IncluyeMe’s founder, Gabriel Marcolongo (Photo via El Club)

Out of four disabled people in Latin America, three are unemployed. Created in 2013, is a unique company which is working to change this statistic. Not an NGO, is a fight against ignorance and for diversity, as it helps those with disabilities to find work in five countries across the region.

We had the chance to interview the company’s co-founder and CEO, Marco Pablo Marcolongo, to discuss the platform, which was recently recognized by the Dubai Expo 2020’s social impact program.

You studied at the prestigious Standford University. How did you end up coming back to Buenos Aires and starting a website which helps disabled people find a job?

Well actually, I first started to process while I was still in Stanford. By doing that, as I was studying Social Entrepreneurship, I learned how to do business in a social way, and something important: the problems we see in Argentina are not different from the ones entrepreneurs are facing around the world. There is, everywhere, a high amount of passionate people who are just trying to make the world a better place for everyone. When I returned to Buenos Aires, I had the confirmation of the pain people with disabilities are enduring, and I upgraded the model of my website to help these people.

What were your first steps? Was it hard to start the platform?

We first launched in 2013, but beforehand we did important work in this area. We started in 2012 by learning about the difficulties someone with disabilities faces when searching for a job, and about the reasons why they suffer such a high rate of unemployment. We also learned about the way companies work with them, to try find a way to solve the problems that both parts [experienced], and to bring them together.

Were the initial results encouraging?

It was at first really hard. We started talking to at least 400 people with disabilities to know how they were perceived in the professional world; for example they were constantly saying that they were only having five-minute interviews rather than, for you and me, 40 or 50 minute encounters. On the other hand, when we were talking with the companies, they all said that they had diversity issues but that no one was applying [for the jobs]. As a result, we tried to create a marketplace where these two people could meet each other.

What we also found out is that some companies were really shy when it came to start working with us – because we were brand new, and no one had ever experienced our services. But once we convinced them, step by step – although they were still really cautious – we finally got to a point where the first employers were starting to hire employees with disabilities, and we finally started to grow.

How many people did you start with?

At the beginning, we were three: my two partners, Natalia and Pablo, and myself. Pablo got married and a family, so he had to leave, and Natalia joined the government when the administration changed in 2015, as she could do the same thing we were doing on the website, but in the public sector. I am the only survivor of the three founders, managing our little team of twelve people today.

The three founders of (Photo via UTN)
The three founders of (Photo via UTN)

You have people with physical disabilities, along with mental disabilities. How do you handle these two different categories?

It’s not about a category of disabilities; it really always depends on the person itself. Two people can have the same problem on paper, but could be handled in very different ways. For example, in Argentina we had someone who was deaf, but she could read lips and manage to hold [typical] conversation. One person with the same disability might not be able to read lips and would have to speak only through sign language; the same problem on paper, but in reality two cases with a different result.

For mental disabilities, we work for example with German company SAP to help people affected by autism or Asperger’s to engage a working environment. For example, it is just a single case, but we realized that they could pick many errors on a software, maybe more than an expert in the area! The disability is then, in this situation, not a problem against the requirements for a position. There isn’t a rule which says that this person is not suited for this position because of this disability. We always put the person first and after knowing them, the disability is only a small part of what makes them who they are.

How many people have you helped so far?

We have helped 1,400 people get a job, and we except this number to increase this year, thanks to the support we’re getting and the commitment from the companies with which we work, as most of them are hiring at the moment.

If I were a company, why would I reach to you to find my future employee?

First off, if you are a company and that you are not considering the people with disabilities, it means that you are only looking at 90 percent of the population. A normal thing to do, and a more efficient way to find someone would be to look at 100 percent of the population, no?

Also, people with disabilities are 75 percent unemployed. Imagine living in a world where three out of four people do not have a job, and a company finally gives you a chance after all the searching you have done. You probably want to have a career there, you are going to be more committed than the average person, because they could surely find another job easily, whereas someone from is going to do everything he or she can to like their job. Also, in this country like in many others, you have benefits if you employ people with disabilities, so you are doing the right thing for your business too.

Your website is free for employees but not for companies, to whom your services are charged.

We are not an NGO, we are a profit-for-impact company, so the only way for us to survive is to sell our services to companies. We charge for the same amount that they would be paying for a traditional job porters or consulting companies, so we don’t make any money on the back of the people we help.

You are not at the moment, nor planning to, collect data from the people who use your website?

(laughs) No, we did not even think of it, we just want to help these people to get a job.

On your website, it is written that the companies who want to work with you must be empresas inclusivas (“inclusive businesses”). What are the criteria to be under this denomination?

The only requirement we ask is that the company is committed to [making diverse hires]. We do not accept a business that is not going to do anything. On the other hand, if you are a company who is committed, we are going to do everything we can to help you find the people who are adapted for your needs. The only requirement in exchange is the commitment, from your part, to make it happen.

You don’t go into the offices of these companies to check if the spaces are adapted for someone with a disability?

We actually do, but it is not a thing that defines if the company is inclusive or not. The only thing that defines it is the commitment they have.

