Enabling people to positively change their world

Positive change through inclusive volunteering

Explore the impact of the world's first peer-led volunteer experience designed for and by people living with a disability.

DESE Fiji Volunteer
DESE Laos team
Australian volunteer Shelley

The Disability Empowerment Skills Exchange (DESE) was developed by Scope Global as an inclusive volunteering model that connects skilled Australians who have lived experience of disability or sound knowledge of the impact that disability has on participation in society with partners in Asia and the Pacific. This model was designed for the Australian Government’s Australian Volunteers for International Development (AVID) program which ended in December 2017The model was designed in 2015 and piloted in Fiji in 2016. The first DESE team consisted of five women with disabilities including people who are blind, vision impaired and deaf.  Scope Global ran DESE II and III in Fiji and Laos. The DESE volunteers impacted hundreds of people and challenged communities across the world to remove barriers to inclusion.

A ground breaking model for inclusion

Respecting Lived Experience

We involve people with disabilities as participants in design, implementation and evaluation phases, and as beneficiaries of the initiative.

Exchanging Skills and Knowledge

We facilitate skills and knowledge exchanges via the relationships established by our peer-to-peer model.

Challenging Stereotypes

We develop an environment that builds awareness of the capabilities of people with disabilities and challenges cultural attitudes.

Inclusion Champions

We empower people with disabilities to take the lead. We develop individuals who can champion inclusion in their community.

Understanding the DESE approach

Download the factsheets to understand the methodology behind the DESE initiative and read a summary of the key outcomes and lessons learnt.

DESE methodology factsheet
DESE impact factsheet

The impact of inclusive volunteering in Fiji and Laos


The DESE II team partnered with the Ministry of Education Special and Inclusive Education Unit and collaborated with the Allied Health Volunteering Team and the Radisson Blu Hotel. They worked with teachers from Lautoka Special School for Education, Sunshine Special School, and Nadi Special School for Education. Together they:

– Built capacity for teachers to provide vocational training lessons for students

– Developed education and career pathways for students with disability

– Raised awareness within the community of the need for employment opportunities for students with disabilities

Learn more
Participants Involved in Fiji

“It [DESE] has given us some foresight on how we can improve our vocational lessons, planning and teaching so as to prepare our students for employment in areas that they are capable, confident and interested in”
Teacher, West Fiji Special School.


The DESE III team partnered with the Laos Disabled Women’s Development Centre (LDWDC) and the Laos Disabled People’s Association (LDPA). Together they:

– Developed pathways for employment for people with disability

– Promoted disability awareness and advocacy

– Developed the skills of players and coaches of the Laos National Wheelchair Basketball team

– Improved the marketing and communication skills of the LDPA 

Learn more
DESE team with DFAT and Laos officials

“People with disabilities have been strengthened and are confident, specifically the LDWDC and the LDPA and we will share [our knowledge] with other organisations and people with disabilities”.
Emerging leader from LDWDC who was mentored through DESE.

Lessons learned


Australians on Disability Support Pensions (DSP) have portability restrictions out of Australia for 28 days. If they are out of the country for over this period it can take a significant amount of time to have the pension reinstalled once they are back in Australia which has huge livelihood implications for the person with a disability. For this volunteer experience to be truly inclusive with the current DSP restrictions the project cannot extend beyond 28 days. Whilst all expected outcomes were reached for DESE it is evident that 28 days is not long enough to understand the cultural context and develop meaningful relationships. Eight weeks is the recommended minimum time for the assignments but this does require Centrelink to allow people on DSP to be outside of Australia for longer than 28 days and not experience any consequences.


The recruitment process as designed by Scope Global resulted in team members with a complementary skill set. More time for the team to get to know each other pre mobilisation would be recommended to assist the Team Leader to be able to manage individual needs of the teams.


A disability support fund is required to enable reasonable accommodations to be provided for volunteers with disability. The team’s visibility in country and the active participation of people with disabilities had a profound effect on increasing awareness & knowledge of the capabilities of people with disabilities in the local community.

The evolution of inclusive volunteering at Scope Global

First volunteers with disabilities deployed through Scope Global2011

Scope Global mobilised 2 international volunteers with disabilities in 2011. Since then, 43 volunteers with disabilities have been supported by Scope Global. Their experiences have set the foundation for our inclusive volunteering strategy and model.

The DesignSeptember, 2015

The concept was designed in consultation with stakeholders, partners and advisors with lived experience of disability.

National Recognition for Development Model December 2015

DESE and its implementers were awarded the National Disability Award for Inclusive Development. Learn more about the 2015 National Disability Award winners here.

You can view all past recipients here. 

Pilot Program LaunchJune 2016

Pilot team of 5 women with disabilities mobilised to Suva Fiji to work with Disabled People’s Organisationsa, overseen by the Pacific Disability Forum

Phase II and III DevelopedNovember 2016

DESE II and III concept designed with partners in Laos and Fiji integrating lessons learnt from DESE I

DESE II and III MobilisedJune 2017

DESE II mobilised to Nadi, Fiji and DESE III mobilised to Vientiane, Laos.

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