“Khuddar Pakistan” is Telenor’s flagship corporate initiative in collaboration with its disability awareness advisor (STEP) Special Talent Exchange Program.
Telenor Pakistan for the first time in Pakistan, through its “Khuddar Pakistan” initiative aims to create dignified opportunities for Persons with Disabilities and become the most disabled-friendly organization in Pakistan in terms of employment, service, and community support. Telenor Pakistan is integrating persons with disabilities fully into the organization, creating awareness about their abilities, and including them fully into everyday life with the help of assistive technologies.
ProPakistani got a chance to speak with Syed Hasnat Masood, Director Corporate Communication & Responsibility, Telenor Pakistan and Muhammad Atif Sheikh, President, Special Talent Exchange Program (STEP), to better know about Khuddar Pakistan.
We thank Syed Hasnat Masood and Atif Sheikh for their time and the information they gave. Following is the video of the conversation, followed by the transcript of interview.
ProPakistani: What is Khuddar Pakistan?
Syed Hasnat Masood: Khuddar Pakistan is Telenor Pakistan’s flagship Corporate Responsibility program that aims to create dignified opportunities for persons with disabilities (PWDs) by working with them. The program’s focus is on the ability of PWDs.
ProPakistani: What is Telenor Pakistan’s aim for Khuddar Pakistan?
Syed Hasnat Masood: Telenor Pakistan’s aim is to become the most disabled-friendly company in Pakistan in terms of employment, service, and community support.Why has Telenor Pakistan chosen Disability as its flagship CR program?The concept was seeded when we hired an intern in our department with the support of a wonderful NGO called PFFB or Pakistan Foundation Fighting Blindness (PFFB, Shabbir, who is blind, opened our eyes to the potential of PWDs, and broke down many myths that we might have had on a personal level. He ended up visiting many offices, working with multiple teams, and setting precedence for future hiring. Later when we sat down to evaluate our Corporate Responsibility portfolio, addressing disability was a gut reaction. And looking at how we had already hired so many colleagues with disabilities, it felt natural to continue with a cause that was our own.
I also believe that Telenor Pakistan is uniquely positioned to become the most disabled-friendly company in Pakistan in terms of employment, service, and community support. We have an open and accepting culture to promote greater diversity in our organization. We have the technology to create services that help persons with disabilities access all sorts of opportunities even if their movement is restricted by external factors. And we have a brand that inspires millions and could be used to highlight the ability of PWDs Thus, it is natural for us to be involved with this cause.
ProPakistani: What is disability?
Muhammad Atif Sheikh: In our society disability is defined in many ways: some very discouraging, some too compassionate. Prevalent in the social sector are two definitions.
The medical definition describes disability purely as a problem of the individual, without any discrimination between the impairment faced and the disability itself. Therefore, any economic or social deprivation encountered by disabled people is located within the individual and their impairment.
The social definition looks beyond a person’s impairment at all the relevant factors that affect his ability to be an active and equal participant in the society. The social model of disability enables disabled people to look at themselves in a more positive way which increases their self-esteem and independence. That is the model we believe in.
ProPakistani: What is Pakistan’s disabled population?
Muhammad Atif Sheikh: The census of 1998 puts the numbers at 2.49 percent of the population but international NGOs believe it to be close to 7-10%. That would mean around 11-16 million Pakistanis might have a disability.
ProPakistani: How will you create awareness about PWD’s abilities?
Syed Hasnat Masood: We are training own organization in disability awareness by running workshops with our disability advisor. Recruitment staff is being trained to be more understanding in the hiring process and provide assistive technology where needed; hiring managers are being trained to be more responsive; real estate staff is being trained to be inclusive in future building designs; customer services staff is being trained to be more attuned to the needs of customers with disabilities.
Professional awareness is very important to open up the job market for PWDs. And for general public awareness we are using the mass media. We already have a radio program running on Radio Pakistan. The program has experts discuss issues that persons with disabilities face and their solutions, and highlights achievements of inspiring individuals with disabilities. We want to inform PWDs and their families that there is support and hope. We will expand our work in both these areas: professional and public awareness.
ProPakistani: How will you integrate PWDs in your organization?
Syed Hasnat Masood: Telenor Pakistan is hiring PWDs on merit. We currently employ 17 PWDs – which I believe is the largest number of PWDs employed in the mobile sector in Pakistan. We are proactively seeking more qualified PWDs. We are constantly looking for competitive resumes from persons with disabilities, both through advertising and by liaising with disabled persons’ organizations (DPOs).
For persons with visual impairments, Telenor Pakistan is bringing in assistive technologies such as text-to-speech software to facilitate them in their work. Sign language training is being given to employees to enable them to communicate with hearing impaired employees. We know from recent experience of working with a deaf intern that written communications through email, SMS, and chat platforms is highly effective.
