Award-winning businesswoman, social entrepreneur and activist, Dr Caroline Casey, has been recognised with an Honorary Degree by the University of Bath as part of celebrations to mark One Young World Bath – the initiative putting young people at the heart of social change.
As founder and creator of Valuable 500 – the movement on a mission to use the power of business to improve conditions for 1.3 billion people around the world living with disability - Caroline has pioneered initiatives centred on business inclusion for people with disabilities for over two decades.
Her seminal TED Talk ‘Looking past limits’, which was filmed in 2010 and has since been seen by over 2 million, tells her own extraordinary story of realising at 17 she was blind. Born with the rare condition ocular albinism, at a young age Caroline’s parents decided not to tell her, instilling instead an inner belief that ‘anything would be possible’.
She kept her disability hidden for the next 11 years, progressing through business school and a consulting career, before revealing the truth to colleagues at Accenture in 1999 when her eyesight deteriorated significantly. Since she has been on a journey of discovery, driven by a passion to improve how disability is understood.
In 2001, Caroline trekked solo across India on elephant-back raising €250,000 for The National Council of the Blind in Ireland and the charity Sightsavers – enough to fund 6,000 cataract operations. Her next journey would be one of social entrepreneurship, establishing charities and a consultancy to advise businesses and raise awareness of disability.
In 2004, she established the celebrated ‘Ability Awards’, which recognised Irish businesses for their inclusion practices of people with disabilities, both as employees and customers. This initiative was later rolled out internationally in Spain by the President of Telefonica, the mobile phone giant.
In 2019, Caroline launched the Valuable 500 movement at the World Economic Forum’s Davos Summit. Through this she has signed up 500 multinational organisations with a combined revenue of over $8 trillion, employing 20 million people worldwide, to radically transform business systems in relation to disability.
Throughout the past decade Caroline has also been actively involved in One Young World (OYW) as a Counsellor. Through this she has established strong connections with the University of Bath. Bath is the longest-standing UK University partner of OYW, a decade-long partnership which is managed through the Faculty of Humanities & Social Sciences.
The One Young World Bath initiative, which is a spin-out of this, hosts events and lectures for students on campus. Organised and facilitated by student volunteers, the most recent event this Saturday included inspirational speakers and workshops based around the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
Commenting on her Honorary Degree, Caroline said: “It’s like somebody saying, 'I see you, and I hear you, and thank you'. When you do work like this it gets really lonely and pioneering is a sexy word but it's not a sexy place. It’s very scary at times and it's very lonely and you feel the weight of it.
“This was an opportunity for me to pause and say to myself, 'it's okay, you did okay girl'. But the most important thing is that there were four people in that room today who deserved to be recognised for the work that we had all done together and this was my chance to say thank you to them.”
Professor Deborah Wilson, Dean of the Faculty of Humanities & Social Sciences who delivered Caroline’s oration, added: “Dr Caroline Casey’s life story is a quite remarkable one. Despite her condition, she has helped to change the face of disability by instilling in others her powerful vision that anything is possible if you set your mind to it.
“Caroline’s contributions are improving the lives of people with disability around the world, and it was a great honour to present her with an Honorary Degree. This recognition further cements our commitment to the One Young World initiative through which our students play such an active role and have developed so many valuable life skills.”
In addition to her role with One Young World, Caroline was recently appointed President of the IAPB. She sits on several diversity and inclusion boards including for L’Oréal, Sanofi and Sky. She is Ashoka fellow in Ireland and the UK, an Eisenhower Fellow, and has also been a Young Global Leader of the World Economic Forum.