Diego Mariscal is the founder and CEO of 2Gether-International.org, an organization that provides resources to make entrepreneurship accessible for those with disabilities.
His entrepreneurial journey started in Mexico. He was born with cerebral palsy and found that students in Mexico were not learning about disabilities — what they are and what it is like to live with one. Because of this, he created a program that focused on disability education. Within four years, 15 schools in Mexico had this program.
After high school, he attended college at American University and soon realized that disability education was lacking in the U.S. as well. He decided to turn his program into an international program. It initially failed because the programming done in Mexico did not work with American culture, but he has since refocused his program to empower people with disabilities to become entrepreneurs.
People with disabilities are often traditionally perceived as passive recipients of services. One billion people have a disability, making disabled people the largest minority in the world. Also the minority with the highest unemployment rate — in the United States alone, the unemployment rate among disabled people is 12.5%. Through proper entrepreneurship training from his program, the narrative flips and makes people with disabilities the active participants and the drivers of change.
He has found that lack of education about disabilities marginalizes people living with disabilities and often makes information less accessible or inaccessible to them. Despite good intentions, Diego has found that people perceive him and other people with disabilities to be less equal. For example, when strangers comment that he is inspiring, just for doing everyday activities. “It is hard to thrive in a society when you are not treated equally because you are not being seen equally. I want to prove to society that we should be valued and our perspectives bring an asset of diversity and much more.”
Diego has collaborated with the U.S. Department of State, the Inter-American Development Bank, the United Nations and leading technology companies like Blackboard to better engage youth on disability. He has been internationally recognized for his work, most noticeably by the Waldzell Institute in Vienna as an Architect of the Future and by the British Council as a Global Changemaker. In 2014, he was also a Youth in International Development and Affairs Fellow for the U.S. International Council on Disabilities. In 2016, Diego was nominated as one of the 30 under 30 leaders in social entrepreneurship by Forbes magazine, and invited to the first United Nations World Humanitarian Summit, held in Istanbul.
The SI360 Connection
SI360 exposed him to business and changed his view on social innovation, social work, social good and advocacy. Diego was not initially interested in pursuing a career in business, but planned on becoming a social activist. He soon realized his ideas could form a business model and business itself can be an effective way to advocate for change in the world. It didn’t just change his view, he created a business he never would have created without the program.
“In the future, I’d like to see more businesses owned and operated by people with disabilities. There are so many organizations that are focused on helping people with disabilities but not run by them themselves.”