About the Zero Project
“Competition is a good thing, but collaborating with a competitive edge is better, and for me the Zero Project has created a global family which has a very big vision to truly transform the lives of persons with disabilities in the world, and is welcoming of anybody and everybody who shares those values to help that change happen.”
For a world with zero barriers
Global Research of inclusive and innovative Solutions
A research driven approach to sharing solutions beyond borders
The Zero Project's approach is research-driven and aims to identify, curate, and share inclusive solutions, as intended and encouraged by Article 32 of the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). In order to achieve this objective, the Zero Project engages with a worldwide cross-sectoral network of innovators, decision-makers, and opinion leaders.
Each year, the Zero Project selects, communicates, and shares innovative solutions that support the rights and lives of persons with disabilities.
More than 6,000 experts, with and without disabilities, in over 100 countries have been actively contributing to the Zero Project in the past decades. In essence, the Zero Project's unique research method is based on a collaborative, cross-sectoral platform approach and has been co-created with the support of this Global Network.
The research is centred around the following four topics in a 4-year cycle:
- Independent Living and Political Participation (2015, 2019, 2023)
- 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.
The Zero Project Database
The Zero Project has collected all these inclusive and innovative Solutions in a vast database that is available to the public free-of-charge — The Zero Project Database.
The Zero Project Database is based on inclusive web design principles to make it widely accessible. It encourages people and organizations to engage and connect, in order to maximize the impact of these proven innovations across the globe.
Building a global ecosystem for Disability Inclusion
Creating opportunities to share and engage with inclusive Solutions
To further amplify the research efforts, the Zero Project seeks to build out ecosystems within the disability inclusion world through a global network of experts, decision-makers, organizations, and innovators.
The annual Zero Project Conference is a global gathering and hosted within the premises of the United Nations Office at Vienna. The Conferences are the most visible activities by the Zero Project. However, the Zero Project is involved in a multitude of other activities and initiatives:
The Essl Foundation and the Zero Project Team
The Essl Foundation
The Zero Project was initiated by the Essl Foundation in 2008, with its mission centred on the implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and its commitment to a world with zero barriers.
The Essl Foundation MGE gemeinnützige Privatstiftung is an Austrian Foundation established in 2007 by Martin and Gerda Essl, and their children, for social purposes and scientific research. Its mission is to support social innovation, social entrepreneurship and persons with disabilities.
The Zero Project Team
These teams organize all Zero Project activities, such as the research, network activities, communications and the Zero Project Conferences.
Zero Project Milestones
The Zero Project and its local chapters in Austria and Latin America have been involved in a large number of international events, and published reports and guidelines on topics relating to the Zero Project's mission of removing barriers. Here are some of the most important milestones, since a precursor of the organization — the Essl Social Index — was founded by the Essl Foundation in 2008. Since its beginnings, the Zero Project has focused on the rights of persons with disabilities, and the implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD).
The Zero Project launches Zero Project Database that allows the public to access a vast database of proven solutions from around the world that remove barriers for all.
The Zero Project extends its official partner network by joining forces with the European Network for Accessible Tourism and by becoming a founding partner of the global WeThe15 initiative.
The Zero Project Conference 2021 moves online for the first time amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, highlighting 71 Solutions from around the world on the topic of Employment and ICT.
On November 18 and 19, Fundación Descúbreme organizes the first Zero Project-Conference for Latin America and the Spanish speaking communities, due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, it is a virtual event: “Conferencia de Zero Project Latinoamérica, el Caribe y el mundo hispanoparlante sobre educación inclusiva”.
As part of the cooperation with Fundación Descúbreme, the Zero Project launches its first Zero Project Report in Spanish Language: “Educación Inclusiva". (Download the Report by clicking on this link)
The Zero Project Conference 2020 becomes the biggest Zero Project Conference yet: 800 participants from 80 countries gather at the United Nations Office in Vienna to share and discuss solutions for Independent Living and Political Participation.
The Zero Project Conference 2019 highlights 66 Innovative Practices and 10 Innovative Policies concerning Independent Living and Political Participation from around the world and gathers more than 600 participants from more than 70 countries at the United Nations Office in Vienna. 11 Zero Project Impact Transfer fellows are trained and presented
The UN Flagship Report on Disability and Development is launched, referring more than 40 times to Innovative Practices and Policies identified by the Zero Project.
The Zero Project Conference 2018 highlights 68 Innovative Practices and 15 Innovative Policies concerning Accessibility from around the world and gathers more than 500 participants from more than 70 countries at the United Nations Office in Vienna, also celebrating its fifth year in the U.N. by revealing the Zero Project Artwork and presenting the Zero Project Anthem.
The Zero Project Conference 2017 highlights 67 Innovative Policies and Innovative Practices concerning Employment from around the world and gathers more than 450 participants from more than 70 countries at the United Nations Office in Vienna.
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.
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 450 participants from more than 70 countries at the United Nations Office in Vienna.
The 4th Zero Project Conference gathers more than 400 participants at the United Nations Office in Vienna. For the first time, the Conference includes the Award Ceremony for Innovative Policies and Practices.
The Essl Foundation that founded the Zero Project is awarded ECOSOC status, which allows NGOs to participate fully in the UN system.
The 3rd Zero Project Conference takes place, for the first time, at the United Nations in Vienna. More than 300 participants from 50 countries are attending.
The Zero Project research 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.
The year’s Zero Project Conference takes place for the second time in Palais Niederösterreich. Over 250 persons from 30 countries participate.
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.
The Zero Project decides not only to concentrates its work on disability and the implementation of the UN CRPD, but also to focus its research for the year only on the employment issues addressed in the UN CRPD. Research is undertaken during spring, summer and autumn of 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.
The first Zero Project Report is published on December 3, the International Day of Persons with Disabilities.
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.
It is decided to establish a cooperation with the World Future Council, an organization founded by Mr Jakob von Uexkull, with experience in identifying and spreading effective, future-just policy solutions.
The Essl Foundation also decides to join forces with Ashoka and social entrepreneurs supported by Ashoka, especially those working in the field of disabilities.
The first report, entitled ESSL SOCIAL INDEX PILOT STUDY 2010, is published and mailed out to NGOs and service providers in Austria. It is also mailed to decision makers, governments and others in the countries that have been surveyed for the report.
The first research using the newly developed social indicators is undertaken in Austria and 15 other, mostly European, countries.
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 UN CRPD). 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 UN CRPD.
The Essl Foundation starts 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. 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.
The Essl Foundation does a preliminary study on existing data related to persons with disability and other disadvantaged groups.