AXSChat Podcast

AXSChat Podcast with Michael Lorz, Founder and managing director of EnableMe Foundation.

May 02, 2023 Debra Ruh, Antonio Santos and Neil Milliken talk with Michael Lorz
AXSChat Podcast
AXSChat Podcast with Michael Lorz, Founder and managing director of EnableMe Foundation.
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Show Notes Transcript

Dr. Michael Lorz (43) is the founding managing director of EnableMe Foundation. The foundation empowers more than one million people with disabilities annually across the world by providing enabling information, self-help peer communities & digital services.

Michael is also the managing director of the Stiftung MyHandicap that focuses on digital inclusion services in Switzerland. He is passionate about societal impact in the domain of non-visible disabilities. Previously, he has inter alia been the founding managing director of the foundation at the University of St.Gallen (HSG Foundation).

He is a graduate of the Ashoka Visionary Programme and completed five academic degrees at renown universities.

Michael started his career in a leadership development program of an international FMCG company working in multiple locations worldwide. Today he also teaches regularly value-based fundraising at the University of St.Gallen and has a keen interest in alternative assets. He is also advisory board member of the Center for Disability Integration at the University of St.Gallen.

Michael lives with his family in the wonderful city of St.Gallen (CH).

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>> Hello and welcome to Axschat. I am delighted that we're joined today by Michael Lorz. Lots of enable me. Michael and I met in Vienna at the Zero Project along with Deborah. Michael, great to have you with us. Can you please tell us a little bit about EnableMe and the work that you're doing around the globe?>> Thanks a lot, Neil. And also thanks to everyone for this very kind invitation. So, well, Enable Me has a very long history. Actually. It's probably one of the innovators in inclusion plus digital and is really down to a very personal experience. The experience of Joachim Schoss, who in 2002, after being a serial entrepreneur, founding many digital businesses marketplaces, he experienced, unfortunately, a motorcycle accident where a drunk driver hit him. And basically after really fighting with his life and winning it, he woke up experiencing only what it means having only one leg and one arm left and mind. It is 2002 around and you know, it's a digital entrepreneur you need to think about. You know, in the hospital there was a huge pillar of folders, you know, a whole wall full where you could go, okay, if I need to have a car adjustment, here are the providers in this city if I need to do that here. And then he looked at it, it was outdated. And when he said, hey, this can't be the truth, I mean, we are in the year of 2002 or then 2004. We must build the digital place for people with disabilities for enabling information. And that was kind of the birth date of the foundation, my handicap. Then it became in the German speaking world, the platform for people with disabilities reaching millions of people per year with information. And at the later stage we added, you know, self-help communities, digital communities and digital user journeys. That can explain a little bit later. But kind of this is the story. In short. Then we said, okay guys, I joined in 2018 and we actually said, okay, guys, how can it be? I mean, we are working for Germany in Switzerland and Austria. These are social welfare states. There are bigger problems in other countries. And we do see you know, it's actually unfortunate that there are so many people that actually need that support and actually access it and use the information platform and communities. So we actually did a big research and landscape study to identify whether this kind of service is of of use in other countries as well. And obviously mean in Cambodia. Our partner world has had that has made a couple of investigations missions. For example, 65% of people with disabilities there have already Internet access is growing strongly. And you can imagine this is a privileged group. And about 98% of this group did not know or does not know the basic rights. So then we thought, okay, guys, this is really about information is power. It can be so enabling and especially if you know your life changes in a second. You know, finding information and community that supports you should not be a problem. It should really be enabler of seeing new perspectives, of personal growth, of really putting you into a new position. But I'm already going into a little bit more detail. There's kind of a story That's why we built Enable Me in 2020 enable me as an incubator. What we do is we build the tech, we build the standard procedures trainings, we build a global content hub that we give to partners that can then basically build digital platforms on their own. So we've done that in Ukraine very successfully, unfortunately as well as well, and in other countries, for example, in Kenya.>> And I know that and that well, Antonio is traveling, but so is Neil. Neil is traveling today and apparently he's struggling with his wi fi because he just got kicked off. So we'll let him come back in, maybe when he comes back. But we're just going to go ahead and proceed. But oh, and he did, so. All right, cool. Neil, we lost you just for a moment. I hope that was a nice little break you took. No. Yeah. Didn't miss a thing. You just missed me telling everybody that you disappeared. But, hey, welcome back. Yeah, that's.