Jane Edge at the 7th Pacific Regional Conference on Disability

Stories | March 3, 2023

The following keynote speech was delivered by the CEO of CBM Australia on Friday 3 March, 2023, in Nadi, Fiji.

In opening, I’d like to acknowledge in particular the Pacific Disability Forum Board, Chief Executive and national members with whom CBM is fortunate to work so closely.

I also acknowledge the Pacific Island Forum Secretariat members here with us, as well as representatives from government across the Pacific and beyond, and development partners.

My name is Jane Edge, and I’m the Chief Executive Officer of CBM Australia, which is part of the CBM Global Disability Inclusion federation. I acknowledge my colleague, Murray Sheard, the CEO of CBM New Zealand, who is also attending.

It’s an honour to be here with you this week and a privilege to address you today, particularly as an Australian, from a medium-sized international NGO, with great technical expertise but a limited programmatic footprint so far in the Pacific, though that is certainly evolving.

CBM Global was privileged to be invited to support the PDF Five Year strategic plan as a partner in advisory, advocacy and programming work, and we expect to nurture that relationship and honour the role of the disability movement. We are committed to being an ally of people with disabilities in this region, as we are around the world.

I’ve been invited specifically to share with you CBM Global’s approach to partnership and programming as we begin scaling up our efforts in the region.

To set the scene, I’ll outline CBM Global’s approach before drawing links to our Pacific engagement and finally speaking to specific opportunities. I hope to both encourage and challenge us all, building on the wonderful contributions, commitments and energy this week.

CBM Global Disability Inclusion works alongside, and is accountable to, people with disabilities in the world’s poorest places. We exist to end the cycle of poverty and disability, to pursue justice and to build inclusive communities. We work with our partners in more than 42 countries to reach the most marginalised.

We aim to support change and transformation at an individual level as well as challenging the systemic exclusion and discrimination faced by people with disabilities – a stark reality that the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed.

We maximise our impact by delivering a combination of inclusive community-based programmes, advocacy for national and global policy change, and inclusion advice to other organisations to help them put inclusion into practice. More simply we call these our three vehicles of change: programs, advisory and advocacy.

CBM Global is committed to shifting power at all levels of our work, decision making, and governance recognising that building an inclusive world requires us to address deep-rooted inequality and injustice.

For CBM Global, authentic partnership with the Disability Movement underpins all we do. We are deeply committed to working alongside people with disabilities and their representative organisations, and to the disability movement’s principle of “nothing about us without us”, or more recently, “nothing without us”, as we all work to bring people with disabilities into all policy and program forums.

As we all know, there’s a big difference between saying that we work in partnership with the disability movement, and actually making it a meaningful reality.

We have a long history of operating as a partner-based organisation rather than implementing directly. Sometimes these partners are Organisations of People with Disabilities, sometimes local NGOs, sometimes universities, churches, UN agencies, local or national governments.

We recently asked our partners how we should improve and committed to maintaining transparency and accountability to them in our partnership. Wishing to deepen this approach, we:

  • co-developed and adopted CBM Global Partnership Principles in consultation with local partners
  • conducted a listening exercise with OPDs to get feedback on what we were doing well and where we needed to improve our practice, and
  • are now pursuing a set of publicly shared commitments to partner authentically and share power more actively with our locally based partners.

We have also established the Localisation Steering Group to give space to a range of OPD representatives including Pacific Disability Forum, to share their vision of what a power shift would look like for CBM Global, advising us on the direction and pace of changes needed to our structures, systems and ways of working.

Our commitment to rebalancing power extends beyond our program delivery and includes promoting inclusion and addressing power imbalances internally within CBM Global, in keeping with our values.  

I’m proud to say that we have established a governance structure to match our commitment. CBM Global’s Board reserves three spaces for independent board members…people with lived experience of disability from the Global South. They sit alongside those appointed from the current Members of the Federation.

As I mentioned at the outset, the reason I specifically wanted to share these approaches is because they set an important foundation and intention for scaling up our work here in the Pacific.

As we’ve all been discussing this week, there’s great progress being made here in the region, particularly in mainstreaming disability.  There’s evidence of strong commitment from a range of stakeholders and some really targeted action from some multilaterals and governments.

As we’ve also heard, there’s so much more to be done to achieve greater inclusion and realisation of rights for people with disabilities in this region. And PDF have provided us with a series of strong, specific recommendations about the action that is needed from all of us.

CBM Global is looking for ways to support this agenda and we’re ready to partner. We feel a sense of urgency…it is beyond time for even greater collective action in support of a clear, locally led agenda.

We are realistic about the fact that we are one player of many here in the Pacific; but we have a huge vision of a world where the almost one and a half billion people with disabilities have their rights fully realised.

In our growing work in the Pacific, CBM Global, in close consultation with the Pacific Disability Forum, intends to:

  • pursue high impact opportunities and mobilise new financial and human resources from a range of sources, including our key donors in the region – and I acknowledge representatives here from the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, who are among those key donors.
  • continue to provide high calibre technical advice and strategically influence and advocate for Disability Inclusion with key stakeholders in the region, and
  • pursue and continue investment in programming addressing gaps in both the preconditions for inclusion and strengthening of the disability movement.

