There’s a saying that captures my thoughts on entrepreneurship: “Our responsibility as privileged human beings is to pay back for the opportunities we’ve received.”
As business owners, it is expected that our performance results in financial success. However, our capabilities can extend far beyond just generating profit. We can make a lasting, positive difference in the lives of those around us. And yet, the argument at large is that while there is an advancement of social responsibility in the corporate field, it is simply not enough.
Fifteen years ago, I decided to make a difference in my community, and I’ve learned a lot about business and life in the process. Moved by the plight of those with hearing and speech impairments, and wanting to empower them, I opened the doors of my jewelry business for employment of the physically challenged.
The goal of this initiative is to provide equal opportunity to those in need, in the hopes that it would contribute in a small but meaningful way to their lives. Here are some of the things this experience has taught me:
A New Source of Support
While on one hand it is a great corporate social responsibility initiative, it also offers our industry, which is facing a resource crunch, an alternate source from which to choose. The impaired employees are trained on the job for months in various skills required on the production floor, such as casting, filing, polishing and wax setting, after which they are assigned a specific department based on their aptitude for the needed skills. Even in terms of salaries, they are at par, or in some cases superior, to other employees.
Ready, Willing and Disabled
The physically challenged group remains a largely untapped labor pool even today, despite its potential. Come to think of it, the major barrier to employment for the people with disabilities in our society continues to be attitudinal barriers; stereotypical thinking and assumptions about what people with disabilities can and can’t do. The truth is far from this. The range of abilities of persons within any disabilities group is vast. Giving them an opportunity to work in my company, and watching as they accomplish tasks from different angles, gives me new insights into my business and how to increase productivity.
Their Success is Limitless
My disabled employees’ productivity is at par or better than their non-disabled counterparts. What’s more, they are involved in fewer accidents at the workplace; show superior attendance records; display a higher retention rate; and have a positive impact on the morale of other co-workers. Believe it or not, in most cases, they also have displayed sharper problem-solving abilities than those from the non-disabled group, and they are great at finding creative ways to perform tasks others may take for granted. It could very well be an outcome of them continuously overcoming challenges in their day-to-day lives.
In business and beyond, it’s time we get rid of the stereotypes we have of the disabled and view them as individuals. For more than a decade, I’ve believed in empowering and “able-ing” this marginalized section of society, and as a result, my business and mindset are better for it.
Colin Shah is a first-generation entrepreneur and the owner and managing director of Kama Schachter Jewellery. Fun fact: Colin once managed to devour 32 mangoes to set a record in a mango-eating competition.