Pro-Chancellor, it is my great honour to present Caroline Casey for the Award of Doctor of the University in recognition of her outstanding commitment to building a global movement on inclusive business for the 1.3 billion people in the world with a disability.
At 17, Caroline was told that she had been born legally blind by her parents, who had refrained from telling her about her ocular albinism at an earlier age to enable her to grow up believing in possibilities and her own ability, rather than being faced with labels and limitations. This led to her realisation that she would never have her dream of racing cars or motorbikes across the desert, so instead her father taught her how to sail, enabling her to feel the sense of freedom and the wind in her face.
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. This led to a period of reflection during an epic elephant journey through India (no driving licence required), after which she turned down an offer to return to consulting. By going back, she felt she would be colluding in a setting where people who were different had to hide. Her TED Talk about these early experiences has been viewed almost 3 million times, asking viewers ‘to challenge perceptions and move beyond the limits we may think we have.’
Along with providing the time for reflection the elephant trek raised charitable funds for 6,000 cataract operations. Caroline realised her next journey would be one of social entrepreneurship, establishing charities and a consultancy to advise businesses and raise awareness. Her initiative, the award-winning Ability Awards, which began in Ireland was bought and expanded into Spain by the President of Telefonica for three years. In recognition of this work, she received an honorary doctorate in 2006, became the first Ashoka fellow in Ireland and the UK, joined the Eisenhower fellowship and also became a Young Global Leader of the World Economic Forum.
In 2017, as an adventurer and activist, she travelled 1000 kilometres through Colombia on a horse arriving at One Young World Bogota, to announce her ambition to end the CEO silence on disability and put disability on the global business leadership agenda. Her passionate commitment to supporting young people led to her keynote here at One Young World Bath in 2019 – her words and deeds are remembered vividly by all those who had the privilege to attend that day.
She launched The Valuable 500 movement at the World Economic Forum’s Davos Summit in 2019 and in May 2021 achieved its aim of securing commitments from 500 global CEOs and their companies worldwide to put disability inclusion on their board’s agenda. These 500 organisations have a combined market cap of $23 trillion, 22 million employees and 64 sectors: securing their commitment is a remarkable achievement. There is no other business partnership of the scale outside of the UN Global Compact.
Caroline is never complacent, however, and phase two of The Valuable 500 involves these organisations working together to increase inclusivity, for employees and consumers alike. With just 4% of businesses focused on expanding their offer to people with disabilities, and 16% of the world’s population currently experiencing significant disability, the challenges are formidable. But that has never stopped Caroline. To make the Valuable 500 a reality, she had to re-mortgage her home, but in 2021 the Nippon Foundation made the biggest grant of its kind for disability business inclusion of $5 million to fund the second phase. The Valuable 500 have also secured 15 ‘Iconic Leader’ companies and their CEOs including Allianz, Google, Apple, Microsoft, Sky Deloitte, the BBC, Salesforce and Sony, to co-fund, -build, and -test programmes and solutions, creating a catalyst for further change amongst the other organisations. In addition, the movement calls for transparent and harmonised reporting across the business world, to create consistent and comparable data to measure progress on disability inclusion.
Caroline also sits on several diversity and inclusion boards, including L’Oréal, Sanofi and Sky, and has recently been appointed President of the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB), which represents more than 150 organisations in over 100 countries working together for a world in which everyone has universal access to eye care. Another example of Caroline’s immense global impact on Equality, Diversity and Inclusion.
Pro-Chancellor, I present to you Caroline Casey who is eminently worthy to receive the degree of Doctor of the University, honoris causa.