Some companies are located -if you know Buenos Aires, you know what I am talking about- in old facilities in the city, and they are maybe difficult to get into for disabled people, but 90 percent of them do not need, let’s say an elevator. They might be deaf, or have an injured arm, or Asperger’s. These companies are still okay, what interests us isn’t the physical ability of the location.

Are you only located in Buenos Aires?

No, we have expended really quickly and are now in Argentina, Chile, Peru, Colombia, and Mexico. We are looking to develop in the near future in Paraguay and Ecuador, ideally this year, but we are working on first strengthening our current markets. Each country has its own difficulties, and they are always different and laborious to compare. However, we come from Argentina; we are used to a challenging environment all the time! We have a lot of training being from here, and this helps us to understand the problems other companies face in each country.

We also have, in those markets, local employees and this helps us better comprehend the difficulties disabled communities face in every location.

Why do you think there is 75 percent unemployment in Latin America when it comes to disabled people? Why do companies not reach them?

In one word, the answer is ignorance. If you take a look at the numbers of unemployment between people with or without disabilities, you see that in the United States or in Australia these numbers are even! Here, these numbers are ten times that.

For example, we organize different talks at companies’ headquarters to explain that most of the disabilities that exist in the world are not just involving a wheelchair or autism. These ones are the most known in our society, but let’s say that you hire someone who needs a cane: it is a disability, and the people who are recruiting do not know that. Ignorance is the problem, and our main mission is to fight it.

The staff members often organize talks directly at companies' headquarters (Photo via FM Libre)
The staff members often organize talks directly at companies’ headquarters (Photo via FM Libre)

Are you working mostly with local or international companies?

At the beginning it was mostly international companies, IBM for example. These days though, we noticed there is a higher number of local companies, not only in Argentina but also from Colombia, Peru, Mexico… They are witnessing what is happening in these big multinationals, and they are saying “If IBM is doing it in my country, why shouldn’t I? Am I missing something?”, because they realize that these important companies are not doing it for charity.

I also read on your blog, that the Argentine government had launched a program called PIL: Programa de Inserción Laboral, (Work Insertion Program) where the government pays half of the disabled employee’s salary for twelve months. Is it enough from the government, and is it working?

The program is definitely a good step [in the right direction] from the government, but the problem remains the same, ignorance. It is not well known, and our mission is to explain to the companies we work with that it is available for them to use.

One of the aspect the government could work on is the pension it gives to disabled people in Argentina, which is really good. The problem is, if you start working but get fired, you lose this pension for at least two years; many disabled people who come to see us are because of that searching for a job without contract, to work under the table and keep this assistance. Because if they lose the pension, the cost of their medical benefits is too high for them. If you could change that, and could make a law that would make work and a pension compatible at the same time, it would change a lot of lives [down the line].

I also saw that this PIL wasn’t renewable, only for that twelve-month period. Does this limit makes the disabled person… a renewable resource? A company wouldn’t use the PIL to employ another disabled employee each year, right?

In my experience, I have never seen this happen. You know in Latin America, it’s hard to find a good and qualified employee for a company, so if you have someone who fits for a year, the last thing you want is having this employee step away from the company. It’s more a myth to think that they would just change every year. Moreover, to be a part of the program, companies need to be “employee-friendly,” thus not having fired anyone in the last six months.

Do the people you help usually stay at their job more than a year?

Definitely, and it’s in part because we work with multinational companies that do not use the work insertion program! These companies have around, I don’t know, 3,000 employees; making a special payroll only for five of them would cost them more than the program itself. For small business, the program is used because if you only have ten employees, it really makes a difference, the money from the government really helps. And yes, usually these employees stay beyond a year because not only do companies retain the disabled employee, they also want to welcome more [to the team], as they aim to both have a more diversified staff and recreate the successful experience they have with the first ones.

Do you feel like the situation have changed for disabled people in Latin America since you started

The problem is way too big, with 13 million unemployed disabled people in Latin America, for our little company to have an impact in the immediate future! But laws are creating change; in Chile or Peru it has recently been announced that it will be mandatory to employ someone with disabilities, so hopefully we will see a change.

You were recently selected by the social impact program Expo Live, run by the organizers behind the Dubai Expo 2020, and were awarded the Innovation Impact Grant Program. Can you tell us a bit the story behind the process?

It was actually quite difficult. We submitted what was an initial application, and we found ourselves in the shortlist. We then got a message, saying that they needed more information on our company, and it took us nearly a week to prepare the documents we had to send them. A month later, we got an invitation to go there, for a kind of “finale round” where we had to pitch our idea in front of an entire committee, in Dubai. After a quick trip, totally jet-lagged, we were then pitching our project and our future plans. After three weeks in the city, we finally got the results, and we learned that we were being selected within the startups that were to be supported by the Expo!

The prize is a donation of US $100,000, plus some help to connect with people who are in our area all around the world, which is the best way to open new doors. With the money, we will set up workshops to help people pass interviews, for example, but we also hope to start changing the policies we were talking about earlier, to pass laws in favor of disabled people. We want to help local governments all over Latin America, and hopefully we will in a way start lobbying into parliaments to help disabled people!

Publicado en el
2018-05-22 16:14:19

Antoine Latran

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