Also, we have started conducting accessibility audits of our buildings with the help of our disability advisor so that we can make the changes needed have buildings accessible to PWDs. Our central offices in Islamabad have already been made accessible and so is our sales & service center.
ProPakistani: How will you help include them in the general fabric of society?
Syed Hasnat Masood: It is a job that all stakeholders must do together: Government, international NGOs, DPOs, corporate sector, and youth are the key. Some areas require immediate and sustained attention.
There are so many social misconceptions about disability that have to be removed. We need to understand that disability has a lot to do with the environment that we create and that talent can reside in anyone.Almost whoever I have talked to believes that families of persons with disabilities need to become more aware of the potential and possibilities. At the same time, persons with disabilities need to be aware of their own rights and work for them. We are working on these aspects.
We have a radio program, called Khuddar Pakistan, running on Radio Pakistan. The program airs on Sundays at 3.10 in the afternoon. The program has experts discuss issues that persons with disabilities face and their solutions, and highlights achievements of inspiring individuals with disabilities. We want to inform person with disabilities and their families that there is support and hope.
We have also prepared a guide, the first of its kind, which provides information about services that are made available to persons with disabilities by the government and the social sector. The guide is available on our website and would soon be available in print as well.
Recently, we supported the National Leadership Conference for Persons with Disabilities, where around 50 Disabled Persons’ Organizations came together to discuss with experts common issues, received trainings, and called for the ratification of United Nations Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).
It is our plan to use the mass media in more innovative ways in the future and also focus on the capacity-building of youth and organizations working in this area. But what is also important is for media to responsibly report on the subject of disability keeping in mind the dignity of persons with disabilities.
ProPakistani: Does Telenor Pakistan have professional organizations as partners for Khuddar Pakistan?
Syed Hasnat Masood: Yes. We have a formal disability advisor and several key NGOs as partners. Special Talent Exchange Program (STEP) under the dynamic leadership of Atif Sheikh advises us on initiatives we launch from the Khuddar Pakistan platform, trains the staff, and conducts readiness assessments for accessibility. It is a cross-disability organization that is working with disabled persons on disability-related issues. They support an inclusive, barrier-free society for persons with disabilities.
Our partners include Sightsavers, led by a charismatic Niaz Ullah Khan, who have assisted us to equip assistive technology labs for persons with visual disabilities. Lahore Businessmen Association for Rehabilitation of the Disabled (LABARD) is an active organization associated with the Lahore Chamber of Commerce & Industry and led by Pervaiz Malik SHM continues to put us into contact with talented persons with disabilities, especially for our customer relations department, where we have hired more than 14 persons with disabilities.
Our friend Syed Sultan Shah, Chairman Pakistan Blinds Cricket Council (PBCC) is working on a project funded by Telenor Pakistan to hunt for cricketing talent from among blind children. The project will start in December this year.Ministry of Social Welfare & Special Education has provided us government premises for the establishment of assistive technology labs, and in general strongly supported Khuddar Pakistan activities.
We also keep seeking advice from NowPDP, Sir Syed Deaf Association, and Pakistan Foundation for Fighting Blindness. These relationships are an asset for us.
ProPakistani: The telecom industry is fiercely competitive. How does Telenor Pakistan see disabled employees contributing to the demanding pace of work?
Syed Hasnat Masood: Research shows that workers with disabilities are often more proficient, productive, and efficient than expected. This is because they are often very committed to the job, have a lot at stake as opportunities don’t come easily, and believe that they have much to prove. They are capable of doing a much wider range of jobs than is believed. And the perseverance with which they handle the social barriers obviously should also means a lot to an employer.
ProPakistani: What has Telenor Pakistan done so far for PWDs?
Syed Hasnat Masod:
- To help create awareness among employees about issues related to disabilities and to help sensitize them to these issues, we hold Disability Awareness Training workshops.
- We asked or disability advisers, STEP, to conduct accessibility audits of our buildings so that we can make the changes needed to make our buildings accessible to disabled persons. As a start, we are making our F-7 and F-11 buildings disabled accessible.
- We have set up two assistive technology labs at National Institute for Special Education (NISE) and Special Talent Exchange Program (STEP). These labs comprise desktop computers, printers, multimedia projectors, screens, and assistive technology software.
- Information Guide Book for the Disabled (soft copy) has been designed which consists of lots of useful information for PWDs. This will be made widely available to PWDs, their careers and those working with PWDs.
- Telenor Pakistan has agreed to support PBCC Cricket Winter Training Camp (Telenor Blind Cricket Talent Hunt) in Lahore.
- Employee visits have been arranged to PWD learning centers in Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi to see how various organizations are working with disabled persons in areas such as education, accessibility and mainstreaming, and to find out how employees can volunteer to work with these organizations.
- We have redesigned the Careers section of our corporate website for persons with visual impairments to as to make information about employment opportunities at Telenor Pakistan accessible to them.
- All Recruitment print ads encourage qualified disabled candidates to apply for jobs at Telenor Pakistan.