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BRAC, H&M Foundation and The Asia Foundation launch the Global Innovation Challenge inviting RMG-based solutions

Six winners to receive a fund up to $30,000 and incubation support for pilot implementation.

SITICH for RMG, a pilot project undertaken by BRAC Social Innovation Lab, H&M Foundation and The Asia Foundation, has launched the international virtual competition to find solutions for safeguarding the women in RMG in Bangladesh and increase the competitiveness of factories. Innovators from around the world are welcome to submit viable solutions incorporating these key issues. Applications are now open and to be submitted by 25 November 2021.

Entrepreneurs can submit ideas under five thematic areas – Automation and Efficiency; Sustainability and Circular Fashion; Product Design, Diversification, and Raw Material; Skill Development and Women’s Career; and, Enabling Environment. The themes have been identified through many dialogues centering the STITCH for RMG: Global Innovation Conference in June 2021 that brought together over 450 RMG buyers, suppliers, industry experts, and tech innovators. 

“Defining the problem is 90% of the solution. We need to reach the experts, those who already are working with workable solutions, seek their help and guidance then scale up the solution-oriented prototypes through hackathons.” – K A M Morshed, Senior Director, Advocacy for Social Change, Migration, Partnership Strengthening Unit, Social Innovation Lab, Technology, BRAC.

The competition is free to participate and welcomes ideas as well as innovations in ready prototype, pre-commercial, and post-commercial stages. Three rounds viz. the Concept Round, Pitching Round & Marketplace Round will entice written application, virtual pitching through video submission, and interaction with RMG suppliers for joint submission of Expression of Interests (EOIs). Winning six ideas will move on to the pilot execution and incubation phase. Interested innovators have to form a team of 2-3 members and submit their ideas through brac.us.skipsolabs.com/en/login/page.

 “There is a real need for new approaches to support women in the future garment industry. We have high hopes that the STITCH for RMG Global Innovation Challenge will result in innovations that have the potential to improve the industry competitiveness and livelihood of the women garment workers. Our long-term goal here is to prepare and equip the women to work successfully alongside AI and automation, and by this safeguard their livelihoods” says Charlotte Brunnström, Strategy Lead at H&M Foundation.

Learn more about the Global Innovation Challenge at stitchforrmg.brac.net/innovation-challenge.

Bangladesh has set an example of successfully tackling disasters through coordinated efforts by the government, development and private actors, donors and corporate bodies to overcome the impacts of Covid-19.

Speakers at a discussion programme made these observations at an event today on Thursday afternoon (28 October) to publish “Covid-19 yearbook 2020”. Development organisation BRAC organised the programme.

BRAC’s senior director KAM Morshed moderated the event, where Planning minister M A Mannan graced the event as the chief guest.

In his remarks as the chief guest, M A Mannan said, “If it (Covid-19) waves again in future, we will work together under the direction of the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in a combined approach.” He also hoped the government and non-government organisations will work in a partnership model to attain sustainable development of the country.

BRAC Health Nutrition and Population Programme (HNPP) director Morseda Chowdhury presented a summary of “Covid-19 yearbook 2020” at the programme. She said the challenges along with the learnings and experiences gathered in this great crisis faced by the nation in the present global health disaster have found their place in this book. BRAC hopes this documentation will help as a reference for both BRAC and other organisations in tackling similar crises in future.

BRAC Executive Director Asif Saleh in his welcome speech thanked partner agencies saying the existing relation of trust between the government and the private sector in combating Covid-19 is very promising. This partnership can play a major role in combating disasters in future.

Embassy of the United States ambassador to Bangladesh Earl R. Miller said “I am proud of the partnership between the embassy with the Bangladesh government, BRAC and other organisations who are fighting against this pandemic.”

Australian High Commissioner to Bangladesh Jeremy Bruer said the way in which BRAC was able to respond to support the needs of the people of this country was truly exemplary.

Nazmul Haque Khan, Additional Secretary (Hospital Wing), Health Service Division, said coordinated effort is the only way to fight any disaster and this is what has happened with the Covid-19 prevention activities. He hoped to continue such endeavors in future.

Urging everyone to unite for action in Covid-19 prevention, Dr. Md. Ashfaqul Islam Babul, Director (Project-1) [Joint Secretary] of NGO Affairs Bureau under Prime Minister’s Office said service delivery is needed at the very doorstep of the margnialised people and this is why we need to bolster the existing partnership further.