>> The joys of guest wi fi for you. So.>> So, so Quick question before I hand over to Deborah. Or disappear off again in a puff of smoke.>> Um.>> So you say you're an incubator and your building platforms. Quite often those two don't go hand in hand. So.>> So which is a sort of a separation.>> Between the.>> Incubation.>> Part and the part that is the platform or.>> Sort of is.>> There a sort of a combined activity going on there?>> Because you say you work with partners, but you're also building your own tech is a little bit of, you know, possible competition in in what you're doing or not competition, but overlap.>> Not necessarily. Actually, the tech is part of the incubation process. So basically what we do is we see, you know, everybody wants his own silo and we have 18 years experience in building digital platforms. And I can tell you one thing, if you want to do it, do it with us, because it's going to be 1/20 of the cost. I see all these people who think they've just received a donation of XYZ and they want to do their own platform. But you know, it has so much scalability and also economies of scale. For example, in our platform you have one language you can copy, paste or translate to the other language contextualize, of course, and it's far easier to build this. And we have all this features two front end and back end build that we can just very readily give to the partners. So it's about having the software, sorry, having the community software, having the content platform. So kind of and then having digital services. But in this case we are we rely more on our partners, partners. We have a lot of access traffic. So it's always a big of a challenge of building new digital services. But we do in some cases I can explain later.>> So, so okay, I fully understand now. So you're you're essentially building the, the sort of ecosystem that.>> Houses all of the.>> Others. So you develop that and then that enables them to develop.>> Yeah, you're spot on. We enable others to enable others. Okay. It's kind of this new approach. That's why we get so much leverage as well and impact. So.>> So your meta. Yeah.>> Yeah. We've seen, you know, we have the experience of being the provider in a country specifically dealing with, with, with people with disabilities, with our target group. And it is a completely different thing to do that and we've seen that. So taking a lot of efforts and that's why we cannot do it in every country. But we enable partners who really are eager and see value of community, of of content as an enabling factor and digital user journeys in the context of a triangle. Content opens horizons community often inspires to action and digital call to action basically really transfers the action from digital to offline.>> And I'll just say that we are really proud at billion strong to be partnering with enable me and some people might think well wait a minute, aren't they doing the same thing that billion strong is? But no, they're not. I mean, what they're doing is they're trying to get all the data that we need together so that we can because right now we don't know where the data is. And I'll give you an example. Here in the United States, one thing that we do, I have a lot of you know, I have now 36 year old daughter with Down syndrome because her birthday was yesterday. And but there's so many laws and policies. And and she you know, she has. Says to this Medicaid and this, this and their care provider. There's so many moving parts and even though I'm air quotes and expert know there's just too much data and we don't know where to go. So one thing I loved about what enabled me is doing they're the ones that are coming together saying, what do we need to know? Mean, For example, when I go to the website, for example, they had of course, now I'm not going to find it, but they they were people are you can come in and ask questions, for example. And this is something that you could do on Billion strong as well. But I have ADHD. I'm really struggling with it. Should I disclose this to my employer? Okay. So questions like that and the community, it's a very powerful community. It's fully accessible. So when we were talking to enable me about what we're doing at Billion Strong, we quickly concluded we are not competitors. We actually are stronger together. And Michael was saying, Do you really need to build a big accessible community? Deborah We've already done that. How do we come together and support each other? And so one thing I wanted to do is just talk a little bit about that, because there's also other groups. There's a group in Israel called You Can Too, I believe, and it's a beautiful community portal where they're, you know, allowing people to talk and they're global. But most of it is happening in Israel. And how do we pull together these efforts? Because the reality is when you are an individual living with a disability or somebody that loves a person with a disability, there are a lot of moving parts and, you know, identity is one of them. That's what we're taking on at Billion Strong. Let's come together proudly as a community. Let's work together. Let's show each other what everybody's doing but enable me, I feel has a very important role because they're going to try to pull all of this data together of what we need. Okay. I have a 36 year old daughter with Down syndrome. I live in the United States. What do I need to do to make sure my daughter is protected and all the moving parts? So I just that's the way I'm interpreting it. Michael Am I interpreting that correctly?