Speeches & Transcripts

The World Bank Group’s Approach to Tackling Disability

December 3, 2014

Maninder S. Gill, Director, Social, Urban, Rural, and Resilience Global Practice, The World Bank Launch of DFID Disability Framework London, United Kingdom


On behalf of the World Bank, I would like to thank you for the opportunity to participate in the launch of DFID’s Disability Framework. This is an important step towards scaling up global efforts to address disability inclusion - by enabling each individual to tap into her full potential, and for society to benefit from a diverse set of abilities.  DFID’s effort to unlock the potential of opportunity through this disability framework sets an example for the international community to deepen its commitment to inclusive development.

We all recognize that disability, as a development issue, cuts across the core mission of DFID, the World Bank Group and the international development community to reduce poverty. We are looking forward to learn from the implementation of DFID’s framework, and to strengthen our partnership on this crucial agenda.  This platform today provides a further boost to a valued partnership with DFID, where both organizations will aggressively and collaboratively move forward towards a common goal.

Today, one billion people globally live with some form of disability, and disability prevalence is higher for developing countries. The social exclusion of persons with disabilities is unacceptable in the face of economic and social progress witnessed around the globe. They are over-represented amongst the persistently poor, and are less likely than others to be able to move themselves out of poverty. They are also harder to reach via traditional poverty alleviation and social protection programs.   More people with disabilities live in poverty and more people in poverty have a disability. People with disabilities may also face cumulative disadvantage depending on their gender and ethnicity.  We, as the World Bank Group, and as the world, will not be able to achieve our primary goal of eliminating extreme poverty by 2030 unless we aggressively address the disability agenda. Addressing the agenda aggressively not only requires doing more and scaling up, but also developing a comprehensive vision on disability that also addresses issues related to perceptions and dignity in our interventions. 

We need to move beyond traditional ways of doing business

DFID’s Disability Framework contains features that will vastly bolster our approach on disability including a solid grounding on data, a commitment to identify and act upon evidence related to what works and what doesn’t, building staff capacity, and working with an in-house disability expert group; and the framework promotes both stand-alone activities and a re-energized focus on including a disability lens into education, health, and infrastructure projects, which is something that we in the World Bank Group are trying to promote as well.

We are all fully committed to advancing our efforts in the same direction, and to move beyond traditional ways of doing business. Exclusion and stigmatization around the globe have helped perpetuate an environment which hinders people with disabilities from accessing goods, services and opportunities vital to their development and well-being.   Be it education, health, labor markets, transport, social protection, or social networks, people with disabilities are marginalized at a higher rate across the development spectrum, and not enough is being done to address this problem.  There may also be a perception that addressing these issues is costly, complex and often with unclear results.  We need to correct this.  The most efficient way to give this issue the attention and action it deserves, and to get the most impact is by working closely together with governments and civil society, and in partnership with all like-minded partners.  We would therefore like to partner with you and other key stakeholders in helping promote and advance this framework.

The timing of this framework couldn’t be more fortuitous.  The Bank is trying to further strengthen its own stance and engagement on disability as part of its twin goals of ending poverty and boosting shared prosperity, so this is the right moment for us to build this partnership.

What have we accomplished over the past few years ?

The Bank’s commitment on disability issues is channeled across all aspects of our work through a three-pronged approach—building evidence, promoting operational interventions, and establishing partnerships.

Building evidence:  

In collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO), the World Bank published the World Report on Disability in 2011 This report, the first of its kind, has significantly contributed to the international discourse on disability and development. The report analyzed the socio-economic impact of disability based on the best empirical evidence available; filled major knowledge gaps, particularly in health, education, and labor, and recommended clear, implementable actions to improve the lives of people with disability.

We are also developing the Model Disability Survey (MDS) with WHO. The MSD will address the lack of accurate and comparable data on disability both at national and international levels, which was identified by the World Report on Disability as one of the major impediments in developing a better understanding of disability and to the development and implementation of disability inclusion policies.  

The World Bank also produces independent empirical studies on poverty and disability, disability and education, and disability and labor markets in developing countries (e.g. Disability and Poverty in Developing Countries: A Snapshot from the World Health Survey). We are also reviewing the process of conducting disability assessments and certification, which will help develop useful operational tools, and build the capacity of the World Bank and client agencies for improving these systems.