Unilever Bangladesh Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Zaved Akhtar, Grameenphone Chief Financial Officer Jens Becker, Senior Development Officer of Canadian High Commission Joe Landry and Development Director of Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office of the UK government Judith Herbertson also spoke at the ceremony.

The speakers expressed honour and recognised the efforts and sacrifices of the frontliners who have risked their life and worked relentlessly to tackle the pandemic. They also pledged to continue acting as a united force against the pandemic.

Download the book here

 

BRAC, the world’s number one non-governmental organisation, and FMO, an entrepreneurial development bank from the Netherlands, have set a milestone by entering a financing partnership worth USD 50 million, as it is the first ever direct lending to any microfinance institution of Bangladesh by any international financing institution.

BRAC obtained the fund as a 5-year long credit facility in April in current year to support its microfinance programme, speakers said today on Wednesday (27 October) at a ceremony, delayed to arrange due to the pandemic, organised at BRAC Centre in Mohakhali in Dhaka.

The entire fund is earmarked for financing of the microfinance portfolio of BRAC. The financing has been made in full compliance of the existing laws of Bangladesh.

The ceremony was physically attended by Mr Anne van Leeuwen, ambassador, and Mr Bas Blaauw, first secretary of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to Bangladesh. Mr Asif Saleh, executive director, BRAC, led the representation from BRAC at the event. Mr Tushar Bhowmik, CFO, Ms Moutushi Kabir, director, communications, Mr Sahed Shams Azad, chief operating officer, Microfinance Programme were also present from BRAC at the ceremony. K Mahmood Sattar, chairman, RSA Capital, was also present at the function. The FMO team was virtually present at the event.



Anne van Leeuwen, ambassador of Kingdom of the Netherlands to Bangladesh said, “Bangladesh has been a real champion in 50 years of independence, and BRAC has been the partner in this journey by combating poverty, doing great in the education and health sector. Bangladesh has the longest experience in Microfinance. I feel, by strengthening the Microfinance in this way, we can impact millions of peoples’ lives out of poverty.”

Asif Saleh, executive director, BRAC said, “The Netherland government has been a great partner in many of our education and Water,Sanitation and Hygiene programmes. BRAC Microfinance programme has been playing a big role during the time of pandemic and recovery of the economy from this pandemic. We are glad that FMO came to us during this challenging time and I am appreciative of this financial partnership and partnership of trust.”

“We are delighted to receive this investment from FMO. It is a milestone achievement for the microfinance sector as a foreign bank is directly investing in a microfinance institution in Bangladesh for the first time,” said Tushar Bhowmik, BRAC’s CFO.

“The investment will help improve the livelihoods of people who need access to affordable financial solutions, especially in marginalised communities, in a more efficient way,” he added.

“We are thrilled to re-establish our partnership with BRAC in Bangladesh by supporting their microfinance activities. The organisation’s mission and vision closely resonate with FMO’s own agenda of achieving financial inclusion. The USD 50 million loan facility will bring funding stability to the balance sheet of BRAC during a time of increasing uncertainty brought by the pandemic, and we believe it can act as a signal for more investments to take place in the microfinance sector,” said Mr Huib-Jan de Ruijter, chief investment officer of FMO.

This investment aligns with the FMO’s inclusive strategy in Bangladesh as more than 50% of the loan portfolio of BRAC supports micro-enterprise loans (< 10,000 EUR), mentions an FMO statement.

The investment will help improve the livelihoods of the people who need access to affordable financial solutions, especially in the underserved and marginalised communities, said the speakers. It will also help accelerate the drive for innovations of affordable solutions to facilitate financial inclusion of women and other underserved and marginalised sections of people, they added.

Speakers from BRAC expressed hope that the successful closure of this deal paved the way for such partnerships in future, expecting further strengthening the partnership with FMO.

Currently, BRAC is the market leader for the microfinance sector in Bangladesh with a microfinance loan portfolio of $3.2 billion serving more than 7.4 million customers, among whom 85% are women, in more than 69,000 villages.

 

Tuesday, 26 October 2021 00:00

‘Safe Back to School’ campaign

‘Safe Back to School’ campaign

Joint campaign of nineteen development partners on children safety cover more than 10 thousand schools

The ‘Safe Back to School’ alliance is running a campaign with the government to raise awareness on behavioural change among children, ensuring that they comply with Covid-19 health advisories in schools.