>> Um, yeah, it definitely is. Is going into this direction. Um, maybe I'll do an example of Ukraine because it's the most recent. So Ukraine, um, we have just recently, just really at the when it started we decided, okay, let's do um, and build a platform because we did a quick search, the a national disability organization. But there is no really information architecture. It's really interesting. Many countries there is not. And so we quickly, quickly, you know, develop this partnerships with a national assembly of disabled people organizations in Ukraine and build this platform. And it's really so tremendously impressive what is happening there. First of all, the usage increase. It's like, of course, we started small but a monthly. We now have 100,000 users and these are beautiful stories where, you know, um, women get medication, medication for their husbands, get the information, how to register in the community. People help each other, you know, comforting in a refugee countries in many circumstances, there were, you know, extraordinary situations where, for example, there was the question, do I take my wheelchair? Or if the person in the car and, you know, community members picked up this wheelchair and brought it to Germany because it was a 100 kilogram uniquely made one and it's so beautiful, what happens. So it's really about, you know, bringing people together who are in a certain situation very often where there has been a change at the very least, where they need a solution together with people who have more experience. So it's a community that is not necessarily only consisting of experts, it's more a community of people who have experienced the same. And it's so strong to bring these people together because, you know, a doctor can tell you how to, you know, the medical part of a diagnosis of a condition, but he cannot tell you how to live. Right. And if you go to a consultant who advises you on different aspects, yes, that's nice. But 1 to 1, you find a solution that has been developed by the community is about 10,000 people from 135 countries and basically 150,000 answers as a repository at the moment. So basically a good solution or answer can be read thousands of times. And what we see, what is very strong is information, of course. Opens horizons. But the combination of information and community that is very strong. I agree. The exchange to see someone who is in a similar situation doing something that you probably did not think about or you were not courageous potentially enough to do, it is so strong. And so it's really moving from inertia to action very often. And then, you know, the royal way. But it's very difficult to do. The royal way is to, you know, show the opportunities and horizons, establish the exchange for inspiration and action, and then combine it with a digital call to action. So we have done it the first time or not the first time, but in a real digital user journey now in Switzerland, where we inform really from A to Z what to do to get work, you know, how to communicate, how to apply, etcetera. We inform also employers and then this person can go to the community, can chat with experts, with other people. Maybe Paul speaks with Maria. Maria tells Paul, by the way, at the Swiss Post they are looking for people with disabilities because they want to get the quota or other reasons, hopefully. And by the way, here are some ads just apply. And our job platform is the biggest job platform for people with disabilities. In Switzerland, we have a selection criteria where we only take companies that really want to recruit. It's really important to give a signal. And, you know, designing this user journey really increases the potential for impact, right? And this is kind of a combination of content, community service.>> I'm talking and I'm just going to read a couple of the things and I'm going to turn it over to I'm going to some of the things that communities talk about, and then I want to turn it over to Antenna Antonio. But for example, somebody posted the 2023 Autism Acceptance Community event. Somebody asked, Do you know of any financial support programs that parents of children with disabilities can access? Any Nobody. No good quotes about autism. And so are there any medications that they prescribe to manage autism? So people are having, like you said, you know, you go to the doctor and the doctor tells you to do this, but you're curious what everybody else has done and how is that how that has worked for them. So I found things like that. I find it very helpful as a parent. But let me turn it over to Antonio. I know he had a question.>> So Michael, so when you are collaborating with others to to support and create their communities, how do you make sure that within the platform, um, accessibility is prioritized and the standards are sometimes even better than the standards are kept in place? Because the fact that someone is building a community on the top of a platform, it does mean that they are going to be able to keep it accessible all the time or they are not going to mess up with the code or the system. How you how you guarantee that quality?