On November 19th 2019, Specialisterne Foundation organised the inaugural Autism Advantage Luncheon India in Bangalore. We would like to thank all 120+ participants – self-advocates, parents, NGOs, academicians, government representatives, companies, teachers, educators and practitioners – for taking the time to join us, and even travelling to Bangalore all the way from USA, Dubai, Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai, among other places.
As an NGO associated with the UN Department of Global Communications, our aim with arranging regional luncheons, such as in Bangalore, is to support the work of the United Nations to promote human rights and the Sustainable Development Goals. Specialisterne Foundations’s particular focus is SDG 8, target 5: “By 2030, achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all women and men, including for young people and persons with disabilities, and equal pay for work of equal value.” The Autism Advantage Luncheon was hosted by SAP Labs India with financial support from Brunel and SAP. The participants were invited to attend the Autism at Work Summit prior to the luncheon – also hosted by SAP Labs India.
During Autism Advantage Luncheon India:
Speakers representing NGOs, government and corporate sectors presented their perspectives on the opportunities and challenges for education and employment for autistic persons in India.
The participants were in complete agreement with the messages of Prof. Robert Austin of Ivey Business School that the autism advantage is real. The number of self-advocates participating in the luncheon, who carry out meaningful and productive jobs, was a proof of concept.
Autism Advantage Luncheon India enabled a fruitful discussion around the importance of training more business leaders to be compassionate and outcome driven, as well as improving cross-sectoral collaboration between local governments, NGOs and schools for a more inclusive education system in India.
Improving training opportunities and introducing best practices is particularly important for parents and schools/educators in India. All children need to be included and supported early on – which is a crucial step in creating employment opportunities once they are outside the school system.
A big thank you to all the speakers for sharing their perspectives, expertise and knowledge:
Autism Advantage Luncheon Opening
Mr. Thorkil Sonne, Specialisterne Foundation
Perspectives India: Education and Employment Status
Ms. Shanti Raghavan, Enable India
Mr. Rahul Ravindranathan, SAP Labs India
Mr. V.S. Basavaraju, Government of Karnataka
International Perspectives: Business Transformation for Inclusive Growth
Professor Mr. Robert Austin, Ivey Business School (video)
Mr. V.R. Ferose, SAP Academy for Engineering, India Inclusion Summit Founder
Key-note: Decent work and economic growth: the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation
Mr. Vineet Saraiwala, International Labour Organization, Confederation of Indian Industries, Indian Business Disability Network and Future Group
Table discussions: Barriers and solutions to inclusion of autistic people in the labour market
Mr. Thorkil Sonne, Specialisterne Foundation
During the Autism Advantage Luncheon in Bangalore, Professor Robert Austin from Ivey Business School kindly joined us with a video and shared findings from his research on the autism advantage and the benefits of neurodiversity employment programs. Below is the video and an excerpt from his speech.
“My name is Rob Austin, and I’m a business school professor at Ivey Business School in Canada. I’m also the co-author of “Neurodiversity as a Competitive Advantage,” a Harvard Business Review article published in 2017. It’s been my great honor to document and study this important social movement since about 2006, when I co-authored the first Harvard Business School case study on Specialisterne.
My research over the past decade suggests that companies that seek the autism advantage really do achieve competitive advantages. This is not just about doing good for the community – that matters, of course – but if you are company considering starting a neurodiversity employment program, you should do it not just for that reason, but also because it’s very good business.
We’re still researching, trying to understand best practices in this area. But at this stage, there are three major areas of benefit that we can report.
1. First, neurodiversity employment programs help companies access maximum talent to help them prevail in innovation-based competition. Many companies struggle to find enough talent in many crucial areas, such as analytics, cybersecurity, and quality assurance. These areas tend to overlap with the abilities of neurodiverse job candidates. In this day and age, we cannot afford to leave important talent un-accessed. The companies that realize this, and develop programs to broaden how they think about what constitutes talent, will likely win in the future. In innovation-based competition, companies need new, original ideas, and they need to be able to recognize new and different kinds of value. To do this they need people who think differently. They need people who are “outliers.” Neurodiversity employment programs are a very good way to accomplish this.
2. Second, one consistent finding in our research is that when we design organizational solutions for people on the autism spectrum, or for others who are neurodiverse, a large percentage of what we design usually turns out to benefit all employees. In other words, though you may start out thinking you are accommodating a special need of a particular category of employee, what become apparent after a while is that you are building capabilities for the whole firm, by making everyone better at what they are doing.
3. Third, we see very consistently that when companies implement neurodiversity employment programs, it makes all employees feel good about their work and the company. Everyone wants their work to be meaningful, and neurodiversity employment programs make people think their work is meaningful. In many cases, we see this factor supercharging the efforts of all employees, inspiring many to go the extra mile on behalf of the company.”