Sign language training for nurses in Tanzania. Photo by: DFAT / CC BY

CANBERRA — Following a competitive process, CBM Australia announced a new agreement with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in December last year. The three-year partnership agreement will see CBM and their long-term partner, the Nossal Institute of Global Health, support disability inclusion across the Australian aid program. The partnership aligns with the timeframes of DFAT’s current Development for All strategy, with both concluding in 2020.

CBM has been an important partner for the aid program for a decade, supporting the creation of the initial Development for All strategy in 2008 — the first five-year roadmap for a disability-inclusive aid program from 2009 to 2014, a world-leading strategy.

In 2011, they received their first of three consecutive contracts to support disability inclusion in the aid program. It is a partnership that is not just important to DFAT’s disability agenda but also the work of CBM and their own strategy to promote disability inclusion in development.

Raine Dixon, director of CBM’s inclusive development department, spoke to Devex about this new agreement, how disability inclusion is incorporated within the Australian aid program, and how aid programs worldwide can improve disability awareness and inclusion.

How CBM supports disability inclusion on the Australian aid program

The need for external support to turn a disability-inclusive plan into reality came soon after the release of the first Development for All strategy.

“When Australian aid started taking on disability-inclusive development as a kind of integrated part of their approach, they realized that to actually do it properly, they needed to build the capacity of staff and their implementing partners in the field to understand what disability inclusion was, first of all, and then how to do it,” Dixon explained.

But this expertise and training capability was not readily accessible in-house. External expertise was required. The initial contract in 2011 required CBM to provide the technical aspects associated with this challenge.

The requirement of the consecutive contracts is much the same — it provides for a team of CBM disability inclusion advisers to provide proactive and responsive technical advice to DFAT staff and to implementing partners in the field about how to include people with disabilities as both participants and beneficiaries of Australian aid.

“It is very much a partnership approach,” Dixon said. “The arrangement makes it very flexible in what we do through the way it's structured. It can allow tailored visits to DFAT posts where programs are managed and we can help them understand — in practical terms — how to include people with disabilities. And then we have a public website with advice and case studies and our helpdesk, which we've been running now for a few years, which allows DFAT staff to task our advisers very directly for assistance on anything.”

The tasks allocated to CBM’s disability expert can range from small to large — from providing briefs for meetings and media releases, to program advice and support. And the nature of the partnership means CBM can contact DFAT with information on events, partnerships and initiatives that they believe the Australian aid program should be a part of.

But often, work is directed by requests from DFAT in-country posts.

“When a post says that they're interested in having a review, we look at what's in their strategy currently and our disability inclusion advisers spend some time beforehand gathering resources and relevant information,” Dixon said. “When they have technical meetings with each of the teams at that post, it’s very targeted and relevant to them.

But if posts are not initiating engagement, the disability section within DFAT and CBM themselves may also identify strategic locations important for disability inclusiveness in the aid program.

“Last financial year we did 11 post visits,” Dixon said. “We've been doing the post visits since 2015 and have been to nearly all of the major posts — including Indonesia a couple of times, Papua New Guinea, Fiji, and Manila. While we may target the bigger posts, it is the smaller ones such as Vanuatu who come to us. Overall, we find that if it is something they want rather than something imposed, we are going to have more success.”

What are the current partnership limitations?

While disability strategies exist within DFAT, there are still changes that need to occur internally for the aid program to have a bigger impact on people with a disability. A key change is awareness that all aid projects can impact and assist people with disability — including trade programs.

There's still a bit of a mindset in DFAT, and everywhere else in the sector, that disability is something quite specific,” Dixon explained. “There is a thought that disability is something that lends itself more to some programs than others — it's traditionally looked at much more easily in a health context or in an education context or in an infrastructure context because there are quite clear areas where you might do something on disability.”

“Where we see less disability activity is around some of that governance of the trade — areas that are not the traditional soft sectors. Here, people don't think of disability immediately but of course people with disabilities need to work. People who have disabilities need to be employed. People with disabilities often run small business. So there are lots of things that it may not be front of mind at the moment but there are certainly lots of opportunities to move into those areas.”

Influencing policy

The nature of the relationship between DFAT and CBM Australia puts them in an important position to influence disability-inclusive programs and strategies moving forward. Dixon explained that the relationship is comfortable enough for CBM to engage DFAT directly or provide frank advice on why a strategy may not be appropriate. And it puts them in a good place to provide advice and guidance to support the next iteration of a Development for All strategy.

Partnership with DFAT has also allowed CBM to influence awareness and understanding of disability beyond the confines of DFAT.

“What it does is gives us scope to do things like influence designs for disability inclusion before they actually go out to market. And if disability is strongly included in the design when it goes out to the managing contractors, NGOs or whoever the other partners, they may need to look for disability expertise to help them out — and because a lot of the partners know CBM as an organization that's working to our own strategy as a nonprofit, we're seen as a quite a credible partner,” said Dixon.

Internationally, the partnership is also making waves.

“We had a really good case with the World Bank in Indonesia,” Dixon said. “Somebody came along to the a disability training session at the DFAT post, and asked us if our team could be sent to train their WASH staff and staff from the Indonesian government on a country-wide water and sanitation initiative. It is a strategy that is really world-leading and can make a real impact on people’s lives.”

What happens if DFAT scales up disability inclusion?

According to Dixon, disability-inclusive development has been well received within the aid program with demand for services and assistance increasing every year.

The Office of Development Effectiveness, an independent unit within DFAT which reviews the effectiveness of Australian aid programs, has also been tasked with a review of disability inclusion within the aid program. Dixon believes the review will respond positively to disability inclusion programs and does not expect any downgrading of existing work.

But there is the possibility that the review may recommend support be focused on particular regions or themes — such as education and health — where impacts are more evident, or may even recommend scaling up activities with disability targets similar to what exists for gender.

While the partnership with CBM and DFAT is designed to allow flexibility in services, including directing the contracted time and resources to areas where they are recommended, a change that may see demand doubling would not be possible.

“There are different ways we can address the review,” Dixon explained. “Some of the things may be very common — we've tried to capture and share lessons and evidence on what works for disability-inclusive development. So if you are doing a gender project, a WASH project or inclusive education project, there are factsheets and guides staff can draw on. And we could easily be tasked to do more of that to provide more generic guidance. But the existing budget would definitely have to be retained, and increased demand would probably need an increased budget.”

Until the ODE report is released, for Dixon it is business as usual — and she is currently developing their work plan for the next six months.

Read more Devex coverage on inclusive development.

About the author

  • Lisa Cornish

    Lisa Cornish is a Senior Reporter based in Canberra, where she focuses on the Australian aid community. Lisa formerly worked with News Corp Australia as a data journalist for the national network and was published throughout Australia in major metropolitan and regional newspapers, including the Daily Telegraph in Melbourne, Herald Sun in Melbourne, Courier-Mail in Brisbane, and online through Lisa additionally consults with Australian government providing data analytics, reporting and visualization services. Lisa was awarded the 2014 Journalist of the Year by the New South Wales Institute of Surveyors.