6 Questions to Hervé Bernard, Head of HI’s Inclusion unit

Posted by: on Aug 16, 2018 | No Comments

In January 2018, Handicap International changed its name to Humanity & Inclusion. The latter is nothing but new at HI since its Inclusion unit was created 15 years ago, in 2003. Here are a few questions about inclusion we asked to Hervé Bernard, Head of HI’s Inclusion unit.

In January 2018, Handicap International changed its name to Humanity & Inclusion. One of the reasons was to better reflect the diversity of our mission of inclusion of the most vulnerable. Can you tell us what the story behind HI’s Inclusion unit is?

In 2003 HI set up the Inclusion unit (then known as the Insertion unit in French; the use of “inclusion” in both languages is more recent). The idea behind it was to create a department within HI that would go beyond and complete what was already achieved by rehabilitation programs.

Social and humanitarian workers alike indeed used to distinguish medical rehabilitation from other activities such as the social, economic or educational development of people with disabilities; these three fields of action were only understood as following the functional rehabilitation moment. HI innovated, proposing to promote people with disabilities’ inclusion and to support them in developing their activities by stepping out of the medical field, once the rehabilitation phase was over. That is, not assigning people with disabilities only medical staffs anymore but also social workers, who would work alongside them in order to make the latters’ environment more inclusive.

HI’s idea to make social workers part of inclusion processes was really pioneering at the time, and now they are the backbone of all our inclusion projects. Actually, HI’s feeling was that, in order to help making people with disabilities’ environments more inclusive, rehabilitation was just the first step and, after that, we had to adjust ourselves to everyone’s situation. Inclusion has a different meaning for everyone and we did not want to leave anyone behind. That explains why HI’s Inclusion unit has so many different sectors of services, thirteen in total! Inclusion projects through education, sports or employment are just a few examples of what we do.

With the launch in July 2018 of #school4all, HI’s campaign championing inclusive education, we are trying to shed light on some of our most successful projects. In your opinion, within HI, what is the most significant project promoting inclusive education?

I think it would be the project we opened in Burkina Faso in 2003. Several schools in Tanghin Dassouri, a region located in the heart of the country, have agreed and have now been committed to welcome children with disabilities for the past fifteen years. Concretely, this means making school buildings accessible to everyone but also training teachers to adapt their teaching methods so that children with and without disabilities can follow the same courses. Priorly, HI had never led a project in inclusive education, or in Burkina Faso for that matter. Although it all started as a pilot project, it is now one of the most important projects in inclusive education led by HI. It is so successful that it grabbed the attention of several Burkinabe ministers, who now consult the NGO when it comes to fostering inclusion within their respective ministries but also when it comes to improving Burkinabe teachers’ initial training.

And in terms of economical inclusion, what would be HI’s most symbolic project, according to you?

The first one I can think of is the “Cashew project” in Senegal. It started in 2003/2004 and lasted around a decade. It has been an important project because it allowed us to reflect on corporate social responsibility, a process and commitment, which can also lead to people with disabilities being more often hired. The project consisted in the creation of a solidary trade label that would encourage Senegalese companies to hire more people with disabilities. This project was also quite popular in France as HI’s sales teams used the little bags of cashews, coming from these labelled companies, to sell them to donors or to distribute them during events such as the Pyramids of Shoes.

And, from your point of view, what is HI’s most illustrative project regarding to inclusion through sport?

To me, it would one of our projects in Bangladesh. It started around 2004/2005. Two projects followed one another: the first one was “Fun Inclusive”, which was then supplanted by “Sports for all”. The idea behind these projects was to support sports trainers in developing inclusive ways to practice sports, so disabled and non-disabled persons could play together. Professionals call these techniques APA (Adapted Physical Activities). The success these projects encountered led to the implementation of an “Inclusive Sports” stand at the annual Pyramid of Shoes, a stand which always attracts a lot of attention, along with the stand set up to present our humanitarian mine action activities.

How would you describe HI’s approach towards inclusion?

In order to describe the vision of inclusion supported by HI, I would like to present the five principles that, according to us, are essential when developing activities that aim at bringing more inclusion.


First of all, it is important to have in mind that a person’s quality of life is the only horizon, meaning that inclusion, and means going with it, is different for everyone. Inclusion is such a large term, it is normal to go step by step and it is really important that we implement ways to evaluate the work that has already been done, to know whether it is going in the right direction or not. Improve someone’s wellbeing is both a simple and a very complex objective. HI’s idea is to put the human being at the core of its inclusion activities and to fight what could be called “massive inclusion” projects.

Secondly, when the objective is settled, there is a double way to attain it. We call it the “twin track”, which means that in an inclusive project, actions have to impact both the excluded person and the environment in which he or she lives. This means we have to empower the person we work with and, in the meantime, we have to make her or his environment more benevolent and welcoming.

Thirdly, empowerment being one of the two major components of an inclusive project, we think it has to be made through a personalised social support. This kind of support is actually HI’s hallmark. We really believe in a tailored approach when it comes to inclusion. That is why HI put social workers, who are the backbone of our projects’ success, at the centre of its inclusion projects.

Fourthly, I like to present the four steps that lead from an excluding environment to an inclusive one. The first thing to do is to make a diagnostic of the situation of exclusion. Then we need to train and raise awareness on this matter. At this point, a strong political support is required to give meaning to the project, usually through a settled framework and indicators that will help us know whether we are going in the right direction or not. After that, and in order to ensure that the new measures will last, it is essential to carry out training work in the long run. When talking about these four steps, we usually use the AIATAC acronym, standing for “Assessment, Information-Awareness-Training, Advocacy, Coaching”.

Ultimately, in order to present the five components of an inclusive structure, we like to use the image of a five-pointed star, since there is no hierarchy between these elements. An inclusive structure must benefit from a strong political support. It must make the environment and the information accessible. It has to be composed of people who are motivated and sensitive to disability. Structures need to be accessible to people with disabilities, from the functioning of their facilities to their human resources policies. Eventually, an inclusive structure should be connected to external partners that are ready to support their initiatives.

the five components of an inclusive structure

One last question: how do you see the future of inclusion at HI?

Well, with the help of the Internal Communication unit, we are currently working on a training course on inclusion that will be followed both by newcomers and by people already working at HI. This course should facilitate the mainstreaming of inclusion, and of the rationale behind it, throughout the association. Ultimately, everyone within HI, not only within the units or departments involved in developing inclusion projects, will be able to develop or foster more inclusive projects or policies.