As examples of some of our regional work, the Bank is currently finalizing a comprehensive piece of work on Disability Pensions and Insurance for countries in the Middle East and North Africa to provide recommendations for developing Integrated Pensions System, and Income and Job Protection Options for Disabled Workers.  The study assesses the design, outreach and costs of social insurance programs and takes stock of existing programs and institutions to promote opportunities and provide income protection for persons with disabilities

The Bank’s transport sector developed an Operational Resource book on Improving accessibility to transport for People with Limited Mobility in the Middle East and North Africa region:  This book includes design guidelines and information on the adoption of low-cost technologies/practices in the transport sector; and lessons learned on “what” and “how-to” from operational work. This is available on the Bank’s website. 

" Today, one billion people globally live with some form of disability, and disability prevalence is higher for developing countries. The social exclusion of persons with disabilities is unacceptable in the face of economic and social progress witnessed around the globe.  "

Maninder S. Gill

Director, Social, Urban, Rural, and Resilience Global Practice, The World Bank

Promoting integration into operations and socio-economic inclusion:  

We have scaled up our efforts in developing interventions that directly include people with disabilities.  In this regard, bothWorld Bank project financing and trust funds have contributed to turning evidence into specific actions and projects.  We’ve also made increased efforts to make social inclusion a more fundamental issue in operations, and make it more central in our efforts to achieve our core goal of eliminating extreme poverty.  This has had significant implications on how we treat the issue of social inclusion in all of our activities. 

The integration of disability issues into Bank operations spans a wide range of sectors and covers a broad typology of interventions, which include promoting access to infrastructure facilities and social services, rehabilitation, skills development, creating economic opportunities, working with Disabled People’s Organizations, focusing on the most vulnerable among people with disabilities, such as women and children, and influencing policies and institutional development. We have made significant strides and the list is long but will highlight a few here. 

In Bangladesh, the Disability and Children at Risk Project supported expanding the network of services for children-at-risk (including children with disabilities) in alignment with the legal and policy framework with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Child (CRC) while strengthening the capacity of the institutions responsible for designing and overseeing programs for child protection.

In India, several sectors have been active.  For example, the Rajasthan Rural Livelihoods Project, the North East Rural Livelihoods Project (NERLP) enhanced economic opportunities for rural populations and the most vulnerable groups, including those with phyiscal disabilities, though self-help groups (SHGs).  The Teacher Training Inclusive Education initiative focused on inclusive education for children with disabilities including those with learning disabilities, while the Tamil Nadu Empowerment and Poverty Reduction Project focused on providing services for intellectual and developmental disabilities. 

In Nepal, the Enhanced Vocational Education and Training Project focused on strengthening technical education targeted especially to disadvantaged groups, including persons with disabilities. It was done through supporting to short-term training of youth between 16-40 years of age. While the project reimbursed 60 to 80% of the cost of the agreed training,, for trainees with disabilities, the project paid 100%.

In Indonesia, the PNPM Peduli project works with civil society organizations to reach marginalized groups and currently includes a pillar on disability that focuses on capacity building and grant financing for disabled people’s organizations (DPOs)

In Malawi and Eritrea, Social safety nets and the Integrated Early Childhood Development Project included components to provide education and health services to children with disabilities.

In Kyrgyz Republic, the Bank supported the creation of community-based infrastructure services (including health clinics and schools) with focus on accessibility of people with disabilities

In Egypt, the Cairo Airport Terminal 2 Rehabilitation Project supported review of the design and costs to improve accessibility measures, some of which were included in final project design.  Today, the new airport is disability friendly!

In Morocco, as part of a Development Policy Loan to Morocco, the Bank helped the government in elaborating an action plan on accessibility and urban transport with specific focus on identifying priority interventions in select major cities and review of construction code to promote accessibility.  A national workshop was conducted to engage policy and decision makers at the ministerial level, and the recommendations of the national plan are now being integrated into transport projects and interventions.

In Iraq, through the Emergency Disabilities Project the Bank supported the delivery of improved rehabilitation and prosthetic services for people with disabilities.