>> Yeah, yeah. It's a very important point and always the point of a lot of headaches, but well, I mean obviously we adhere to standards WCAG just out of the box and that is kind of a briefing also for the agencies that support us and help us in programing. But we have also, you know, audits. I think we have done some with a company Tetra logic. Um, and, and then basically, you know, one thing is back end, but the other one is probably also the front end what people are writing and is a very difficult to actually control that and how people write right So there are we try out of the box to, you know, help as much as possible. Um, also from standards but um, you know, when it comes to. You know, front end, especially community, is going to be very difficult. We have obviously we have an etiquette, um, which everybody needs to adhere to and we make sure that our community managers look at that. But certainly that is something that we are always aware of and, and trying to focus and we need to improve. And it's always it's a running goal. You know, you at one point kind of accessible a couple of months later, you know, it's really a catch up game all the time. But it's it's obviously very high on our agenda. I've posted one article because you were talking about autism. It's an article would be really, um, maybe a year or one and a half years ago launched and it's really about how to deal and how to work together with people with autism. And it's really interesting. It's beautiful. And you see, you know, it's more than 100,000 people who have read that. So it's kind of, you know, and when you see many different links to other organizations, to autism society, etcetera, to to threats in the community. So you can really if you want to get into a topic, you can kind of find a lot. And the other thing is, I mean, we are now talking in English language. We are very strong in German, I must say. So if you want to really have a representation, check, enable me. And Dot and I must say what you said, Deborah, it's true. You know, there is an identity thing. There is a cultural context, there's a legal context. There's so many things. So trying to be global is one thing, but really global. It's really difficult. And that's why we actually took this approach of guys. We don't know what is happening in Nairobi. So what we do is we give everything we can to the local partner and it's it's the this the United Disabled People of Kenya. So it's an umbrella organization of of disabled people organizations. So it's really about, you know, giving people that have an insight a much better than we ever could. The tools and power to to reach their their target groups. And in Kenya, I must say, we are the biggest national platform. And we have at the moment about 16,000 users per month. So it's really nice as well to see the the progress there. And Kenya was also very interesting. I've just read or basically or discussed with our leader there, they have done a on Twitter, by the way, it was a Twitter chat. It was the second strongest in the country at that time. And it was about political participation. And they actually tried to motivate people to participate because, you know, if you don't have a voice in political processes, it's very difficult to get your rights. And the interesting aspect, I don't know the right figures, but don't quote don't quote me, but I don't know 500,000 people that they reached something like that via Twitter. And the result was and don't take it as a thing that we have done, but we have contributed to the puzzle that the highest number of people ever being voted into political positions with disabilities happened in the last election. And so really this team there enable me. Kenya is really, really good and it's so, so beautiful to see what you can do and generating reach, giving voice, but also informing and showing what is possible. Right. It's very often you, you know, you are here and I've just checked before our call. We try to do impact stories whenever we see something that really gives us gooseflesh. And it's really about many categories of impact stories. But one of them is really this, this, this this notion of, hey, it's so relieving. I'm not alone or have been always quiet and see, actually there are so many others or, you know, a reassurance. Since I'm in school, I've been put in the corner and basically even at the professional consulting service, they told me I've should be lucky that I get a sheltered job. Then they reached out. They got reassurance from community. People told them, Hey, guys, I'm doing the same. I have the same. You can do the same. And this person got a job because we have also an innovation. It was the first job platform for youth with disabilities, for apprenticeships, and this person got a job from the job portal. So it's really beautiful story and we can track it. So sometimes digitally very difficult to track. But this we can track a lot.>> So I've got a question. So I think.>> It's it's great that you're, you're doing the apprenticeships and.>> Tracking it. And I'm really interested. And organizations particularly.>> In the UK where there are.>> Procurement frameworks relating to social.>> Good, are.>> Very interested in tracking not just outcomes but, but the sort of monetary value.>> Of, of of.>> Those outcomes. Is that something that enable.>> Me is able to do. Are you able to put a value to the the.>> Impact that you are having? Because I think that that that's something that's really powerful. I mean, we want.>> To employ people with.>> Disabilities, right?>> We want to create technologies that enable.>> That.>> And that do that for ourselves and for our customers and at the same time.>> Often when we see in terms of reporting and stuff like.>> That, the the metrics are really quite lax.>> And loose.>> So it's, you know, how many disabled people do you employ rather than actually what's.>> The impact of that employment?>> You know.>> Has that has that reduced.>> The cost to society of.>> Paying them benefits?>> Has it, you know.>> Increased the.>> Tax take?