People | Good Business Sense: Empowering The Differently Abled

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Good Business Sense: Empowering The Differently Abled
Text by Roopa Barua
Published: Volume 17, Issue 5, May, 2009

Social entrepreneurs are agents of change. They challenge established business models and question the status quo. In countries like India, these companies try to make up for the inefficiencies of the government without becoming charities or nonprofits. Roopa Barua profiles two companies, Mirakle Couriers and Metta Spa, that have used the social entrepreneurship model to make a change in the lives of their differently abled employees as well as in society at large

Dhruv Lakra, Oxford scholar and one-time investment banker, worked for years in several areas of development – women’s rights, AIDS support, education, children. But it wasn’t until he got on a bus one day and found himself sitting next to a deaf boy that he started thinking about the challenges posed by this particular disability. “It’s a disability you cannot see,” he explains. “And that makes the challenges invisible, too. There’s little attention and less funding for this area. I started research for a way to work with deaf people. There are traditional options, but they’re very socially isolating.” And so, Lakra set up Mirakle Couriers, a Mumbai-area courier service that employs deaf people, whose disability does not interfere with the nature of their work. Starting with one, the organisation now employ twenty people, and is continuing to grow. In 2007, Lakra wrote a magazine article in which he described the typical reaction to his vocation: “Get comfortable before you start thinking of other people.” Do people still tell him that? “They don’t make a difference to me,” he says. “At all.”

Tucked away in Bandra’s Pali village lies Metta Foot Reflexology Spa. Owned by Joanita Figueiredo, Metta Spa is different from the common Mumbai spa. Its eager staff consists entirely of visually impaired people.

After doing a course in reflexology in Bangkok, Joanita began giving lessons in spas across the city. But her lessons to the students from the National Association of the Blind turned her life around. She explains that although the task of teaching reflexology without giving visual examples was an initial hurdle, she soon overcame it. With an alert sense of touch, Joanita’s new students quickly picked up the techniques. But in spite of their skills, they could not gain employment in Mumbai’s spas. “That’s when I decided to create the jobs myself,” said Joanita. And Metta Spa was born.

Joanita worries about her masseurs – from whether they eat well to how they get home safely. But they don’t get any pampering from Joanita. The masseurs, who refuse to accept charity, are happy to be receiving salaries.
Well, hopefully more and more paychecks will keep coming. “I want to open many more Mettas till all my students are hired,” says Joanita.

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