Besides the countrywide awareness campaign using messaging through different channels, the alliance members are also implementing diverse activities in more than 10 thousand schools across 56 districts to promote behavioural change in children to help them grow habits to follow the Covid-19 precautions.

The government and its stakeholders took children safety as their top priority before the educational institutions were re-opened on September 12 to make sure that children return to and continue school with all kinds of protection against Covid-19. To drive the effort 19 national and international development organisations launched ‘Safe Back to School’ campaign on 10 February this year.

Alongside the government, the campaign is leveraging all the available mediums of communication to create countrywide awareness to ensure safe return and safe learning environment for children in schools. The implementing partners today, Tuesday, briefed the current activities and future plan of the campaign at a press conference at the National Press Club in Dhaka.

BRAC’s senior director KAM Morshed, on behalf of the implementing partners, told the press conference that the campaign has been particularly designed to disseminate messages to all children and their families through all possible communication channels. “We are using all the available mediums of communication – mass media, social media and word of mouth. These messages are promoting behaviour change in children to help them adopt the Covid-19 precautions of handwashing, mask wearing, social distancing as habits,” said KAM Morshed.

Communications manager at World Vision Bangladesh Devashish Ranjan Sarker moderated the event, while Save the Children in Bangladesh senior manager (media and communications) Nusrat Amin briefed on the different contents developed under the campaign. The contents, among others, include an audio-visual advertisement by popular band group Joler Gaan themed on awareness messaging for children to be aired soon on television channels and social media.

Country Coordinator of Stromme Foundation Mizanur Rahman said the alliance is working as a catalyst to make a bridge between the government and the marginalized people so that the demands of marginalized reaches the government and the messages by the government reaches the masses properly.

Coordinated initiative and planning between the government, non-government organisations and the mass media is required to get those children back to regular schooling, who are left behind due to family or social situations or financial constraints, said Golam Kibria, head of education at Educo Bangladesh.

Save the Children in Bangladesh country director Onno Van Manen requested mass media to highlight different contents on the need for importance of education to encourage children to return to school to recover last one year and a half’s Covid-19 induced learning loss.

Tony Michael Gomes, director (Communications, Advocacy) at World Vision Bangladesh, said all the alliance members working in the field of education is making sure that the available resource are mobilised to keep the schools safe.

Samia Ahmed, senior manager (advocacy and campaign) at Save the Children in Bangladesh, and Rafe Sadnan Adel, head of media and external relations at BRAC was also present at the programme.

Alongside the awareness campaign, the alliance members are also implementing diverse activities with special focus on the schools in remote areas. These activities include Covid-19 safety training for teachers of remote schools; distribution of masks, hand wash and education materials, thermal detector at schools; advice on keeping schools clean; assistance to children of families in extreme poverty to get back to school; advocacy with school management committee and community leaders on school safety; and door-to-door campaign and courtyard meetings with guardians to send children to school.

The organisations running the campaign are - BRAC, Campaign for Popular Education, Dhaka Ahsania Mission, Educo Bangladesh, FIVDB, Friendship, Habitat for Humanity Bangladesh, Handicap International – Humanity & Inclusion, Jagoroni Chakra Foundation, Plan International Bangladesh, Room to Read Bangladesh, Save the Children in Bangladesh, Sightsavers Bangladesh, Sesame Workshop Bangladesh, Stromme Foundation, Teach for Bangladesh, VSO, World Vision Bangladesh and YPSA.

Sunday, 17 October 2021 00:00

BRAC Declares an Extreme Poverty Emergency

Chris Law MP to chair an All Party Parliamentary Group on the issue

LONDON, 17 October 2021. Today a group of UK Members of Parliament (MP’s) and leading development experts, including BRAC, the largest NGO in the Global South, declared an emergency on extreme poverty.

Hundreds of millions of people worldwide have limited access to income, food, clean water, healthcare, and employment, which COVID-19 has further exacerbated, and this group is working to shine a light on the issue and demand urgent action through an All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on extreme poverty.

