Roundtable discussion- 26 July 2023
SAJIDA Foundation, in partnership with the British Asian Trust and Primark, organised a roundtable on mental health and wellbeing support for Ready-Made Garment (RMG) factory workers in Bangladesh. The discussion focused on the pilot project Moner Kotha that aims to address the key challenges faced by RMG workers in relation to their mental health and driving forward collaborative initiatives to address these.
About Moner Kotha
The Moner Kotha project is a collaboration between the British Asian Trust, Primark, and SAJIDA Foundation. Using learnings from the British Asian Trust’s Mental Health programme in Pakistan, Primark’s MYSPACE project in India and SAJIDA Foundation’s local knowledge and experience in the RMG sector, this pilot builds an effective model for a mental health intervention in a factory setting. The project focuses on three key areas.
- Increasing awareness: de-stigmatisation of mental health issues and building resilience and self-coping mechanisms.
- Building capacity: supporting selected factory employees to train as para-counsellors to provide mental health support in their working community.
- Initiating referrals: where necessary linking workers to advanced mental healthcare services to receive more specialised support and care.
Through these interventions, the project aims to improve the mental health and wellbeing of RMG workers in five factories. By facilitating introductions to these factories, Primark is providing industry expertise and networks to embark on a journey with the British Asian Trust and SAJIDA Foundation to deliver an innovative and ground-breaking mental health and well-being model. Our ambition is that this pioneering and comprehensive initiative will generate learnings and evidence to build an effective and sustainable model that can be integrated into the existing RMG sector-wide welfare system.
Key discussion points during the roundtable were:
Scope of scaling up
It is crucial that models are less time and resource-intensive and can be easily integrated into existing systems. Building the capacity of existing employees and welfare representatives as para-counsellors, and conducting orientations for management representatives is critical to a low cost and integrated model that can be easily scaled up.
Driving self-care and self-coping mechanisms
The role of mindfulness and self-care activities to manage minor mental wellbeing issues should not be underestimated. As Bangladesh has limited mental health resources, it is crucial to leverage self-driven activities in order to tackle and manage minor mental health issues.
Positive impact on productivity
Good mental health and wellbeing of employees is crucial for productivity as it positively impacts employee motivation and their ability to perform better. Integrating such para-counselling models may contribute to overall conditions that improve productivity and benefit employers in the long run.
Home and community level outreach
As the concept of mental health and wellbeing is relatively new, only workplace access and awareness to mental health and wellbeing is not enough to have a positive impact. To drive long term change, community level outreach initiatives are necessary.
As the mental health sector is hugely underdeveloped and inadequate, it is crucial to ensure collaboration between public and private sector players to best utilise and mobilise the limited resources available.
There is a need to incorporate a gender lens in the project design, to address gender specific issues which come up in counselling and awareness sessions, especially given the sector mostly employs women.
With a significant portion of the population underprivileged and access to quality education limited, communication around mental health and wellbeing needs to be thoughtful, relevant, and through appropriate communication channels.
Bringing together key representatives from across the RMG sector and labour organisations, has provided an opportunity to discuss critical issues and identify opportunities as we drive forward initiatives to improve the mental health and wellbeing of RMG workers across Bangladesh.
The roundtable has highlighted several things we need to address and build into initiatives if we are to tackle a growing mental health crisis. As the Moner Kotha project continues, we will be collecting data which will enable us to evidence the impact of the current approach. The results and learnings from this pilot project will be shared with key stakeholders in the sector to facilitate greater impact and collaboration.
It will take cross-sectoral cooperation and joint efforts to deliver models that are fit-for-purpose and innovative. Going forward we hope to work more collaboratively with the sector to make this model as effective, sustainable and scalable as possible.
- Dr Ashique Selim- Advisor, Mental Health Programme, SAJIDA Foundation
- Mr Abil Amin- Country Manager, Ethical Trading Initiative
- Dr Shahana Parveen- Associate Professor, National Institute of Mental Health
- Monira Rahman- Executive Director, Innovation for Wellbeing Foundation
- Neelanjana Khan- Country Project Manager, Primark
- Onindita Islam- Senior Programmes Manager, British Asian Trust
- Shamira Mostafa- Head of Business Operations, SAJIDA Foundation
- Rubina Jahan- Head of Clinical Services, Mental Health Programme, SAJIDA Foundation
- Rajib Mahmood- Program Manager, Mental Health Programme, SAJIDA Foundation