The Azrieli Foundation is offering a $100,000 prize for Canadian businesses that employ people who are neurodivergent, Naomi Azrieli, CEO of the foundation, announced at a press conference March 22.
The competitive award, called the INfinity Prize, is intended to help both non-profit and for-profit businesses that are already employing neurodivergent employees expand or become more financially stable. Neurodivergent individuals can include those with autism, Down syndrome, or developmental disabilities.
Numerous social enterprises already exist, but they struggle to employ more than a few individuals, Azrieli said.
“There’s nothing that exists to help them (businesses) scale, to actually become viable, resilient, stable enterprises. Often times, this is the stage where these enterprises fail,” Azrieli said
“This is the gap to help these enterprises grow beyond their geographies, or into different business lines or to grow to include more employees. This is the time in their development when it is so difficult to find support.”
Only about 59 percent of disabled adults are employed, compared to 80 percent without a disability. For neurodivergent individuals, that drops to just 26 percent who are employed Azrieli said.
The foundation has been involved in other projects concerning neurodiversity, including research, training for professionals and meeting individuals’ medical and dental needs.
“This is core to our mission, because it is core to my family. This is very personal to us, we have neurodivergent individuals in the family. And we realized this was an area that was just drastically under supported, under represented and stigmatized.”
The award, which will include two years of professional coaching, is intended for businesses that offer career development opportunities, fair wages and benefits, and that put neurodivergent individuals “at the centre of the decision-making,” Azrieli said.
It is the first award of its kind in Canada, designed specifically for companies that already employ neurodivergent individuals.
Deadline for applications is May 19. The winner will be announced in October, at an event where the three finalists will present their case to a panel of judges.