The Harkin Summit: Innovating for Inclusion

Doubling Disability Employment In A Changing Landscape

The Harkin International Disability Employment Summit concluded with a final dialogue between Senator Tom Harkin and Dr. Jim Yong Kim, President of the World Bank Group. Dr. Kim, who grew up in an Iowa that was represented by Tom Harkin in the United States Senate, attended University of Iowa for a period before transferring and eventually graduating from Brown University. He’d then obtain an M.D. from Harvard Medical School, before working in various capacities at places like Partners in Health and the World Health Organization.

Dr. Kim was first nominated for President of the World Bank by Barack Obama in March of 2012, and then was re-elected in September of 2016 to a term that will end in 2022. Dr. Kim is the first World Bank President not from a financial or political background.

Dr. Kim kicked off the discussion with a description of the mission of the World Bank, which he called “a human capital project.” Dr. Kim sees the role of the World Bank as a proprietor of “inclusive, sustainable economic growth” that invests in actual human beings as a tool for broader economic progress. “Investing in people first…making sure that everyone is fed, everyone has healthcare, everyone can use their brains and their hearts in the most productive way is the best tool for economic growth” said Dr. Kim.  A central focus of this human capital project is ensuring that everyone is given equality of opportunity, which Kim says includes people with disabilities.

Senator Harkin asked Dr. Kim to address the goal of doubling the rate of employment of people with disabilities globally by ten years, and Dr. Kim explained what role the World Bank Group would play in that goal. Kim outlined a new environmental and social framework that the World Bank would use, the first framework which mentions discrimination and people with disabilities specifically. “Every education, health, infrastructure project should work to ensure people with disabilities have access.”

Dr. Kim also believes any investment in human capital will provide vital growth, and that growth will extend to people with disabilities. “All of this work we’re doing with human capital,” Dr. Kim said “really suggests that if you exclude anyone who could contribute, you are really selling yourself short. What we hope is to create overwhelming incentive for heads of state to invest in all their citizens, regardless of gender, regardless of race or ethnicity or religion and certainly regardless of disability.”

Dr. Kim acknowledged the progress that had been made, but recognized the significant barriers that still exist. “I think what happens with organizations with disabilities, Governments and other institutions have just forgotten them…While we’ve made progress we’ve made a lot of progress we have a long way to go. The focus is on human capital and the focus on specifically disabilities that are now in our framework, we will see a big movement in that direction.”

Dr. Kim affirmed his approach and commitment to leaving nobody behind. “Our message is uncompromising in terms of inclusion.” He finished by recognizing the vital role that employment plays in people’s lives, “There’s tremendous meaning in finding a good job.”


- Written by Joseph Miller