Cosmas I. Okoli

Mobility Aid and Appliances Research and Development Centre (MAARDEC)
Year founded: 

MAARDEC helps eliminate social, cultural and environmental barriers and prejudices against people with disabilities in Nigeria.

Focus: Advocacy, Education, Health, Technology
Geographic Area of Impact: Nigeria
Model: Leveraged Non-Profit
Recognition: Social Entrepreneur of the Year, Nigeria, 2006

There are an estimated 24 million disabled people in Nigeria. Like many other developing and emerging economies, Nigeria sees investment in services for the disabled as a luxury. As a result a great many people with disabilities are dependent on their families. Where no family is available to help, the disabled often are forced to become street beggars. In Nigeria there are almost no facilities for the disabled, no wheelchair access for street crossings or public buildings, and no special provisions for public transportation. Affordable and practical mobility aids are rare. Though some government rehabilitation centres do exist, they are limited in number and their training programmes have little relevance in helping disabled people with opportunities for personal and social growth.

Innovation and Activities
The Mobility Aid and Appliances Research and Development Centre (MAARDEC) was born out of Cosmas Okoli’s quest to find solutions to the challenges faced by millions of people with disabilities in Nigeria, himself included. It seeks to address the lack of adequate mobility aids and appliances, and help eliminate social, cultural and environmental barriers and prejudices against people with disabilities in Nigeria.

MAARDEC’s vision is to ensure that 20,000 Nigerians with disabilities acquire efficient and sustainable mobility aids and appliances by 2015, with 4,000 of them gainfully employed and another 200 in elected or appointed positions within the public sector. About 50% of the MAARDEC staff has disabilities. In pursuit of its goals the centre offers counselling and guidance for the disabled and promotes public education around the capacities of disabled persons. MAARDEC founded the Association for Comprehensive Empowerment of Nigerians with Disabilities (ASCEND), which is at the forefront of advocacy for persons with disabilities. Okoli also founded the Nigerian chapter of the Achilles Track Club, which encourages persons with disabilities to run for recreation alongside the non-disabled and volunteers. MAARDEC initiated the first ever Ms. Wheelchair Nigeria pageant in 2010, providing a platform to celebrate accomplished women with disabilities and equip them to serve as advocates for all Nigerians with disabilities.

MAARDEC has partnered with the MTN Foundation to provide over 15,000 mobility aids to persons with disabilities in Nigeria since 2009. MAARDEC is also in partnership with Contact Solutions Limited to provide qualified persons with disabilities employment as customer service representatives. It also forged a partnership with Conversion Sound to assemble and market digital hearing aids in Nigeria, making them affordable and providing employment for persons with disabilities. Other aids being developed by MAARDEC include a more effective leg brace and specially-designed hand controls that allow those who have lost the use of their legs to drive.

The Entrepreneur
Cosmas Okoli is a role model for people with disabilities. Disabled by polio at the age of four, he could not walk until he was 10 because rehabilitation and prostheses were unavailable during the civil war that ravaged eastern parts of Nigeria. Although his father had plans to have him trained as a cobbler, Okoli had ideas of his own and insisted that he be enrolled in school. Siblings and other students carried him to and from school. Against all obstacles he excelled in his studies and graduated from the University of Lagos as a medical physiologist. He went on to head the Special Sports Federation of Nigeria and National Paralympics Committee. He took Nigeria to the Atlanta and Sydney Paralympics where Nigeria won a number of medals. Okoli received the National Honours Award of Officer of the Order of the Niger by the government of Nigeria in December 2006.