Recent estimates from the World Bank suggest that the pandemic will have pushed nearly 100 million more people into extreme poverty by the end of 2021, joining the nearly 700 million already living in extreme poverty. This has affected low-income countries most significantly, contributing to increases in child labor, gender inequality, and famine around the world. Even before COVID-19, progress on global poverty reduction was slowing and existing anti-poverty policies and programmes were missing many of the most marginalised populations, with 79 percent of the bottom quintile of earners in low-income countries receiving no social assistance whatsoever.

The APPG, which will convene key stakeholders working towards the eradication of extreme poverty, will be chaired by Chris Law, MP for Dundee West and the Scottish National Party’s (SNP) Spokesperson for International Development and Climate Justice. It also includes Tom Tugendhat (Conservative MP), Lyn Brown (Labour MP), Stephen Timms (Labour MP), Imran Hussain (Labour MP), Lord Purvis (Liberal Democrat Peer), and Brendan O’Hara (SNP MP) as Vice Chairs.

According to Shameran Abed, Executive Director of BRAC International, whose UK office is providing secretariat support for the APPG, “For decades, millions of people around the world have lived in a state of severe poverty and been excluded from existing development programmes. COVID-19 has further exacerbated the issue driving millions more to join them. The international community must take urgent action and respond to this emergency by committing significantly more resources and working together to support evidence- based programmes and ensure policies reach people who are furthest behind and meet their long-term needs. This is why we are declaring an extreme poverty global emergency today, on the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty.”

“Poverty is a policy choice,” said Chris Law MP. ”With sufficient political will, funding, and evidence, we can not only reverse the pandemic-driven rise in extreme poverty, but also make strides towards its eradication.”

“Having previously acted as a global leader on the eradication of extreme poverty, we are concerned that the UK Government has made no reference to it in its 2021 Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy. Through the APPG, will we treat this issue with the urgency it deserves. We will hear directly from communities and organisations affected, examining all the evidence and making practical recommendations to the UK Government on how they can change this, and play a leadership role in helping the international community eradicate extreme poverty.”

 


Child marriage and child labour are two major threats affecting the lives of girl children in Bangladesh. As both child marriage and child labour are driven by poverty and usually force girls to drop out of school, the increased economic hardships and prolonged school closures during the Covid-19 pandemic may well have exacerbated both these injustices. While Bangladesh had made commendable progress in advancing the rights and empowerment of girls in the past two decades, the scope for utilising communications technology to combat social injustices, such as child marriage and child labour, remains wide and largely unexplored.

Therefore, on the occassion of International Day of the Girl Child 2021, BRAC’s Gender Justice and Diversity (GJD) programme organised an advocacy dialogue on“Role of Technology in Combatting Child Marriage and Child Labour”today (Monday, October 11) at BRAC Centre, where discussants called for exploring technology as an effective yet under-utilised tool to tackle child marriage and child labour in the country.  

Zunaid Ahmed Palak, State Minister for Information and Communication Technology (ICT), Government of Bangladesh attended the dialogue as the chief guest, and Asif Saleh, Executive Director of BRAC was also present. Nobonita Chowdhury, Director, GJD, BRAC moderated the whole session.

In his speech, Zunaid Ahmed Palak said the differential attitude for a boy versus girl child needs to be changed first to eliminate child marriage and child labour from the society. Technology, projects or plans will not be fruitful if the psychological and mindset change is not made. To prevent child marriage, we have designed a protocol called Bondhon.gov.bd where online marriage registration will be mandatory, but no marriage will be registered without a verifiable document which will ultimately eliminate any chance for child marriage. We will launch it soon.”

The state minister suggested using artificial intelligence in workplaces to combat child marriage. ICT Division of the government and BRAC can work jointly on elimination of child marriage and child labour through the use of technology, he added.   

During the session, Asif Saleh, discussed the importance of protecting girl children from child marriage and child labour using technology. “We have to work relentlessly to eliminate the pervasive societal attitude to discriminate between girl and boy children. We have laws, but it is urgent that implementing agencies should be equipped with all the necessary technological solutions for effective execution of laws. We need to find out the underlying causes of child marriages and work towards changing the social psyche and that of the parents as well.”

He had also stressed equalising the digital divide currently existing among the girl and boy children, causing girls to be able to access technologies and devices less than the boys.

