Esther is the CEO of National Union of Disabled persons of Uganda (NUPIDU), the umbrella organisation for disability rights groups in Uganda.
When we spoke, she had travelled to western Uganda to oversee a road-building project, ensuring it was being made in a way that is accessible to people with disabilities. This is just one example of the many ways in which NUDIPU advocates for the rights and inclusion of people with disabilities in Uganda.
Esther shares her experience of working with grassroots organisations, the challenges these organisations are facing, and why ADD’s move towards participatory grant-making will benefit the sector.
Can you tell us about NUDIPU and its history?
Before NUDIPU was founded in 1987, there were many OPDs scattered across the country. People with disabilities mobilised themselves and came together to form one national organisation. Those first meetings were facilitated by ADD International.
ADD also gave support in trainings when NUDIPU was being set up, meaning we were able to set up in a sustainable way, and bring other partners on board for further funding.
Previously, there had been small groups working on single issues, but no common voice. NUDIPU is that one voice that is able to articulate the issues faced by people with disabilities at a national level. We are part of local government and also working with national organisations. This set up has helped spread information at both the local and national level. NUDIPU’s hand was key in the writing of policy around the rights of people with disability in our constitution, and the government consults with us on laws affecting the groups we represent. At first, we were known only for working with people with physical disabilities. Today we work with people with all kinds of disabilities, and work to educate ourselves on these.
As CEO I manage the organisation and our resources. I am a technical advisor and work with different government partners to ensure the agreements are actioned, and make sure that policies of NUDIPU are being enforced. I support and manage the team members and ensure that public understands what NUDIPU does.
NUDIPU has been operating for 36 years. What is the key to its strength and sustainability?
Our strength comes from our structures. Even when times are hard, the members support the whole. The initial support from ADD was not just financial, you also supported us with trainings on fundraising, financial management, organisational development and resource mobilisation, which enabled us to have strong governance. Missing out on that initial capacity building can cause organisations to struggle later.
That bit of support we received enabled us to fundraise and bring new partners on board.
We have strong links with government, who consult us on new laws and policies to make sure they are inclusive. We regularly hold assemblies to elect new leaders, and take on the views of new members. These things sustain us.
What are some of the challenges that your members face?
Some of our organisations are very young, and need a lot of support from the umbrella of NUDIPU. It takes time to establish financial and governance systems in their organisations, as well as strategies around how to advocate for their needs.
An important part of their work is travelling to different parts of Uganda to reach people with the disability they represent and mobilise them. Often, organisations lack the resources to do this. One reason for this is restricted project funding. It often covers just certain districts which means many people are left out. Similarly, restricted funding often runs out after a short, fixed time, before the work is finished. When the project exits things almost go back to how they were before.
What should be done to address these issues and how could ADD’s transformation help?
NUDIPU is not comfortable with some of the big international NGOs. We thought they would come and support our work, build our capacity and offer technical advice. But what we’ve seen is they operate like OPDs themselves, in competition. We are not benefitting much from their presence in the sector.
The benefit of grassroots work is that people with disabilities can easily relate to the people working with them.
For example, we are working on an economic empowerment project. We go into communities and work with people with disabilities to support them in saving, and how to best use what they save. But when people from outside come in, they often don’t understand the context in which these people operate, and it fails. The beauty of a successful project is in the relationship that is created.
I welcome that ADD is moving towards participatory grant making. When it has given grants in the past this was very beneficial to Uganda. ADD is moving in the right direction and I love that it is starting participatory grant making. Many donors don’t want to consult with or involve people with disabilities, and they remain as just recipients while the donor is the giver. But consultation is very helpful. In a participatory model, we can work with the most marginalised disabilities, and reach more remote communities. Resources will be more fairly shared than before. We had received sub-granting from ADD and I am glad they are doing more of this to support the many groups of people with disabilities in Uganda.
What is your hope for the future of the disability rights movement?
I want to see a vibrant disability rights movement in Uganda that is united and advocating together. I want us not to look at each other as competitors, but to build synergies and work together to advocate for our common cause.
I want to see more connection with the most marginalised people with disabilities who don’t have the opportunity to speak for themselves on a national level. I want to see a movement looking to innovate- by utilising the technology to advance our issues.
I want to see stronger OPDs that can remain strong and sustainable even without the support of the umbrella.
find out more
Read about ADD becoming a participatory grant maker.
Learn about our work in Uganda, Tanzania and Sudan.
Read more interviews and blogs from disability rights activists.