A worldwideweb Workplace: Genashtim Innovative Learning

Logo Genashtim, name with three light green leaves
Genashtim stands for an environmentally sustainable and socially organised company (Picture: Genashtim)

In the company Genashtim Innovative Learning, the employees can work online from home. That is a great advantage for people with mobility impairment.

Long ways to work or an insufficiently accessible workplace are no objects for Genashtim Innovative Learning (GIL). Thomas Ng, founder of GIL, presents his exclusively for MyHandicap:

In the Philippines in particular, the public transport system is rather unfriendly towards people with disabilities (PwDs), and accessibility in general is not good. Hence employment opportunities for PwDs are very limited due mainly to mobility issues. With a work-from-home model, this is not an issue anymore. Even the visually impaired can be effectively employed, as with screen readers and other software tools, they can effectively use the PC and work online.

GIL is an eLearning business, representing global brands like eCornell from Cornell University of New York, and U21Global. In 2009, GIL started EPiC-Online (English Proficiency in Conversation Online). Already very familiar with managing virtual teams, EPiC-Online took this work-from-home model to new heights. With this, GIL was able to effectively tap the talent pool of persons with disabilities (PWDs).

PwDs are engaged in different areas of the business

There are blind and wheelchair-bound English Language Coaches. They are treated the same as the other coaches, and draw exactly the same compensation. Grace Balbin is blind – her average rating from her students is more than 90%. Villy Villano is also totally blind. He was among the first coaches for EPiC Online, and was recently promoted as QA Supervisor. He now spends most of his time reviewing the ratings from the students, and picking the recorded sessions for review. He is now assisted by Chinchin Bascones, who is also a PWD, working from her home in Cagayan de Oro in Mindanao. There are now 3 visually impaired and 2 orthopedically disabled coaches working in Genashtim, and we are still hiring.

Portraits of nine of the disabled employees
"People with disabilities make us a stronger company" (Picture: Genashtim)

Delia Mira and Sophia Manlapaz are the operations supervisors working the two shifts. They monitor all the EPiC-Online sessions that are running, to ensure that coaches are ready at the scheduled times. They intervene when there are technical problems. Delia and Sophia have been confined to their wheelchairs from a very early age.

Olivia develops content for EPiC Online; she is currently part of a team working on a program for the hospitality industry in Singapore, which is increasingly hiring overseas workers who find English very challenging. Vicky Suarez is the secretary to the founder of the company who lives in Melbourne and travels two third of the time. She arranges all his meetings in multiple countries, and looks after flights, visa, hotel, and ground transportation requirements. Both Olivia and Vicky spend most of the time working from their beds with their Netbook PCs, as they cannot sit up for prolonged periods. Vicky was a pharmacist working in the Middle East when a car accident broke her spine.

Not wasting life with self pity!

Because of her condition, Olivia was asked to perhaps take prolonged leave to rest, and this was her response: “Thanks a lot [...] for the understanding of my situation and NO, I don’t want to stop working unless I am not needed anymore. My salary is helping us a lot to get by so I need to work plus it makes me feel worthwhile as a person with disability. It's better to tire myself and have pain rather than waste my life feeling sorry for not doing anything.“

Ryan and Anthony are part of the IT-team of GIL. Because everyone works from home scattered all over the country and beyond, they have developed processes to effectively support PCs remotely through the internet. They also support the clients of GIL who are in many different countries. Ryan is now leading the project to develop this as a separate business, serving clients around the world. Ryan has been in a wheelchair since he was two years old. Anthony was a seaman who broke his spine in an accident on a ship at sea.

Logos of the four products
U21 Global, eCornell, EPiC-Online and Get Abled Online are all products of Genashtim (Picture: Genashtim)

Mickey was 15 when she contracted Systemic lupus erythematosus, autoimmune disease. The medication which she had to take made her blind. Mickey works from her home in Tai Yuan, Shaanxi Province, China. She is the link between the operations people in EPiC-Online and the students in China. Whenever she has time, she is also trying to market EPiC-Online to prospective clients in China.

PwDs as strength of a business

The PwDs deserve to be given the opportunity to thrive. It is really not that hard to focus on someone’s abilities rather than disabilities. Then you try to marry that with the power of today’s technology, and enable them to be able to serve a global market. More importantly, we believe that using PWDs makes us a stronger business. They are more focussed, more stable and dependable, and generally more dedicated.

We believe that engagement of PwDs or other corporate social responsibility initiatives have to be woven into your business strategy, and form an integral part of the business. This also accords dignity to the PwDs. Our PwDs are actively using technology in serving the global market, with prominent global clients. EPiC-Online is just over a year old, and we have today about 40 employees, of which 40% are PwDs. Our plan is to grow this business over 3 to 5 years, to employ about 1,000 people, and we will strive to have more than 50% of them as PwDs.

Having said all that, we are not a charity, and not a non-profit organisation. We are a serious business, and we treat the PWDs the same as we treat everyone else. If you do not perform, you will lose your job. We believe this is the only way we can build a sustainable and scalable business model.

Text: Thomas Ng / MPL

Pictures: Genashtim