Nobonita Chowdhury, Director of Gender, Justice and Diversity (GJD) programme at BRAC said, ‘Even though the birth registration system in Bangladesh is being digitised, it is not yet mandatory to digitally verify birth registration when someone is being appointed for work or is registering their marriage. Therefore, forged or fake documents can often bypass the entire system. As a result, we do not have any statistics that accurately reflect the real child marriage or child labour scenario. So a thirteen year old girl can be passed off as an eighteen year old, in order to be married off or employed in work. The entire process can be strengthened by fully digitising the civil registration system, including the birth registration, marriage registration and employment’  
Mohammad Abdul Wahed, President (Dhaka District), Bangladesh Muslim Niqah (Marriage) Registrar Samity spoke about how digitilisation of the age verification process during the marriage registration process can help registrars better tackle child marriages. Syeda Munira Sultana, National Specialist and Programme Coordinator at ILO Bangladesh spoke about the challenges of addressing child labour in Bangladesh and the scope of utilising technology to strenghten labour governance and inspection.  

In the panel discussion, Mohammad Tabarak Ullah, Additional Deputy Inspector General (DIG) of Bangladesh Police at National Emergency Service discussed how the helpline has been stopping child marriages during the pandemic after getting calls from girls being married off, and other witnesses.  Dr. Nova Ahmed, Associate Professor, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at North South University spoke about the importance of incorporating gender considerations when devising technological interventions intended to address social injustices such as child marriage and child labour based on examples from Bangladesh and beyond.

The dialogue opened with a presentation by Taqbir Huda, Advocacy Lead, GJD, BRAC, who said “We must focus on equipping birth registrars, marriage registrars and labour inspectors with digital verification tools to better enforce existing legal safeguards against child marriage and child labour. The government has already begun utilising technology to combat child marriage and child labour, such as by introducing national helplines, digitising birth registrations system, developing apps like LIMA - the labour inspection app and the pilot child marriage prevention app in Kurigram, so further investment needs to be towards strengthening these interventions.”

Prior to the pandemic, 51 percent of the young women in Bangladesh were married before they turned 18, according to a Multiple Cluster Indicator Survey (MICS) 2019 conducted by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics. The COVID-19 pandemic, which created 2.45 million new poor in the country, andincreased the likelihood of child marriage and child labour,  due to worsened economic insecurity and prolonged school closures. In June 2021, International Labour Organization and UNICEF reported that for the first time in two decades, child labour was on the rise globally, including in South Asia, due to the socio-economic impact of Covid-19.

11 October marks the International Day of the Girl Child, a day on which countries around the world focus on the need to address the unique challenges girls in their countries face as well as recognise their human rights. The international theme for Girl Child Day this year is Digital Generation Our Generation, which focuses on equipping girls with digital solutions which can enable them to realise their full potential. Therefore, GJD, BRAC arranged this dialogue to serve as a basis to bring child marriage prevention and child labour prevention at the forefront of the discourse, and identifying the various ways in which technology is and can be used to combat both child marriage and child labour so the human rights of all girls in Bangladesh can be secured.
 

BRAC survey: 72pc of youths use internet, with only 28pc looking for technical and vocational education

Among the youths of Bangladesh, 86 per cent have access to smartphones, overall 72 percent use the internet, while 28.3 percent have recently searched for materials and training related information on technical and vocational education and training (TVET).

A baseline survey on the youth perception about skills development training and post-training employment recently conducted by BRAC reveals this picture. Most (65 per cent) of the young people who have participated as respondents in the survey, identified facebook as the most effective digital platform for raising public awareness TVET.

This information and observations came at a national-level exchange-of-view event titled “Changing perspectives of youths regarding vocational education in Bangladesh” organised by BRAC today on Thursday (9 September).

KM Tariqul Islam, director general (Grade-1), NGO Affairs Bureau under the Prime Minister’s Office, Dulal Krishna Saha, executive chairman (secretary), National Skills Development Authority (NSDA), and Selima Ahmad, lawmaker and president, Bangladesh Women Chamber of Commerce & Industry (BWCCI), attended the event as special guests, arranged at a hotel in the capital.

Winnie Estrup Petersen, ambassador of Denmark to Bangladesh, spoke at the event as the guest of honour. Chaired by Asif Saleh, executive director, BRAC, the event was also attended by a number of high officials from government and non-governmental agencies.

Guests present at the event dwelt on the issue of employment generation and achieving economic prosperity through transforming the people, particularly the youths of this country into effective human resources through TVET and other kinds of skills development.

