Making Every Business an “Ability” Company
Caroline Casey was honored as an Ashoka ChangemakeHER, Changemakers's inaugural celebration of the world's most influentual and inspiring women. Find her fellow honorees' voices here.
Sushmita Ghosh, member of Ashoka's Leadership Team and founder of Changemakers, sat down with Caroline Casey (pictured above), Ashoka Globalizer Fellow and founding CEO of Kanchi and the O2 Ability Awards.
Kanchi is a not-for-profit organization that works to change thinking about disability. Kanchi promotes the ability and value of every person with a disability and challenges traditional stereotypes through innovative initiatives aimed at a wide range of stakeholders. Kanchi works with leaders in business, government, and the media to accelerate change.
Ghosh: When was your "ah-ha" moment when you realized that your idea could be realized on a larger scale?
Casey: I actually had a few “ah-ha” moments throughout the history of Kanchi. The first time was in 2004 while creating the first Irish Ability Awards—I knew instinctually that this idea could be replicated in any country if we got the model right, like the ISO model.
The second was in 2007, when Telefónica came to Ireland to see the 02 Ability Awards. After hearing about our activities, they had sent very high-level people to witness the final stage of the Ability Awards Program - the gala ceremony. Within minutes of the ceremony ending, they asked me whether they could take the Ability Awards to Spain.
The third moment was January 17, during the first complete cycle of those Ability Awards in Spain, when the president of Telefónica announced his plan to take the Ability Awards to five countries in five years in front of an extremely influential audience, including the Queen of Spain. It was at that moment that the dream I had back in 2004 began to become a reality.
Ghosh: What would the world look like if you had your way?
Casey: No matter your shape, size, the color of your skin, religion, age, disability, or lifestyle, there is a place for every person to contribute. Nobody is left out and everyone is valued for their differences and what they have to offer. Each individual can self-determine the life they want to lead.
For Kanchi specifically, we hope to make every company an “ability company” - a company that recognizes that the disability community and their families are valuable to business as customers, talent, suppliers, and members of the community.
Ghosh: How do you think we could get there?
Casey: In Kanchi, we believe that if you change the mindset and behaviors of business and the media to value the disability community, and if you see them as your customers, talent, suppliers, and members of the community, it will permeate all society. By affecting business and the media, you touch all aspects of society and naturally create a society that includes of all kinds of people. We must also engage decision-makers to bring the issue of disability to a global level, and we need to start seeing people with disabilities in positions of influence.
Ghosh: Do women have a special role to play in getting us there?
Casey: We need to combine the influence and perspectives of both men and women to create a truly inclusive society for everyone.
Ghosh: What key piece of advice would you give to women social entrepreneurs in their early stages?
Casey: I have three key pieces of key advice:
1. Keep an eye on your work-life balance
Women have such an innate ability to multi-task, thus they have a tendency to take on huge amounts. We are not great at saying “no,” and we try to be all things to everyone – often because we can! But one thing that I am constantly being challenged on is getting the balance right between my personal and professional life. To keep your energy tank full, you it is important to rest, recoup, and recharge with those who love and accept you for who you are, not for what you do.
2. Take your work seriously, but don’t take yourself seriously
I take what we do at Kanchi seriously, but maybe it is my Irish blood, or simply the very welcome regular kicks in the ass I get from friends and family that stop me from taking myself seriously. To survive the early stages of growing a business, have a sense of humor and an ability to pick yourself up after falling flat on your face; always make time for a cup of coffee with a stranger; never grow up too much too enjoy the simple things in life; and surround yourself with a network of positive, non-“yes” people who believe in you.
Never give up. If YOU believe it is possible, it is. Listen to your gut. Try again. AGAIN and AGAIN. I have failed more significantly than I have achieved, but I no longer see the failures and mistakes as detrimental. What would be detrimental is if we didn’t have the guts, courage, and resilience to keep trying to be better.
Caroline Casey is the founding CEO of Kanchi and the O2 Ability Awards and is also an international speaker and adventurer. A social entrepreneur, Caroline sits on the board for several government, business and not-for-profit organizations.
Sushmita Gosh (pictured below) founded Ashoka Changemakers in 1992, which she evolved from a magazine for social entrepreneurship to an online platform for open source problem-solving. After serving as President of Ashoka for five years, she has continued as President Emeritus of Ashoka's Leadership Team and Chair of Changemakers. Sushmita also leads Ashoka's Global Academy of Social Entrepreneurship that recognizes and connects the top tier of the world's social and business entrepreneurs. She serves on the boards and councils of several global and Indian organizations.