Finding New Ways to Promote Disability Rights: HPC Fellow, Elizabeth Heideman, Humanity & Inclusion

Elizabeth Heideman is a Hilton Prize Coalition Fellow with the Inclusive Livelihoods and Global Health unit at Humanity & Inclusion (HI). At HI, she was responsible for supporting a large internal capacity development initiative and HI’s engagement with the 25th International Conference on Population and Development. Read on to learn about her placement as a Hilton Prize Coalition Fellow.

They say that stepping out of your comfort zone is a good thing, but when you’re a recent master’s graduate who’s always been advised to “Specialize!” throughout your early career, the idea of gaining work experience in an unfamiliar sector can feel risky.

Over the summer, I was feeling confident about my specialization. After completing my MA in Human Rights the previous December, I looked forward to establishing a career in research and advocacy—particularly related to the rights of persons with disabilities within international law and the UN system. Little did I know that Humanity & Inclusion (HI) would take me out of my comfort zone twice before year’s end.

In July, I learned that HI was recruiting a Hilton Prize Coalition Fellow to support its Inclusive Livelihoods team. HI had long been one of my top organizations, leading the development and humanitarian sector in its work to promote the rights of persons with disabilities and other marginalized groups. I had always dreamed of joining the organization—perhaps in an advocacy-related capacity or something similar. I knew I could not pass up this opportunity, but a fellowship related to economics and market-based inclusion was definitely outside my comfort zone.

Soon, I was lucky enough to join the Livelihoods team as a Hilton Prize Coalition Fellow and got to work learning about the important work that HI does to provide economic opportunity to persons with disabilities in over 35 countries. Globally, there are more than 1 billion people living with disabilities, and they remain the world’s largest minority group. Eighty percent of people with disabilities live in developing countries, and the International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates that the global unemployment rate for this marginalized group is as high as 80%. Understandably, poverty and particularly extreme poverty are major harms facing persons with disabilities.

To combat this, HI provides communities with services that include inclusive employment opportunities, vocational training, and pro-poor value chain analyses in order to identify untapped market potential for marginalized community members. As a Hilton Prize Coalition Fellow, I was responsible for a large internal capacity development initiative—creating a series of strategic communications materials that analyzed the scope and methodology of the Livelihoods team project portfolio. This involved reviewing the donor reports, log frames, and technical narratives of over 70 different HI projects in the field.

I could not have asked for a better introduction to HI’s work in the livelihoods sector. Reviewing and synthesizing these technical materials proved the perfect means of learning about economic inclusion, and my HI supervisor and teammates were always happy to provide me with “Economics 101” crash courses. Not only did my technical knowledge of the development sector expand, but also through my time as a fellow, I was able to create communications materials that analyzed HI’s work through the human rights lens that I brought with me from my own specialization. I completed my fellowship with the Livelihoods unit at HI excited for my next steps and armed with my new technical knowledge, ready for my next challenge.

The thing about stepping out of your comfort zone, though, is that once you take that first step, it becomes much easier to take your second one. Shortly after I completed my Hilton Prize Coalition fellowship with the Livelihoods team, I was invited back for that second step—an additional fellowship with HI. This time, I would be supporting the Global Health unit, focusing on gender, age, and disability-inclusion within sexual and reproductive health (SRH).

For the second time, I eagerly stepped into my fellowship without having a specific background in the technical sector, anticipating the opportunity to learn as I went along. Only this time, the opportunity to learn on the job involved getting on a plane to Nairobi, Kenya!

As part of the Global Health unit, I supported HI’s engagement with the 25th International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD)—a global summit that was held in Nairobi in mid-November and which promoted universal access to SRH, the rights of women and girls, and inclusive global development aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Here, I had the honor of leading a delegation of youth activists with disabilities from the East African region to the ICPD, promoting the voices of young persons with disabilities and ensuring that the ICPD left no one behind. While in Nairobi as a Hilton Prize Coalition Fellow, I gained on-the-ground knowledge of inclusive SRH as well as hands-on experience in programme management and logistics support.

My time in Nairobi had such an impact on me that I am now considering jobs in East Africa and asking myself what specific contributions I could make to the disability rights movement within the region. Though I never anticipated applying my specialty in international law and human rights to global health initiatives, this fellowship has allowed me to explore new potential avenues for utilizing my human rights training in different sectors. I truly can’t wait to see what lies ahead for me in my early career and know that no matter what unanticipated twists or turns my career takes, any chance to learn and grow will only make me a better advocate in promoting human rights, equality, and inclusion.

Oh, and my comfort zone? It is much larger now, thanks to my Hilton Prize Coalition fellowship.

(Pictured above is the delegation attending the ICPD25 Summit in Nairobi, Kenya)

About the Hilton Prize Coalition

The  Hilton Prize Coalition  is an independent alliance of the winners of the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize, working together to achieve collective impact. The Coalition leverages the resources, talents and expertise of each of its members to innovate and establish best practices that can be shared with the global NGO and donor communities. Working in more than 170 countries, the Coalition is governed by a board comprised of the leaders of the Prize-winning organizations led by an Executive Committee and a Secretariat,  Global Impact.

To learn more about the Hilton Prize Coalition, visit, or contact Follow  the Hilton Prize Coalition on  Twitter and  LinkedIn, and “Like” us on Facebook.

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