Aisling Foundation is going global


THE AISLING Foundation is going global, with a new name, a new strategy to bring the O2 Ability Awards worldwide and the creation of a new ability standard.

The foundation, which was established in June 2000 by Caroline Casey to promote and enhance a positive image of disability, will now be known as Kanchi, as part of an internationalisation strategy.

Kanchi is the name of the elephant on whose back Ms Casey trekked across southern India, on a journey aimed at regaining her own confidence regarding her visual imparity, and raising money for Sight Savers International and the National Council for the Blind. She also used the journey to launch the Aisling Foundation and the trek was chronicled in the National Geographic documentary Elephant Vision.

Ms Casey says that for many, the elephant is a symbol of what the foundation stands for. "Everyone smiles when they hear the Kanchi story," she says. The name change was also necessitated by the increasing internationalisation of the foundation.

While Ms Casey was loath to change the foundation's name - "it was horrible because Aisling, which means dream or vision in Irish, is so close to my heart, it was a name I plucked out of the air on a June night in 2000," she recalls - increasing interaction with international partners and their lack of familiarity with the Irish language made the re-branding essential.

"Over the past number of years I have been on the international circuit, speaking for example at the World Economic Forum, and at such events, I would be introduced as 'Caroline Casey from the Ailing Foundation'! The reference was against everything that we believe, so in January we were forced to make a decision to change the name," she says.

In 2005 the foundation launched the Ability Awards, which commend businesses striving to change the culture of employment for disabled people in Ireland.

The awards recognise best practice in the following six categories: leadership; environmental accessibility; customer service; recruitment and selection; learning, development and progression; and retention and well being.

"The concept was of setting a standard of best practice for businesses both to employ people with disabilities and to serve them as consumers," Ms Casey says. After much success, she now believes that it is time to bring the awards global by franchising them outside of Ireland.

The first foreign country which will host its own awards is expected to be Spain. The awards will continue as usual in Ireland. Ms Casey is also hoping to launch an international ability standard. "Wouldn't it be wonderful if we had a global standard of excellence like ISO 9000?"

The foundation is also establishing a new 30-person "sounding board" which, Ms Casey says, "will challenge the organisation on how we can be better and have a bigger impact."

The board members will all be leaders within disability areas, and the board includes Limerick man John Fulham, a paralympian athlete, who, Ms Casey says, "will be the conductor of it all".

Kanchi is also set to embark on a huge global international project in May 2009, when it will be working directly with the arts, media and business over a 16-month period.

The foundation has also published a book in co-operation with O2, The Business of Ability, which gives a history of the Ability Awards from their foundation back in 2005, and profiles the winners of the awards each year.