Vision and Mission Statement

The Zero Project was initiated by the Essl Foundation in 2008, with its mission centered around the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) of the United Nations and its commitment to a world with zero barriers.

The approach of the Zero Project is research-driven and aims to identify, curate, and share Innovative Practices and Policies as intended and encouraged by Article 32 of the UN CRPD.In order, to achieve this objective, the Zero Project engages with a worldwide cross-sectoral network of innovators, decision-makers, and opinion leaders. More than 9,000 experts, with and without disabilities, in over 180 countries, have been actively contributing to the Zero Project in the past decades.

In a four-year-cycle, the Zero Project research process focuses on one of these four topics; (1) Employment; (2) Accessibility; (3) Independent Living; and (4) Political Participation/Education. Since 2020, Information and communications technology (ICT) has become a focal and integral part of each year’s research efforts as well.

In essence, the Zero Project is based on a unique research method that has been co-created together with the Zero Project network. This method is based on a collaborative cross-sectoral platform-approach and focuses on the sharing and communication of Innovative Practices and Policies that excel and stand out for their impact, their innovation, and their ability to scale and replicate.

To further amplify these efforts, the Zero Project seeks to build out ecosystems within the disability inclusion world by hosting global gatherings such as the Zero Project Conference, an annual event hosted within the premises of the United Nations in Vienna. Moreover, the Zero Project has actively convened and hostes Side Events at the Conference of State Parties of UN DESA, every year since 2013. The annual Zero Project Report; the Zero Project website; and the Zero Project social media channels complement these capacity-building measures.

In the spirit of removing barriers, the Zero Project has also been cognizant of the linguistic barriers that continue to exist in the disability inclusion world. Consequently, in 2019, the Essl Foundation joined forces with Fundación Descúbreme from Chile, both to support the Zero Project in Latin America – and in all Spanish speaking countries – as well as to support Zero Project-Impact Transfer.

Ultimately, in order to further encourage the scalability, innovation, and replication of disability inclusion approaches around the world, the Essl Foundation – together with Fundación Descúbreme and Ashoka – have helped launch the Zero Project Impact Transfer program – the world’s first program aimed at supporting the internationalization of innovative disability solutions for a barrier-free world.

”Zero Project Family” picture taken at the Zero Project Conference 2020 in Vienna

©Pepo Schuster, austrofocus.at

Innovative Practices and Innovative Policies

Each year, the Zero Project selects, communicates and shares Innovative Practices and Policies that support the rights and lives of persons with disabilities, across a four year cycle of topics:

  • Independent Living and Political Participation (2015, 2019)
  • Education (2016, 2020)
  • Employment (2017, 2021)
  • Accessibility (2018, 2022)
  • Since 2020, in addition to these four topics, ICT (Information and Communication Technologies) is covered every year.

Team and Organization

The core team of the Zero Project is based in the “House of Philanthropy” (Vienna, Austria). The team of Fundación Descúbreme is based in Santiago de Chile.

These teams organize all the research, the network activities, communications and social media, and organize the Zero Project Conferences and all other activities.

The Zero Project Conferences

The annual Zero Project Conference is the most visible actitivity of the Zero Project, hosted annually by the United Nations Organization of Vienna in their premises. In 2020, 800 participants from more than 80 countries joined #ZeroCon20. An inspiring event, focusing on the presentation of the Innovative Practices and Policies and the unique opportunity to connect with them as well as with so many leading representatives of the worldwide disability community.

Since 2020, Fundación Descúbreme is hosting Zero Project-Latin America Conferences, initiated by the (virtual) Conference on Inclusive Education in November 2020.

Future projects and developments

Digitalization and Database: The Zero Project has digitalized all research on Innovative Practices and Policies, and creating a powerful database. Starting from 2021, the database will be made available publicly and freely.

Zero Project-Impact Transfer: Based on the growing number of Impact Transfer-fellows, that have been awarded and supported since 2018, several of them have developed growth or replication strategies in other countries, closely followed, supported and monitored by the Zero Project and Ashoka.

Solutions and Communities: Starting from 2020, the Zero Project is initiating small communities around Zero Project-Solutions. A Solution is a group of innovators that have developed similar projects, but completely independent from each other – a powerful indicator that these are solutions that have a high potential worldwide. A community consists of those innovators, but also of a community managers, and other partners and experts.