>> Has it, you know, done all of these kind of things? Because that kind of data would be really.>> Powerful to to to be able to track because it it's.>> That kind of data that causes not only organizations to invest, but countries to invest.>> Because you can.>> Actually show that.>> It's going to help grow GDP and it's going to help reduce, you know, the the cost to the Treasury and increase the.>> Tax take, etcetera.>> Yeah.>> Yeah. I mean, that's spot on. I think, um, if you give me the magic recipe on how to do it now it is, you know, why it's not being done or why it's shaky because it's so difficult. Um, I can tell you there is no easy solution. We have been really with wonderful institutions in Switzerland working on our impact model, and I would say we are very far advanced. We have very strong data analytics. We can see, okay, how many people from those that visited, for example, read an article from A to Z. We can approximate how many we enabled. And that's why we can say out of the 6 million or 7 million that we reach, we enable about 80,000 a month. But you know, that is what we can say. But you know, the link from digital to offline world and then quantifying the impact we have always tried but it's it's it becomes really shaky and the the the the formula would be, you know, let's say the youth with disabilities, we we say if we don't do anything like it is now, 40% get a job and we develop a program and 60% get a job. So over 20% is the impact that we create. And then we can say the program for 100 costs, 100,000, for example. And what's the counter cost for society? I get what you're saying. If we get I'm talking about that a lot. But at the moment we are more on the digital services side then, you know, really tracking everyone and tracking that means also you would need to have a contact and data, etcetera. It's it has a lot of pitfalls associated with it, but we are on the way if you want to cooperate on that. I'm doing that because I believe in impact and I believe in the scaling of impact would be really, really interested to work on that topic because I think it's going to be the ultimate key for funding. As you know, as we are a charitable donation based organization, this could be really also enable us so very aware of the topic.>> So so thank you. So I think that's it's good to know that you're you're somewhat down the line with it.>> I think Antonio's got a quick question. We do need to close in a couple of minutes.>> So Michael is on that When you are looking into trying to into that data, do you see at the moment any regulation related to data protection somehow is complicating things or not at all? And that's not where the issue is.>> Yeah. So the reality is we are very small team. We don't have a lot of lawyers. We have a backup. And what we do is in the right corner and what we do is we just don't take any data. So that really relieves us of many questions. So and it actually makes us, you know, also not so attractive anymore because, you know, think about the community. If think we always think, okay, what can we do with the community to better serve the community not to sell or so but, you know, having data on the community would help us, you know, serve communities better, let's say the community or any other. So at the moment, we have absolutely nothing. It's just a registration, not even the real name. Of course, you need an email. If the email has a name, maybe we have something, but we do not track. We do not do anything with that. Just also because of one philosophy, we are a charitable foundation and trust is very, very important for us. Think of, you know, any information that you find for a product on the net. I mean, look at the website and you will find it's sponsored or a corporate manufacturer based website. And on our website, it's really curated for people with disabilities. We had, for example, a a recent project in Switzerland where we actually developed a user journey for parents. We interviewed many parents and we realized, okay, it is really interesting because at very certain stages in life, there are always the same questions. They can predict what questions are going to come, for example, at diagnosis, obviously, for example, at birth, which insurance to take, obviously at schooling, etcetera. So we know it's like a hike in the mountain. We know in a mile there will be a diversion. And it's kind of, you know, choices with luxury of being informed. But let's try to enable people to be informed, to either move right or left. And that's kind of the interesting part. So because we know what is going to be asked, we can create based on the real needs. So it was this project we had about 250. Interviews, expert organizations, where we looked at the questions that are in the whole user journey of a life of a parent with children with disabilities and curated an 83 articles that enable parents to look ahead or to get informed at the right stage. Think of topics like moving from young adulthood, from children, youngsters to adult medicine. If you don't plan this process, it can take years. Um, and so it's a difference. We can curate content that is really in the interest of a target group and it's kind of the luxury and the pity at the same time of a foundation that needs donations.>> Yeah. Excellent. So thank you very.>> Much for, for.>> Giving us your time today.>> Donating your time, in fact.>> Yeah. Yeah. Right. We we need to thank my.>> Klartext and Amazon for keeping.>> Us on air and keeping us captioned and really.>> Look forward.>> To the discussions on social media.>> Thank you very much.>> Thanks a lot.