In his welcome speech, KAM Morshed, senior director, BRAC, said, stigma is associated with skills and vocational training in the society and we must partner with communities at large and fight together against this.

While presenting the keynote speech, Tasmiah Tabassum Rahman, current in-charge of BRAC Skills Development Programme, said jobs related to technical and vocational education in Bangladesh are still considered as blue collar jobs, and this is why it is very important to create awareness and tell the society about the importance of TVET and its prospects.

Speakers at the programme pointed out that despite the government has undertaken a number of measures to popularise TVET, the public perception has yet to change sufficiently in Bangladesh. Non-governmental organisations can play an important role, complementing the government efforts, in effectively changing perceptions at the community level, including in the communities living in the hard-to-reach areas. The NGO Affairs Bureau, as the regulatory body and as the custodian of the NGOs working in Bangladesh, can guide those organisations that are particularly registered for working in the skills development sector in playing a more effective role in raising public awareness. The Bureau can also work for widening the scope for Go-NGO collaboration in the sector.

NGO Affairs Bureau DG KM Tariqul Islam said, “Despite there are government run training centres in all the districts, bringing change in mindset should be the first task. Here the private and voluntary organisations have a role to play. This BRAC survey report (presented at the event) will be helpful for the government and other private sector organisations in offering training programmes. We expect that private sector stakeholders will build infrastructures and provide training to youths in the areas where the government training centres do not have wide coverage of services.”

NSDA executive chairman Dulal Krishna Saha said, “We have to maintain the productivity of our labour force to maintain the growth we have achieved in different sectors. Without skills we won’t be able to sustain ourselves in the fourth industrial revolution. We do, therefore, need an intensive awareness campaign both to attract foreign investment and build a vast pool of skilled manpower.”

Winnie Estrup Petersen, ambassador of Denmark to Bangladesh, said “We need to listen to the young voices and enter into a dialogue with them under an inclusive approach. Stakeholders form the public private sector and partners need to think about how to change the mindsets of young people. This can be done through adequate campaigns and ultimately the youths need to be prepared with the right skills and right mindset for the changing world.”

BWCCI president Selima Ahmad said “Providing training to the young population is not enough, we also need to create work opportunities for them as well. It needs a media campaign, engaging community leaders and public representatives so that they can encourage their communities to take technical and vocational training. Also, organisations like BRAC can introduce programmes on public awareness and training in areas with higher trends of manpower export.”

In his concluding remarks BRAC executive director Asif Saleh said, “It’s never enough to erect only the buildings of training centres. We have to focus on the training itself so that by utilising that skills training they can secure jobs for themselves, or become entrepreneurs, or can engage in income generating activities and improve their living standard eventually. We need to change the role of how we approach skills development and youth employment. We are ready to support the Bangladesh government and scale up new innovative solutions for TVET.”

While carrying out its different initiatives BRAC’s Skills Development Programme (SDP) came to realise that skills development of the mass of young people will open the door to an infinite opportunity for realising their potential leading to the country’s robust socio-economic development.

In this context BRAC SDP has undertaken this pilot project with funding from the Danish Embassy to increase people’s awareness and knowledge about the importance of TVET and the resulting potential employment opportunities. The pilot is under implementation in three divisions, namely Dhaka, Chattagram and Sylhet.

As part of the pilot, a baseline survey was conducted to know about the perception of young people regarding skills training and employment, an excerpt of which is below.

  • The respondents believe that the most important reason for choosing TVET is to get jobs soon as possible. Of the respondents 43.7% said the idea of such training just did not occur to them.
  • Women should have more opportunities for taking TVET particularly in the unconventional occupations such as light engineering and mechanical and other kinds of repair work.
  • Of the respondents, 65% identified facebook as the most effective digital platform to raise awareness on TVET.

Study: click here.

Sunday, 29 August 2021 00:00

BRAC launches Mental Health Strategy

BRAC launches Mental Health Strategy

The strategy pledges to raise public awareness and education of mental health difficulties, tackle stigma, and provide communities with culturally appropriate needs-based mental health interventions.

Although mental health issues pose considerable public health risks, claiming more lives than Covid-19, Bangladesh still lacks resources essential to undertake the necessary interventions. The consequence is, people cannot enjoy their right to the highest standard of physical and mental health.

As Bangladesh continues to weather the ongoing impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, BRAC feels the issue of mental health in the country needs to be tackled with a comprehensive approach, and in strong partnership with the government.

