‘Special’ moment

India Inclusion Summit has come a long way in its mission to open dialogue on personswith disabilities, with the organisers aiming to reach a global audience this time
Participants at a previous edition of the event
Participants at a previous edition of the event

BENGALURU: VR Ferose, Senior Vice President and Head of SAP Engineering Academy, recalls how he was a rising star, becoming one of the youngest chief executives of a German MNC in India at the age of 33. Which is when his son at 18 months was diagnosed with autism. As he juggled work, travel, doctor visits and therapies, Ferose decided to create a platform with those with disabilities. Now, in its eighth year, the India Inclusion Summit (IIS) held annually in Bengaluru, has turned into a much-anticipated programme where diversity and abilities are celebrated.  

“The summit has evolved organically over the last eight years. While it started as an annual event to raise awareness on the need for inclusion, we have added new pillars to the initiative like The Inclusion Fellowship and Inclusive Walkathon. This year, we are launching Art For Inclusion, an initiative aimed at highlighting the abilities of artists with special needs. We also made short movies to spread the message of Inclusion and our short film, The Shoe Box was showcased at the Bengaluru Short Film Festival. We want to explore all possibilities and platforms to spread the message of inclusion,” says Ferose about the summit which will be held in the city on November 17.

Their mission is bold and ambitious, as Ferose puts it. “While the core idea is to open dialogue on PWD, our mission is ambitious – we want to reach 1.3 billion people with the message of inclusion by 2030 (this is aligned with the UN Sustainability Goals),” says the technologist, adding that this initiative is 100 per cent volunteer-driven.

Ferose believes that true change should be driven beyond the 3Ms – Military, Market, and Media. “Every year we make incremental changes based on our own learnings. This time, we want to focus on live streaming the entire event, so that more people can view it online. We are aware that only 800-1,000 people can attend the event in person, so the focus is on digital and online streaming. We believe at least 10k people should be viewing it live. Being able to make it interactive with online viewers is one way to increase engagement and scale,” he says.

Challenges are aplenty, but the biggest, like others face, has been funding. “Since we don’t actively raise funds, every year we just have to hope that things fall in place; luckily, good intentions have worked till now. Scaling is a huge challenge. Our core insight is that ‘replication’ is different from ‘scaling’ – you can replicate the event but not the intent. Hence, we have followed an organic approach. We will scale when the right opportunity comes to us,” he says.

But the warm and affection from attendees of the summit, something that has to be experienced, keeps Ferose in high spirits. “I fondly remember this from last year, where I gave the IIS volunteer medal to a 10-year-old profoundly disabled child. His father wrote to me after a week that his son sleeps wearing the IIS medal every night! Another time, one participant gave me a small note which moved me and the entire team to tears. In fact, these memories and the love of the people are the only true currency that we have earned in our lives,” he says.

8 artists at this year’s cohort
This year, the Art of Inclusion Initiative, a platform for artists with special needs to showcase their artwork, celebrate, connect, and catalyse with mentors and renowned institutions, will be launched. “From the 60+ applications we got this year, we have identified eight artists (since we are in the 8th year) from across the country to be part of this year’s cohort.  The cohort was finalised after a rigorous selection process, which included the quality of the artwork, level of disability, and compassionate personas. The art exhibition will be unique as it will be fully inclusive – tactile and voice-enabled,” says Ferose.

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The New Indian Express