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Matthew Hanning is the CBM UK Director of International Programmes.

This week I hit 20. No, not in age, but since first joining CBM. And it’s been quite the ride.

Although I’d previously worked alongside deaf people at a Jordanian Civil Society Organisation, joining CBM International (as the Global Federation was called then), was a big step. Little did I realise I’d still very much be with CBM 20 years later, though – now with CBM UK and part of CBM Global – a CBM vastly changed in outlook, approach and structure.

How much has changed since then. Coming to CBM from studying at Leeds, we were still used to saying ‘into the 21st century’. The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities didn’t exist; the global framework we looked at in my Masters course was the ‘UN Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities’. Similarly, the Sustainable Development Goals were a decade into the future, and their forerunner (the MDGs) had only just started. Intersectionality was not a widely-known term and issues of equity, shifting power and decolonising development was on the radar of very few indeed.

Matthew Hanning, CBM UK's Director of Programme Development standing with CBM colleagues at a conference.

Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to live in 6 countries and visit 20 more, and also met my amazing wife when she was working with Jordanian children with deaf-blindness. It’s been a privilege to meet people from all walks of life, faiths, cultures and language groups – often living in extremely challenging circumstances through a combination of poverty, exclusion, stigma, conflict and/or disaster.

Some particular moments stand out:

  • Coordinating rehabilitation and other practical support for people who’d experienced life-changing injuries in the violence in Iraq post-2003
  • Supporting passionate grassroots OPDs (organisations of people with disabilities) in Syria, Yemen, and Indonesia to scale their organisational development work
  • Working on the End the Cycle project (End the Cycle Website) – particularly hearing Kazol, a young woman from Bangladesh, speak at a plenary Ministerial conference about the importance of inclusion in Disaster Risk Reduction
  • Listening to a group of Nigerian women talk about how being members of a savings group had made tangible differences in how they could provide for their families, and how they were respected in their village
  • Planning with Indonesian colleagues how CBM could best practice and promote disability inclusion across all our country programmes, advocacy, and operations
  • Hearing an Indian woman talk about founding her own small business despite the severe attitudinal barriers and mental health stigma she faced in the process

Kazol is wearing a red dress and sitting in a wheelchair. She is sat beside a stage, speaking into a microphone.

  • Discussing with Christian and Muslim partner organisations the important role of faith in changing attitudes toward people with disabilities.

I’m hugely grateful for these and countless other experiences and continue to reflect on the challenge of best contributing my skills and experience whilst always being acutely aware of my unconscious biases and privilege. That’s why it’s so important to do all we do with humility and integrity, and constantly strive to learn more from people with much more to offer.

There are far too many colleagues inside and outside CBM, at OPDs, partner organisations, and other humanitarian or development agencies to thank individually. Nevertheless, my deep thanks to all who have influenced my thinking and practice by their example or challenge as a critical friend to be; a passionate advocate for inclusion and justice; a servant leader; a reliable colleague; a trusted ally of the disability movement; an experienced development practitioner; a cross-cultural communicator.

There’s still so much more to learn and develop in all these areas, but I’m looking forward to continuing to strive toward a more equitable and inclusive world free of injustice. Sadly, this seems even more pressing and urgent in 2022 than it did 20 years ago, given the world’s huge challenges with the current climate crisis, worsening inequality and injustice, continuing exclusion and marginalisation, and slow progress towards shifting power by the sector.

Nevertheless, it’s a good moment to look back on the last 20 years, be thankful for my journey so far and spur myself on for the continued fight to break the cycle of poverty and disability. Thanks to all who’ve been part of my ride so far.

Matthew Hanning stood in a line with his colleagues from CBM in Indonesia.