In the presence of speakers from the government and non-government agencies, BRAC launched its first Mental Health Strategy at a virtual event organised today, Wednesday (25 August 2021). The event was chaired by Asif Saleh, executive director, BRAC, and moderated by KAM Morshed, senior director, BRAC.

Professor Meerjady Sabrina Flora, additional director general (planning), Directorate General of Health Services, attended the programme as the chief guest. Dr Robed Amin, line director, Non-Communicable Disease Control (NCDC), Government of Bangladesh, and Mia Seppo, UN resident coordinator, Bangladesh, were present special guests at the event.

The strategy sets out the organisation's commitment towards improving mental health of the population and developing mental health services and activities that are effective and ethical.

To achieve this, the strategy outlines four strategic aims and associated goals to meet by 2030. BRAC is committed to working alongside the Government of Bangladesh and other stakeholders, to address the current and future mental health needs of the country.

Grounded in an approach that espouses, endorses and advocates for culturally congruent, respectful and compassionate ethos, BRAC’s Mental Health Strategy pledges to raise public awareness and education of mental health difficulties, tackle stigma, and provide communities with culturally appropriate needs-based mental health interventions.

Dr Nargis Islam, consulting clinical psychologist, Oxford (UK), and consultant for BRAC Institute of Educational Development (BRAC IED), presented the details of BRAC Mental Health Strategy at the event. The blueprint of this strategy comes from the proven paracounsellor model that has been developed and executed successfully by BRAC IED in the past. While sharing her experiences in executing the paracounselling model, Dr Erum Mariam, executive director, BRAC IED, BRAC Bangladesh, said, “We did not call it mental health but over the past 49 years we connected with communities, supported and gave people hope and ensured their dignity. It is a moment of celebration that we have been able to build on our work and articulate the first Mental Health Strategy for BRAC!”

Dr Morseda Chowdhury, director, Health, Nutrition and Population Programme at BRAC, explained the design of a pilot to test BRAC’s mental health model at a large scale. She said, “Action at local and national levels to implement this strategy will only be effective if there is sustained and reciprocal partnership working across all sectors, and as such, will be the focus for achieving successful implementation of the strategy.”

Professor Meerjady Sabrina Flora, additional DG, DGHS, said “Improving mental health services is one of the key health related agendas for the government right now. The government and non-government actors can work together in a multi-sectoral approach to improve the mental health situation in the country. We need to fight together to reach a common goal which will give us a mentally healthy nation, a mentally healthy Bangladesh.”

Mia Seppo, UN resident coordinator, Bangladesh, said “17% of adults in Bangladesh live with mental health issues. We must cater to the rising need for mental health support by mainstreaming appropriate services within the existing health system. Mental health is just as important as physical health.”

Asif Saleh, executive director, BRAC, said “BRAC’s founder Sir Fazle Hasan Abed believed that mental health and wellbeing were a crucial and underserved component of public health. Now, particularly against the backdrop of Covid-19 and the toll it has taken on our mental wellbeing, it is time to work together to improve the access to mental health services in Bangladesh. BRAC has developed a comprehensive strategy to reach the last mile with mental health services. And, now we need other partners - the Government of Bangladesh, non-government organisations, private actors, and development partners - to move the work forward collaboratively.”

Experts in the mental health services in Bangladesh, high officials from other government and non-government agencies and representatives from various global organisations also joined the virtual event.

Roundtable: Health Insurance for RMG workers HI cuts out of pocket spending, adds productivity

Chairperson of the Parliamentary Standing Committee for Labour and Employment Ministry Md. Mujibul Huq MP underscored the national initiative of health insurance coverage for readymade garment workers and other sectors’ wage earners in collaboration with government and private entities. He asked public insurance companies to offer health insurance for low-income earners.

He came up with the call while addressing a virtual roundtable on “Health Insurance for RMG Workers in Bangladesh: Designing Policy and Management Structure” on Wednesday. Health Economics Unit (HEU) of Health and Family Welfare Ministry, Institute of Health Economics (IHE) of Dhaka University, BRAC, Netherland-based development organisation SNV and vernacular daily Prothom Alo conjointly arranged the roundtable.