We will work at both national and regional levels, and in collaboration with Pacific Disability Forum.

Our key Pacific priorities include:

  • Disability movement strengthening
  • Disaster preparedness, climate action and emergency response
  • Addressing gaps in pre-conditions for inclusion
  • Economic empowerment and livelihoods for people living with disabilities and inclusive education, building on work to date in PNG.

While there isn’t time to explore these in detail right now, I will highlight that this year we’re providing core funding for selected Pacific OPDs regionally and nationally to strengthen your own organisations and the strategic work you set out to achieve.

We heard clearly that this was possibly the single most effective step to enable the central role of people with disabilities in development and humanitarian action, and to ensure meaningful participation is achieved.

And, on disaster preparedness, climate action and emergency response, we will work to ensure that people with disabilities are included and can actively participate and lead in relevant planning and programs.

CBM Australia and New Zealand are supporting work funded by the DFAT-funded Australian Humanitarian Partnership and the MFAT Humanitarian Program respectively to enable this.  And from this year we will be making a substantial contribution from our own funding sources to supplement this government support.

A key opportunity for the region, and what PDF continues to strongly advocate for as a critical dimension, is addressing the pre-conditions to inclusion.

This means focusing on interventions that lay the foundations for people with disabilities to be included in services and all aspects of community life including accessibility, assistive devices, non-discrimination, social protection, support services and Community Based Inclusive Development.

As we’ve been reminded through the week, full and effective participation can only be enabled when these pre-conditions to inclusion are in place.

Pacific Island Countries have shown strong commitment to addressing the barriers faced by people with disabilities, not least through adopting the Pacific Framework on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. However, too many people with disabilities across the Pacific continue to face barriers to their meaningful participation.

Yes, to some extent addressing the pre-conditions to inclusion will require national action that is context specific. Yet there are many areas where a coordinated approach would not only be cost effective but would also increase the likelihood of effective action. Regional procurement of assistive technology is just one example of this.

That’s why CBM strongly supports PDF’s call for an integrated regional mechanism or facility. This would be a pooled, regional mechanism to support the region’s own priorities and known gaps. It could provide for greater coordination of resources and priorities, a forum for sharing lessons from examples of good practice and actual experience, and potential economies of scale from a regional approach to service provision.  

We encourage donors, governments and development actors to join us in supporting PDF, the Pacific disability movement and regional stakeholders in leading the design and establishment of such a mechanism. This is collective regionalism in action. This is rights realisation in action which we’re all called to by the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific.

I’ve spoken about CBM Global’s commitments to the people and communities we work with and for, on how we work with them and how we work within our organisation. I’ve spoken of the intended focus and priorities for our increased work here in the region, drawing on our consultations with local stakeholders and the detailed analysis already undertaken.

Now, I’d like to share our Pacific commitments, as we embark on delivering this work with our partners and seek further partnerships.

As we deliver in the Pacific, we will continue to invest in good practice. We will model, share, collaborate and scale up what works. While we might not be a big player, we expect to be an influential and supportive one.

Partnership will be at the core. By mid 2023, we will have established an advisory forum for our CBM Global Pacific work where we will listen to local stakeholders about the needs and priorities and where you will hold us to account.

We will work with PDF in support of their strategic framework, including on Key Result Area 5 of that framework, related to regional coordination and resource mobilisation, which I just spoke to.

We are committed to being curious, and responsive. Along the way we’ve certainly made mistakes and will no doubt do so again. We learn from such moments and are determined to continue learning and strengthening both what we do and how we do it. 

And, most critically, we will champion and model the central role of people with disabilities themselves as evident by our growing investment in funding the organisational strengthening of OPDs at a national and regional level.

I want to close this morning by thanking the Pacific Disability Forum and the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat for the opportunity to speak today.

I thank PDF, their members and our other Pacific stakeholders for the opportunity to partner together; for the fruitful conversations; for the work we have done and will do together.

There is more to be done. Rights are not yet realised. Inclusion is not yet a reality. Every single one of us has a role, using our expertise, our influence, our opportunities.

I leave you with the challenge to always consider who else should be in the conversation, who isn’t at the table…and to create space with humility and curiosity – to question the part each of us can play in this collective regional effort. Not just what we do, but how.

This is the final day of our conversations together. Let’s use it well. To my fellow supporters of the disability movement here in the Pacific – governments, multilaterals, fellow NGOs, consultants and other allies: in our conversations, let’s listen more than we speak, and make commitments to act.

And to our partners, stakeholders and friends in the Pacific disability movement: I want to ask that you hold us accountable to our value of partnership in all that we do.

Let’s commit together to supporting a collective vision for the realisation of rights and a more inclusive and equitable Blue Pacific Continent for people with disabilities.

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