahead,” he said. “My business is running smoothly and my goal and dream for the next two years is to buy a piece of land.”

The training showed Peter how to draw up a business plan and conduct a small survey on how companies find their customers.

“I want to make sure that my costs are less so I can make more profits,” he explained.

People with disabilities more likely to be poor

A 2013 Vanuatu Demographic and Health Survey (VDHS) found that people with disabilities are much more likely to be poor; nearly 31 per cent of people with severe disabilities are living in the lowest wealth quintile, compared with 16 per cent of non-disabled people. They are also less likely to be employed outside the home and more likely to be self-employed or working in a family business.

Stigma, negative social attitudes about their capacities and talents as well as barriers in the built and informational environment lead to the marginalization of persons with disabilities in Vanuatu. However, Vanuatu ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2008, which calls upon the country to create a more inclusive society and promote the right to work of people with disabilities.

“People with disabilities in Vanuatu live with very low self-esteem, shame and lack of confidence within their communities. The SYB training will really move them to another stage where they can now do something profitable by themselves,” said VCCI trainer Stanley John-Fred. ‬“The training also made them realize that there are opportunities available that they can tap into to improve their livelihoods and help them forget about their struggles.”

Of the 22 people who took part in the training, at least ten have started their own businesses and a further five are in the process of establishing one. They include goat, prawn and poultry farming, kava planting, small-scale money lending, sewing and a grocery shop. ‬Each trainee completed an individual business plan during the course. ‬

“It is important to note that if the participants have started a business and have been issued with a business license, they automatically become a member of VCCI and, therefore, benefit from their membership as VCCI will provide business development services,” said Bimlesh Raj, Disability Focal Point and Programme Assistant at the ILO Office for Pacific Island Countries.

Total damages resulting from Cyclone Pam are estimated at VT 48.5 billion (US$449.4 million), which is equivalent to 64.1 per cent of GDP in Vanuatu. In addition, some 504,050 work days and VT 1.6 billion in personal income have been lost.

“The reason why SYB was so important after Tropical Cyclone Pam and why this training was organized in Santo, which is far away from the capital city of Port Vila, is because employment opportunities are very much limited, particularly for people with disabilities in rural areas,” said Satoshi Sasaki, Specialist on Strategies for Decent Work, ILO Office for Pacific Island Countries.

“The ILO identified the need to organize self-employment training for persons with disabilities so they can start and improve their own businesses and to assist them in their recovery from Cyclone Pam, and make them more resilient to any future natural disasters that might disrupt their livelihoods.”