Milestones of the Zero Project


April 2017

The Essl Foundation organises the first “Zero Project Unternehmensdialoge” with the first conference taking place in Vienna on the 6 April. These conferences engage with Austrian companies on the topic of employment of people with disabilities and take place in most Austrian country states.

March 2017

The Zero Project Report 2017 is presented at the 34th session of the Human Rights Council in Palais des Nations, Geneva.

The cooperation on the Zero Project between the Essl Foundation and the World Future Council ends by the end of March. From April the Zero Project is solely organised by the Essl Foundation.


December 2016

The Zero Project presents at the first “Harkin International Disability Employment Summit” in Washington D.C./United States on inclusive employment, initiated by former US-Senator Tom Harkin.

November 2016

The Zero Project headquarters move into the newly founded “House of Philanthropy” in Vienna, jointly with several other Austrian foundations and co-initiated by the Essl Foundation.

October 2016

The Zero Project is taking part in the HABITAT III-Conference in Quito/Ecuador. UN DESA, the Department of Economic and Social Affairs and the Zero Project present the report “Good Practices in accessible urban development“.

June 2016

The Zero Project Supports the Disability Thematic Network of the EFC to organize the first “European Foundation Forum for Inclusion” in Brussels, focusing on the European Accessibility Act.

The Zero Project co-organizes two Side Events at the 8th Conference of State Parties in New York on “Early Childhood Development” and “ICT supporting Education for All”, and also co-sponsors the Side-Events “Promoting Urban Development Inclusive Policies for Persons with Disabilities” and the “UN DESA Forum on Accessible Urban Development”.

On June 30, the Zero Project in Japan and the Austrian Embassy in Tokyo co-organize  an evening of exchange and Networking. 40 representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, international organisations (UNDP, JICA), diplomatic corps, foundations (Nippon Foundation, Japan Foundation), academia and the civil society (JSRPD, World Blind Union APAC, WNUSP, DPI Japan, Inclusion International, Techbility..) are attending.

May 2016

The Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations of the Department of Public Information (UN DPI) approves the Essl Foundation for association with the Department.

April 2016

The first edition of the “Zero Project Analysis” covering eight outstanding Innovative Practices on Early Childhood Intervention is published and presented at the Annual EASPD Conference which takes place in Chisinau/Moldova for April 20 to 22, 2016.

March 2016

The Zero Project Report 2016 is presented at the 31st session of the Human Rights Council in Palais des Nations, Geneva.

February 2016

The Zero Project Report 2016 on Education and ICT is launched.

The Zero Project Conference 2016 highlights 98 Innovative Policies and Innovative Practices concerning Inclusive Education and/or ICTs from around the world and gathers more than 500 participants from more than 70 countries at the United Nations Office in Vienna.


October 2015

Zero Project is presented to stakeholders at the UN Forum on Disability Inclusion and Accessible Urban Development in Nairobi, Kenya.

August 2015

The Handbuch fuer Selbstbestimmtes Leben, summarizing the most important results of the Zero Project Austria 2015 Conferences, is published (in German language).

June 2015

The Zero Project research results on Independent Living are presented at three side events at the 7th Conference of States Parties to the Convention at the United Nations Headquarters in New York.

On June 12, the Zero Project is presenting at the UN DESA/DSPD Forum on Disability and Development (Accessible and Inclusive Urban Development) in New York.

April and May 2015

9 regional Zero Project Austria Conferences are organized in all capital cities of the Austrian Country States, jointly with regional partners: Caritas Wien, Caritas St. Poelten, Land Oberoesterreich, Lebenshilfe Salzburg and Land Salzburg, Innovia and arge SODit, Institut fuer Sozialdienste, Fachhochschule Burgenland, Sozialwirtschaft Steiermark, autArk

The Zero Project Report Austria 2015 on Independent Living and Political Participation in Austria is launched (in German language).

March 2015

The Zero Project Report 2015 is presented at the 28th session of the Human Rights Council in Palais des Nations, Geneva.

February 2015

The Zero Project Report 2015 on Independent Living and Political Participation is launched.

The fourth Zero Project Conference gathers more than 450 participants at the United Nations Office in Vienna. For the first time, the Conference opens with an Award Ceremony for Innovative Policies and Practices.

The Zero Project receives the GAATES Recognition Award.


Throughout 2014

The Zero Project is presented at international conferences including events in: Maputo, Mozambique; Vienna, Austria; Oslo, Norway; Montréal, Canada; Brussels, Belgium; London, England; Paris, France; Istanbul, Turkey; and elsewhere.

July 2014

The Essl Foundation is awarded ECOSOC status.

The Zero Project research results on accessibility are presented at a Side Event at the 6th Conference of States Parties to the Convention at the United Nations Headquarters in New York.

May 2014

The Zero Project wins a PROGRESS grant from the European Union that funds the organization of nine conferences on disabilities in the nine Austrian country states and the production of an handbook on innovative solutions for Austria in 2015.

Spring 2014

Research on the topics of independent living and political participation begins.

