Investing in Competitive Integrated Employment

Investors control an estimated $90 trillion worldwide. They have both the power and the influence to work with companies they invest in to fully integrate people with disabilities into all levels of their operations – from entry level to executive management.


By accelerating the vision of competitive, integrated employment for people with disabilities, the private sector will enjoy greater value creating opportunities – thereby benefiting investors, companies, persons with disabilities and society as a whole.

Solving “Then What?”

Empowering Investors to Achieve Competitive Integrated Employment for Persons with Disabilities

In December 2020 The Harkin Institute published a white paper that outlined a series of recommendations to foster greater collaboration between investors, the disability community, and the private sector to achieve competitive, integrated employment.

Disability Inclusion Dialogue Series

The first recommendation from the paper is to create a series of dialogues with experts with the outcome being a series of concrete, actionable recommendations to link disability inclusion with value creation – for investors and society alike.

Working in partnership with Global Goals Advisory and Goal 17 Partners, The Harkin Institute launched a seven-part dialogue throughout 2021 that brings together investors, leaders from the disability community, and private sector executives.

The dialogues will foster greater understanding of the challenges faced by persons with disabilities in the employment space while recognizing the value creating opportunity for the private sector when it achieves competitive, integrated employment. We will better understand how investors engage with companies in which they invest and identify areas of collaboration between the investor and disability communities to achieve employment outcomes.

Stay Tuned for Our Next Dialogue

Entrepreneurs, Startups, and Integrating DI into Tomorrow’s Companies

Date: October 19, 2021
Time: 12 p.m. ET
Register here for this virtual event.

Hear from the founder of a startup incubator and one of its entrepreneurs about how innovators are integrating disability inclusion into early stage companies. Panelists include:

  • Merrill Friedman, RVP, Inclusive Policy and Advocacy, Anthem, Inc. (moderator)
  • Daniel Abadie, Founder, Vivid Vocals
  • Regina Kline, Founder and CEO, SmartJob, LLC
  • Aarti Sahgal, Founder, Synergies Work

Dialogue Schedule

Dialogue One: Disability Inclusion: A Key Ingredient in a Diverse and Inclusive Workforce

Dialogue Two: Competitive, Integrated Employment and its Benefit to the Private Sector

Dialogue Three: The Role of Investors in Driving ESG Performance in Companies

Dialogue Four: Connecting the Finance and Private Sectors to Drive Disability Inclusion

Dialogue Five: Disability Inclusion and the UN SDGs (fireside chat with Eddie Ndopu)

Dialogue Six: Entrepreneurs, Startups and Integrating DI into Tomorrow’s Companies

Measuring and Disclosing Outcomes and Impact

Watch recordings of past sessions

Dialogue One

Disability Inclusion: A Key Ingredient in a Diverse and Inclusive Workforce
  • Senator Tom Harkin, The Harkin Institute for Public Policy & Citizen Engagement
  • Susanne Bruyère, Yang-Tan Institute on Employment and Disability, Cornell University
  • Caroline Casey, Founder & Creator, The Valuable 500
  • Merrill Friedman, Senior Director, Disability Policy Engagement, Anthem, Inc.
  • James Rhee, Impact Investor, Founder, CEO and Educator


Dialogue Three

Disability Inclusion: The Role of Investors at the Intersection of Disability Inclusion and ESG Performance
  • Merrill Friedman, RVP, Inclusive Policy & Advocacy, Anthem, Inc.
  • Eddie Ndopu, UN SDG Advocate, Activist and Humanitarian
  • Carol Nolan Drake, CEO and Founder, Carlow Consulting, LLC
  • Charles Spearman, Global Head of Diversity & Inclusion and Co-Head of Human Resources Strategic Operations, Guggenheim Partners, LLC
  • Lisa Woll, CEO, US SIF: The Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment

Dialogue Four

Disability Inclusion: Connecting the Finance and Private Sectors to Drive Disability Inclusion
  • Merrill Friedman, RVP, Inclusive Policy & Advocacy, Anthem, Inc.
  • Amy Friedrich, President, U.S. Insurance Solutions, Principal Financial Group
  • Mike Hess, Founder and Executive Director, Blind Institute of Technology
  • Jessica Tuman, Head of Voya Cares Center for Excellence, Voya Financial

Senator Harkin and Robert Ludke publish column in Bloomberg

“It’s impossible for a company to consider its board of directors truly diverse and inclusive if people with disabilities are not acknowledged as able to provide expertise and insights that foster long-term value creation by companies — for investors and society alike.”

