The Observatory

Q & A with Jane Edge

Jane Edge was appointed CEO of CBM Australia in July 2015, having been Chief Operating Officer at the organisation for 3.5 years. She joined the Board of Vision 2020 Australia last year and is passionate about making lasting, positive change for people with a disability.

  • You’ve held a number of roles across different social justice areas. Where did the motivation/inspiration for this career path come from? 

I was particularly interested in working for CBM Australia because of the focus on partnerships. This is driven by our principle of ‘together we can do more’.  I was inspired by how this plays out in practice as we work alongside partners including local organisations, disabled people’s organisations, government and other international aid and development organisations to prevent diseases, provide treatment and build inclusive communities, worldwide, for all.

  • CBM Australia started off as an organisation for people who are blind, which has now broadened to include all disabilities. How does support for people who are blind or vision impaired still fit within the organisation?

While CBM Australia supports people with a range of impairments, eye health and blindness is still a focus. Prevention of, and treatment for eye problems, and inclusion of people with blindness or vision impairment remain key parts of our work. An important day in our calendar each year is Miracles Day (25 August 2016) which raises much needed funds for cataract surgery for people living in poverty around the world. We also have programs in countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Indonesia and Vietnam that work to reduce preventable blindness, improve skills of eye professionals and educate people about the importance of eye health. Importantly, CBM Australia works to ensure that eye health programs are accessible to, and inclusive of, people with disability. Too often people with disability, including those with vision impairment, face additional barriers in accessing essential eye health and rehabilitation services.

  • How are poverty and disability linked?

Poverty and disability often interact to create a cycle. Poverty can cause disability through many factors, such as inadequate nutrition, lack of access to clean water and sanitation, and unsafe working conditions. In turn, disability can contribute to, and deepen poverty, as a person with disability is less likely to have access to rehabilitation services, healthcare, education and employment opportunities. Part of my role is to raise awareness of this cycle with the Australian public, our supporters, stakeholders and government to ensure that people with disability are not left behind in our development efforts.

  • What do the adoption of the SDGs mean for the work of CBM?

The adoption of the SDGs was a tremendous global achievement. It was especially important for people with disability, who make up 15 per cent of the world’s population (80 per cent of whom live in developing countries). Unlike the Millennium Development Goals, for the first time people with disability were consulted on the development of the goals and are included in the overarching preamble and specifically in five goals.

To celebrate this CBM Australia launched a new video Building a World For All on International Day of People with Disability last December to show how the Global Goals can transform the lives of people with disability and build a better world for all.

For CBM Australia, the adoption of the SDGs provides a powerful advocacy tool to deepen knowledge and awareness of how people with disability can participate in, and benefit from, development. The SDGs will also help guide the direction on our program work and lead to better data collection on disability.

Importantly, the SDGs have given us a vision to imagine a world where people of all abilities have equal opportunities to thrive; a world where no one is left behind by 2030.

  • Poor women with disabilities are minorities within minorities. How does CBM Australia address the gender gap in delivering services for people living in poverty?

Women and girls with disability living in poverty face multiple discrimination on the basis of gender; disability; and as a result of living in poverty. Sadly, women and girls with disability are often at greater risk of exclusion and violence within their communities.

In our program work CBM Australia seeks to address the gender gap by working alongside our partners to consider the different experiences of women and men, boys and girls, as part of the delivery of services for people with disability. Our experience has found that by providing opportunities for women to meet together as part of our community-based rehabilitation programs they thrive with many amazing women becoming leaders and role models in their communities.

  • What’s been your experience so far being on the Board of Vision 2020 Australia? What do you hope to achieve?

I’m delighted to be working with an experienced group of professionals passionate about blindness prevention and addressing the needs of people with vision impairment. It will be important to see this work sustain a profile within the Australian community. Ensuring that we also see this work through the lens of making sure people with disability are included in health initiatives, services and advocacy is also key – bringing that disability inclusion perspective is very important from my perspective.

  • CBM Australia works in a number of different countries. Which is one where you’ve been able to see/experience real change on the ground?

Last year I visited our partner program work in India and Bangladesh. This visit provided me with great insight into how CBM Australia works with our partners, our focus on prevention and treatment of vision impairments and other disabilities and also reinforced how important it is that we work alongside people with disability to ensure they can access much needed services including eye health and rehabilitation services to reach their full potential and enjoy their human rights. 

During the visit I met two amazing women. In Bangladesh I spent time with 70-year-old Hazera and her loving family. Two months after cataract surgery, Hazera is now able to see her beloved grandchildren, live and move independently (see photo). In India I met an extraordinary woman, 36-year-old Preminika, who was severely affected by polio in both of her legs.  She survived a childhood defined by neglect and discrimination and it wasn’t until she joined a CBM Australia partner project focussed on social inclusion and quality of life for people with disability that her life was transformed. After taking part in livelihood training she was given a small loan to buy a sewing machine and now employs four other women from her village.

In 2015 CBM Australia supported partners across 40 field projects in 17 countries. We also supported advocacy and alliance partners, including other international development organisations, government, and disabled people’s organisations to provide technical advice on disability-inclusive development in 18 countries.

  • Tell us something most people don’t know about you.

When I’m not at work, my focus is on family and fitness. My husband and I are raising two very independent-minded girls and doing my part to preserve a just, inhabitable world for them is very important to me. On the fitness side, I usually manage to join a great group of women cyclists two or three times a week for a 30km ride – it’s great to have a different head space and good company.