In addition to World Bank financing, the Japanese Policy and Human Resources Development Fund (PHRD) has financed efforts to mainstream disability in World Bank projects around the world for a total of US $ 23 million).  To list a few: in Jamaica,support was provided for improving services and employment opportunities for people with disabilities; in Peru, a project focused on mainstreaming inclusive design and universal mobility in Lima; in Romania, the focus was to improve policy-making and the institutional framework addressing people with disability; and in Moldova, a project supported improvement of access to education for children with disabilities.

Building Partnerships…

And finally, our partnerships play a crucial role both at the strategic level, by developing policy and institutional frameworks, and at the project level, through joint implementation with CSOs, DPOs and community based organizations to promote inclusion of people with disabilities. Allow me to list a few and important engagements as follows:

Our partnership with the Japanese on Policy and Human Resources Development Fund (PHRD) has resulted in financing of disability interventions in several World Bank projects as stated earlier.

Together with the Multi Donor Trust Fund on Global Partnership for Disability and Development (GPDD), the Bank coordinated the Disability & Development Donor Forum, which includes all major bilateral and multilateral development agencies with the objective of fostering international cooperation for the implementation of the CRPD.

 And the World Bank continues to engage with the Interagency Support Group on the Implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  The Bank serves as an observer to promote mainstreaming of CRPD into work of the UN agencies.  The group discusses the progress in disability mainstreaming across various UN agencies, and shares knowledge and best practice.   One WBG contribution has been to invite different DPOs each time the group meets to broaden and diversify participation.


The development community has made some impressive gains in addressing disability. However, we can and should do much more.  More importantly, and following DFID’s framework, there is tremendous potential to increase our impact by doing things differently and more inclusively. There are huge challenges ahead, but we believe that by moving beyond traditional way of doing business – we will see much better results in the implementation of disability inclusive development . 

The Bank’s short to medium term (2-3 years) goal is to vastly increase the Bank’s ability to incorporate disability effectively, further strengthening our multi-dimensional approach.  To accomplish this, we are:

Setting up a group of focal points from across the organization to oversee the implementation of the agenda.  The newly created Social, Urban, Rural and Resilience Global Practice, which houses the disability agenda, works towards building sustainable, inclusive communities, in both rural or urban settings.   Disability is at the core of these efforts to build sustainable, inclusive communities. To further strengthen our joint efforts on disability, we plan to establish a platform drawing upon colleagues from various units across the World Bank Group - transport, water and sanitation, health, education, social protection, fragility conflict and violence etc., including from the International Finance Corporation to bring in private sector approaches to address issues of disability.  This group will promote disability related work in their respective organizational units, and would work with social development specialists to ensure that the voices of the poor and vulnerable are reflected in our operations.  We have also appointed a Disability Advisor, who will join the World Bank later this month and work across all global practices and regions.

Building staff skills for scaling up of our interventions and identifying additional entry points in projects and programs.   An important mechanism for doing so are the group of almost two hundred social development specialists we have in the Practice who help conduct social analysis and assessments in a vast majority of operations, and who will play a key role in identifying and addressing disability issues in projects.  We plan to train them to better identify and address disability issues in operational and analytical work).  Enhancing the knowledge and skills of these staff on “how to” include persons with disabilities is crucial.  Joint staff learning between DfID and the World Bank Group, and perhaps some other partners as well, can help all of us become stronger and better at addressing this important agenda. 

Addressing disability issues in  business processes and developing guidelines:  Building on the analytical and operational work outlined earlier, we will make a more concerted effort to flag  disability at the project concept stage, so that it can be integrated into project design and implementation, wherever feasible and pertinent. Discussing this at the project concept stage enables us to discuss it more systematically and explicitly with our clients.  We are also updating the social assessment guidelines for the World Bank, which form the basis for providing advice to clients on how to identify and address social issues in operations, to include a section on disability issues. 

The objective is to make disability an integral part of our poverty and shared prosperity agenda.    

Doing things differently implies focusing on the enhancing the abilities, opportunities, and also the dignity of people with disabilities to help them become agents of development.  It is important to shift the paradigm from seeing persons with disabilities solely as recipients of charity to strengthening their participation and role in the development process.  This new approach should go beyond the socio-economic inclusion of people with disabilities and move towards a framework that recognizes their abilities as an asset to their communities and beyond. 

 I am keenly looking forward to learning from the experience and insights of DfID colleagues and others gathered here on how we can collective help promote this ambitious and transformational agenda.