March 2014

Once again, the Zero Project is presented, at a Side Event at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva.

February 2014

The year’s Zero Project conference takes place, for the first time, at the United Nations in Vienna. More than 400 participants from 50 countries are attending.


Beginning of 2013

The European Foundation Centre and a group of other organizations begin to partner with the Zero Project.

February 2013

The year’s conference takes place for the second time in Palais Niederösterreich. Over 250 persons from 30 countries participate.

March 2013

The Zero Project is presented for the first time at the United Nations, in a side event organized by the Austrian Permanent Mission to the United Nations, at a session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Spring 2013

The Zero Project starts its next round of research, this time focusing on accessibility.

July 2013

The Zero Project research results are presented at a side event at the annual Conference of States Parties to the Convention at the United Nations Headquarters in New York.

This year, the Zero Project results are also presented at conferences in Athens, Istanbul, Lucca and Oslo.


November 2012

The Zero Project is presented for the first time in Latin America at the triennial conference of RIADIS (the Latin American Network of Non-Governmental Organizations of Persons with Disabilities and their Families) in Quito, Ecuador.

June 2012

The results of the year are presented at the European Parliament in Brussels.

May 2012

For the first time, the Zero Project is presented outside Europe, at a conference on Disability and Work organized by McGill University in Montréal, Canada.

Spring 2012

The Zero Project decides not only to concentrates its work on disability and the implementation of the relevant UN Convention, but also to narrow its research and to focus for the year only on the employment issues addressed in the Convention. Research is undertaken during spring, summer and autumn of 2012.

January 2012

This year marks the inaugural Zero Project Conference. Organized in Vienna, it takes place in the historical Palais Niederösterreich, on January 22-23, 2012. Over 200 practitioners and experts on the rights of persons with disabilities from 30 countries take part and discuss innovative solutions for the advancement of the rights and daily lives of persons with disabilities.


December 2011

The first Zero Project Report is published on December 3, the International Day of Persons with Disabilities.

May 2011

The Essl Foundation decides to expand its activities to include the research and selection of both innovative practices and innovative policies, and to include them in its annual report. It also decides to rename the initiative THE ZERO PROJECT – FOR A WORLD WITHOUT BARRIERS taking into account the broadened scope of work and growing potential.

February 2011

Michael Fembek and Tom Butcher present the Zero Project to the European Consortium of Foundations on Human Rights and Disability at the European Foundation Centre in Brussels. Present at the presentation is also Ms Inmaculada Placencia-Porrero, Deputy Head of the Unit “Rights of Persons with Disabilities” of the European Commission‘s DG Justice.


December 2010

In Stockholm, Martin Essl and Michael Fembek meet Jakob von Uexkull during the ceremony, for the Right Livelihood Award, an award also known as the “Alternative Nobel Prize”.

It is decided to establish a cooperation with the World Future Council, an organization founded by Mr von Uexkull, with experience in identifying and spreading effective, future-just policy solutions.

The Essl Foundation also decides to join forces with Ashoka, and organizations supported by the Austrian Ashoka foundation, and to help them selecting outstanding social innovations and social entrepreneurs in the field of disabilities.

November 2010

The first report, entitled ESSL SOCIAL INDEX PILOT STUDY 2010 – SITUATION OF PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES, is published and mailed out to NGOs and service providers in Vienna. It is also mailed to decision makers, governments and others in the countries that have been surveyed for the report. As the first of its kind, the report also receives some media attention within Austria.

Spring and Summer 2010

The first research using the newly developed social indicators is undertaken in Austria and 15 other, mostly European, countries.

As sort of by-product, seven best practice examples are added to the research results. These not only flag the problems, but also, most importantly, provide solutions. The dearth of any research, studies or literature covering either best or innovative practices is noted.


Throughout 2009

Several workshops are held together with different Austrian organizations and service providers for persons with disabilities.

Late in 2009, before the active research on the indicators begins, it is decided that the Essl Social Index should measure the implementation of the United Nations Conventions on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (the Convention). At the time, the Convention is relatively new, Austria having only ratified it in 2008.

By the end of 2009, 14 indicators have been defined that measure the implementation of the Convention. Each asks a “concrete” question about a specific issue addressed in the UN Convention. For example: Is the public transport system in a country’s capital city accessible? Or: Does a child with disabilities have the right to a free primary education within the mainstream education system?

March 2009

The Essl Foundation starts initial research on both data about persons with disabilities and existing indicators: what exists and, particularly, what is their quality.

In consultation with Mr. Martin Essl, the Foundation decides to research and create a whole new set of indicators called, at that time, the Essl Social Index. These indicators are to provide both individual country evaluations and country comparisons. They are to be akin to those used to produce Transparency International’s Global Corruption Barometer and Corruption Perception Index, or those of the OECD’s PISA studies.

The initial set of social indicators are to be designed around persons with disabilities as the first group of disadvantaged persons, to be followed by others such as the elderly, the homeless, children, women, migrants and others.