HEU Director-General Dr. Md. Shahadat Hossain Mahamud, DG, HEU, said that the RMG sector already has a systematic and formal structure in collaboration with BGMEA, BKMEA, and Labour and Employment Ministry’s Central Fund, which enables the sector to be the initiator of institutional health insurance policy for workers’ wellbeing. Other sectors’ workers could be brought under health insurance in phases.

BRAC Climate Change and Urban Development programmes director Dr. Md. Liakath Ali said the country should introduce health insurance for wage-earners and the RMG sector is ready to introduce it that can be scaled up in other sectors after success in RMG.

Bangladesh Diabetic Association Chairman AK Azad Khan suggested that health insurance should be tax-free.

Representatives of different organizations were also spoke in the roundtable. Facilitated by Prothom Alo’s assistant editor Firoz Choudhury, the roundtable was also addressed by Central Fund DG Dr Selina Akter, HEI Professor Dr Syed Abdul Hamid, HEU’s research director Dr Md Nurul Amin, ANM Saifuddin from BGMEA, Mohammad Hatem from BKMEA, Progoti Life Insurance CEO M Jalaul Azim, Gonosastha Kendra’s Dr Rejaul Huq, and Bangladesh Garments Workers’ League president Sirajul Alam Rony.

In the Keynote Dr. Syed Abdul Hamid said that different NGOs operate various pilot health insurance projects to safeguard RMG workers. Research found that participation in the health insurance eased heath care cost and increase productivity of RMG workers. Although most of the projects’ timeline is at the end, no policy or management framework has been developed yet to advance the project or undertake permanent initiatives. Therefore, the establishment of a social health insurance management unit in collaboration with all stakeholders including the government, factory owners and the workers.

The discussion also informed that a network involving HEU, IHE, BRAC, SNV and Ganashastho Kendro have been working for policy formulation and the establishment of the institutional infrastructure to the policy formulation levels.

Canada joins BRAC in Strategic Partnership to support the vulnerable

Today, the Honourable Karina Gould, Minister of International Development, announced CAD 45 million, over the next five years, to support increasing services to Bangladesh’s most vulnerable populations, including the hard-to-reach.

Canada is committed to investing in partnerships to support the most marginalized, including women and girls in Bangladesh. Canada’s support will fund BRAC led multi-sector initiatives, including programming in skills and vocational training and public health outreach tailored to reach children and families that are unable to access the services they need. It will also strengthen BRAC’s interventions related to human rights, sexual and reproductive health and rights, nutrition and ending gender-based violence against women and children. Programming will also focus on, and support, Bangladesh’s COVID-19 response and inclusive economic recovery.

With this contribution Canada joins the Strategic Partnership Agreement, a long-term tripartite partnership with BRAC and the Government of Australia. Canada’s contributions to the partnership will expand BRAC’s integrated healthcare, education, legal services, skills development and livelihood service delivery to hard-to-reach areas and the most marginalised populations. This partnership is closely aligned with Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy and is built on BRAC’s longstanding women-centred development approach which prioritises the empowerment of women and girls.

The announcement was made during Minister Gould’s virtual visit to Bangladesh. Today, Minister Gould visited Bhashantek slum in Dhaka to see first-hand the impacts of BRAC’s urban development programming, which will receive continued support through the partnership. Minister Gould also met with young women engaged in skills training, health care workers supporting soon-to-be-mothers, and witnessed the BRAC-led COVID-19 prevention and response activities in action. BRAC Executive Director Asif Saleh accompanied the Minister on the visit, with both acknowledging the courageous front line workers who continue to deliver key services in the face of ongoing challenges during the pandemic.

Quotes
“Our local, experienced partners know all too well the disproportionate impact the COVID-19 crisis has had on the world’s most vulnerable. Together, we must continue to push forward and seek out those hardest to reach, including marginalized women and children. Canada remains committed to supporting Bangladesh in addressing the impacts of the pandemic and helping vulnerable populations respond and recover as fast as possible”
- Karina Gould, Minister of International Development

We are delighted to welcome Global Affairs Canada as one of our strategic partners. This partnership couldn't come at a more critical time, as the COVID-19 pandemic has further aggregated inequalities in Bangladesh. Bangladesh needs resources to combat the impact of this pandemic and sustain the momentum of socio-economic growth. This partnership will help us to keep the country on the growth trajectory and to continue our efforts in the pandemic response and the recovery process.”
- Asif Saleh, Executive Director, BRAC

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