Latest News

Read: The ESG Imperative of Disability Inclusion

Robert Ludke wrote a column about his findings for the Institute for PR. Read Ludke’s column.

2020 Harkin Summit Panel Discussion: Spheres of Influence

This panel discussion led by Robert Ludke features a conversation about the role organizations across many industries can play in the efforts to increase employment opportunities for people with disabilities. The panel discussion took place as part of the 2020 Harkin International Disability Employment Summit.

Participants include:

  • Christina Mallon, Wunderman Thompson
  • KR Liu, Google
  • Marianne Waite, The Valuable 500
  • George Hagerty, Beacon College
  • Regina (Gina) Kline, SmartJob, LLC
“I have never seen companies so excited to see something work that is not just driven by compliance. It really is the smart, proactive companies that are reassessing how they do business and who are the people they need to bring in so they can thrive.” – Susanne Bruyère, Academic Director at the Yang-Tan Institute on Employment and Disability at Cornell University

Current policy initatives

New perspectives on ESG practices

There has been long-standing resistance in the United States to legislating how businesses should operate when it comes to their performance on environmental, social, and governance (ESG) practices.

However, that resistance is slowly crumbling. Consider:

  • In August 2020, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) finalized a rulemaking that will require companies to disclose how they are attracting, retaining, and investing in their employees.
  • Members of Congress, led by Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) commissioned a Government Accountability Office report to look at the “quality and consistency of public companies’ ESG disclosure” and the usefulness of those disclosures to investors.
  • The Biden Administration will be much more proactive in requiring companies to disclose information on their ESG practices.

The Missing Ingredient: Disability Inclusion

Missing in every one of the current policy efforts around ESG is the importance of disability inclusion. An organization cannot claim to be committed to ESG if it ignores the value created by people with disabilities.


  • According to the World Bank and the Global Economics Disability Report, over 1.3 billion people around the world experience some form of a disability – and they have a spending power of $8 trillion.
  • Research by the Center for Talent Innovation found that 75% of employees with disabilities in the United States have ideas that would drive value for their company – compared with 61% of employees without disabilities.
  • Research by the World Economic Forum shows that companies which are inclusive of people with disabilities are, on average, twice as likely to have higher total shareholder return than their peers, 28% higher revenue and 30% higher profit margins.

The Role of The Harkin Institute

The Harkin Institute is leading an effort to integrate disability inclusion into ESG policies through efforts such as:

  • Convening experts in the disability and investor communities to find areas of collaboration.
  • Working with experts and policy makers to improve awareness of the fact that competitive, integrated employment for persons with disabilities creates value for companies, investors, and society.
  • Publishing thought leadership to demonstrate the business case for competitive, integrated employment.

ESG Criteria Defined

Environmental, social, and governance (ESG) criteria are a set of standards for a company’s operations that socially conscious investors use to identify investments that create value for society.

Currently $40 trillion in assets are managed under the ESG framework – more than the combined value of the economies of the U.S. and China.

Environmental: How a company performs as a steward of nature

Social: How a company manages relationships with employees, suppliers, customers, and the communities where it operates

Governance: How a company manages leadership, executive pay, audits, internal controls and shareholder rights

Source: Investopedia


Disability community expresses concerns about proposed Nasdaq rule on board diversity

Members of the disability advocacy community, including Harkin Institute Fellow Robert Ludke, have expressed concerns to the Securities and Exchange Commission that a proposed effort by Nasdaq to create greater diversity on corporate boards of directors excludes people with disabilities. Wrote Ludke, “It is impossible for a company to consider its board of directors truly diverse if people with disabilities are not acknowledged as able to provide expertise and insights that foster long-term value creation by companies – for investors and society alike…If Nasdaq is committed to diversity among corporate boards, its approach to diversity must be inclusive of all forms.”

Meet Harkin Institute Fellow Robert Ludke

Robert (Bob) Ludke’s passion is working with executives, innovators, and entrepreneurs creating long-term value for society. Over his career Bob has advised policymakers in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, taught at the United States International University in Nairobi, Kenya, and provided counsel on sustainability, CSR, and ESG strategies for companies in the retail, oil and gas, transportation, and finance industries. He is the author of Transformative Markets, a book about the role of markets in fostering a more sustainable and prosperous society (published in April through the Creator Institute of Georgetown University).

Bob had the honor of starting his career as an intern for Senator Harkin where he served on the Subcommittee for Disability Policy. A few years later, Bob returned to Senator Harkin’s staff as a legislative correspondent and legislative assistant.

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