Reflections of the Inclusion Advisory Group on supporting participation of marginalized groups of people with disabilities in technical advisory partnerships with governments and international cooperation stakeholders

Participation of people with disabilities is central to the monitoring and implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The Inclusion Advisory Group (IAG) shares their reflections and approach to supporting participation of marginalized groups of people with disabilities in technical advisory partnerships with governments and international cooperation stakeholders.

Aleisha Carroll1
Aleisha Carroll
Briana Wilson
Aleisha Carroll

Authors: Aleisha Carroll and Briana Wilson, Inclusion Advisory Group, CBM Global.

Since the CRPD came into force in 2008, increasingly disability has been recognized as a human rights and development issue, rather than a welfare or health issue. This paradigm shift has had huge implications on the way disability is addressed across the board, and particularly for persons with psychosocial disabilities, whose issues are often still considered primarily within a health perspective. As this understanding has grown, so too has the demand for practical support to implement disability inclusive policy and practice from the development and humanitarian sector, and for links with the disability movement.

Urgency for international actors to address crises and redress past injustice

The Resolution on Mental Health and Human Rights from the United Nations Human Rights Council recognizes that persons with psychosocial disabilities, persons with mental health conditions, and mental health users face widespread discrimination, stigma, prejudice, violence, abuse, social exclusion and segregation, unlawful or arbitrary institutionalization, overmedicalization and treatment practices that fail to respect their autonomy, will and preferences.[1] It calls for urgent redress. The time is now for governments, and international cooperation stakeholders to be intentional in building their own understanding of human rights, inclusion and psychosocial disability. However, as people with psychosocial disability seek to elevate their requirements, the international agenda is often dominated by a focus on addressing “the treatment gap” as opposed to a holistic view of inclusion in all aspects of life.

International cooperation actors need to build their own capacity on CRPD-compliant inclusion

The recent Special Rapporteur report on International Cooperation also emphasizes the need for governments, international donors and programs to build their capacity on disability inclusion, including the inclusion of persons with psychosocial disability. “It is alarming that funding that in principle is intended for deinstitutionalization processes and for community-based support continues to be allocated to building and maintaining institutions, including smaller facilities, such as small group homes. Therefore, training is required so that donors ensure that all their programmes comply with the Convention….”(39) and ensure they have “access to external technical support”[2] (78).

There are opportunities for persons with psychosocial disabilities and their representative organizations to engage with governments and international cooperation stakeholders to shape the way forward, and build a shared understanding of how human rights apply to the inclusion of persons with psychosocial disabilities. Furthermore, there is a call for greater localization within the development and humanitarian sectors.

This global consensus and trend provides people with psychosocial disability the opportunity to leverage these trends and to develop strengths-based approaches to community-based support and inclusion that are appropriate to local context and culture.  International cooperation actors and organisations can be allies supporting the strengthening of representative organizations and supporting their role in guiding local solutions to critical issues. Participation of people with disabilities and their representative organizations is recognized in the CRPD as both a general obligation (article 4.3) and a cross cutting issue, obligating duty bearers to closely consult and actively involve people with disabilities in decisions which affect them. However, despite the clear need and momentum to create rights-based, localized approaches to inclusion in partnership with people with disabilities, in many contexts there are limited local representative organizations of people with psychosocial disability, especially compared to other disability groups. Furthermore, whilst there is increasing demand for technical advice on psychosocial disability, there are limited advisors available and able to provide human rights based perspectives on inclusion and psychosocial disability.

Fortunately, despite these challenges, there is a growing community of people with psychosocial disability, representative organisations, such as the regional network Transforming Communities for Inclusion Asia-Pacific (TCI AP) and their allies in the Asia-Pacific region.[3]  Using the CRPD as a tool for change and through south-south connections, they are advocating equal participation in civil society and community life. The Inclusion Advisory Group (IAG), as an ally and provider of technical advisory services on inclusion have engaged with TCI AP over a number of years to see how we can work together to create greater change than we could alone. As we have journeyed together, we have reflected on lessons learned along the way.[4]

A Case Study: Partnering for participatory approaches to technical advice and support

The CBM Global Inclusion Advisory Group exists to support development and humanitarian programmes to make inclusion a reality. In partnership with people with disabilities and their representative organizations, IAG supports change through technical assistance, facilitation, capacity strengthening and sharing evidence of what works. With teams drawn from across CBM Global and valued associates, we work with governments, UN agencies, development banks, management contractors and international and national NGOs to strengthen inclusion in their policies, programs and practices. Our advice to others is informed and amplified through CBM Global’s field programmes and advocacy.

As we have evolved our model of advisory work, we have made mistakes, learned, and refined how we work along the way. Our work on the inclusion of people with psychosocial disability has evolved slowly over time as we engage with organisations like TCI AP to understand what we can bring to the table. We see ourselves as two organisations with different strengths, networks, and spheres of influence, who can achieve more together than alone.

Partnering with TCI AP on a range of activities over the past 6 years has placed us in a privileged position. One where we can listen to the needs and goals of OPDs and informal networks of people with psychosocial disabilities, understand the barriers holding them back and learn how we can use our influence to achieve the vision outlined in the CRPD.

