Garth Johnson: Harkin Summit 2016 Coverage

The inaugural Harkin Summit on employment for people with disabilities was held on December 8-9th, 2016 in Washington, DC. Over 180 thought leaders and practitioners from 31 countries attended, with business leaders from Walgreens, McDonalds, Wells Fargo, General Motors and SAP participating. Government department heads, NGO’s, program funders and politicians rounded out the delegation – a significant percentage of attendees were people with disabilities themselves which contributed an invaluable perspective to the dialogue. I attended in my role as CEO of Meticulon Consulting and facilitated what turned into a lively session on how small and medium sized businesses can do more to not only employ people with disabilities more effectively, but also how we can build the business case that will ultimately drive big business to do the same.

This was an invitation-only event intended to identify, understand and address the reasons why disability employment continues to struggle to reach decades-long goals. As the discussions and groups worked through topics around best practice identification, building the business case, and measuring outcomes, it became clear no single business or sector is really in a leadership position here. The exception would be Walgreens, as powerfully communicated by Steve Pemberton of Walgreens when relating their practice and quantifiable employment numbers, which are second to none in the US.

The one completely clear take-away point of consensus among delegates was that it will be the measurable benefits to business that engaging people with disabilities brings to a business’s bottom line, that will ultimately be what drives serious impact and change. To quote Mark Wafer, Canadian entrepreneur, disability employment advocate and my friend to whom I’m indebted to for his summary of the event here:

“To be clear though there are some companies and corporations doing great things but the numbers and the capacity is yet to be built. Companies however, are now speaking about the economics and the marketplace rather than the compliance and/or being the right thing to do, exactly what they should be focusing on and we can thank people like Randy Lewis and Rich Donovan for that.”

A number of Canadians were there and it is also clear that Canada, perhaps more than any other nation, is currently positioned to make significant strides based on our current efforts to document and communicate the value proposition to business. An almost overwhelming amount of best practices, learnings (including the all-important sharing of failures), and innovative ideas were shared and documented over the two days. Senator Tom Harkin ended the summit by calling on us all to do much more to accelerate disability employment.

Next year, the summit will be open to the general public and the theme will be derived from outcomes from this year’s gathering. It is so encouraging to see the progress that is being made within the corporate world and the changes that have happened within the last 5 years – it is time for us to be bold, embrace this new value-driven perspective and, as Mark observed, be even more forceful so that we won’t believe five years from now all that has been accomplished.

Garth Johnson
CASE Board Member
CEO, Meticulon Consulting

Additional Harkin Summit Coverage:
BBC Radio 4 Feature
Web Coverage of Dr. Joyce Banda’s Speech 
Al Jazeera The Stream Coverage
The Takeaway on WNYC Radio Piece (click on “The Fight Goes on for Americans with Disabilities”)
Coverage of Governor Markell’s  trip to DC including his remarks at the Harkin Summit