Some of the things we have found that have worked well include:

  • Acknowledging we are all continually learning, we adopted a two-way capacity strengthening approach, which included supporting emerging and established groups of people with psychosocial disability, while they helped us to better understand the experiences and priorities of people with psychosocial disability in the contexts we work in. For example, we have had the opportunity to attend TCI AP plenary meetings where, whilst we have provided practical support for delivery of some sessions, we also come away with critical learning about the needs, goals and challenges of the movement.
  • Identifying opportunities for dialogue and influence, to amplify these messages and bring representative organisations like TCI to the table to speak directly.  For example, conducting joint sessions in University Development Courses, at Australian Aid and Development Conferences, and sharing content and publications within our networks. This has enabled representatives to have access to development priorities and possible entry points for advancing psychosocial disability through this mechanism, whilst elevating the human rights and development imperatives for people with psychosocial disability in the region.
  • Understanding of TCI AP and their regional objectives allows us to use our roles in large aid programs to open opportunities for TCI AP: to provide direct advice on human rights-compliant programming and facilitate engagement with people with psychosocial disability within Tonga and Timor-Leste, as well as mobilise funding to support representatives from new countries to attend regional meetings to connect with peers and grow their understanding. Some participants have been inspired to establish their own organisation of persons with psychosocial disabilities as a result.
  • Being able to harness our relationship with large international cooperation initiatives also creates resourcing opportunities for representative organisations, as well as opportunities for influence. CBM Global as an organisation is committed to supporting Organisations of Persons with disabilities (OPDs) through a partnership approach. We place OPDs at the centre of our programme, advocacy and advisory work. We use our advisory linkages to leverage broader international development and humanitarian resources cooperation to support sustained ‘no strings attached’ core funding for OPDs. For example, we employed this approach in a large regional DRR and humanitarian program in the Pacific, and were able to secure budget to fund a full time position in 5 national OPDs plus a coordinator at the Pacific Disability Forum, allowing these organisations to expand their scope and influence, without drawing from already stretched resources.
  • Sensitivity to the shortage of time and resourcing in both representative organisations of persons with psychosocial disabilities at national and local levels and in advisors who can provide technical advice on inclusion and psychosocial disability. We have found that in each scenario where there is a request for advice, or an influencing opportunity there are often multiple roles that need to be taken: representation, accountability, advocacy, capacity building, facilitation and technical advice among others. Our goal is to play technical roles that complement our disability movement partners’ engagement, not take their space, but we recognise that this takes continual communication, reflection and learning to get this right.
  • Given we work with a range of umbrella and cross-disability OPDs within our advisory role we have, at times, been able to foster opportunities for exchange between cross disability and psychosocial disability representative organisations within work we are undertaking. For example, linking TCI to other OPDs to provide capacity development on psychosocial disability and engage in peer exchange.

We have also learned some lessons along the way:

  • We do come from different operating contexts to our OPD partners, particularly newer less formal organisations and networks of people with psychosocial disabilities. Taking the time to understand each other, and how to best work together whilst evolving the work slowly over time has been important.
  • We need to be conscious of the power imbalances that can exist in relationships between local civil society groups and international NGOs, and particularly of the concept of “NGO-ization” where NGO’s can inadvertently drive local organisations away from working on the local priorities of their members, in pursuit of a global agenda introduced by international actors.[5] It is much easier to have quality engagement with OPDs, not take the space, or feel like we are subverting their agenda when we have a long-term relationship with one another and understand one another’s ways of working and priorities. Sometimes, we get asked to provide support in contexts by clients where we don’t have these long-term relationships, which presents challenges to us and OPDs involved. Never-the-less things have to start somewhere, so these engagements often are the start of a longer-term engagement.
  • Groups of people with psychosocial disability may be at a much earlier stage of representation and organisational development due to the discrimination and historical barriers faced. This often leads to us collaborating with less “official” or registered representative networks and self-help groups. This requires creativity and flexibility in approach and creates additional challenges to be overcome when trying to leverage funding for these groups.

We are still in a process of continual learning and evolution of how we work as we seek to deepen our relationships with organisations of people with psychosocial disabilities, to leverage more resources to these groups and to seek greater impact. We recognise there is much much more to do and to learn, and we welcome the commitment of other international cooperation actors in this pursuit.

[1] Human Rights Council (HRC) Resolution on Mental Health and Human Rights (A/HRC/36/L.25)

[2] Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities. Report on disability-inclusive international cooperation. To the 75th session of the General Assembly, October 2020 (A/75/186)

[3] Transforming Communities for Inclusion Asia Pacific. Bali Declaration. October 1, 2018. Accessed on February 9th, 2019 at

Full Text of the Bali Declaration

[4] CBM Inclusion Advisory Group. Website. Accessed on December 8th, 2020 at

[Inclusion Advisory Group]

[5]Meyers, S (2016) NGO-Ization and Human Rights Law: The CRPD’s Civil Society Mandate. Laws, 5(2), 21. Available at

Aleisha Carroll is one of the managers of the CBM Global Inclusion Advisory Group based in Australia. Aleisha provides disability technical advice and capacity development support across a number of research and development activities.

Briana Wilson is a Senior Advisor with the Inclusion Advisory Group Global Team. She supports local advisory teams and leads on global level technical advice.