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STITCH For RMG Global Innovation Challenge announces winners

Promoting innovations to transform the lives of women in RMG industry

BRAC, H&M Foundation, and The Asia Foundation have announced the six winners of the international competition titled “STITCH for RMG: Global Innovation Challenge”. The announcement was made last evening (Tuesday, 7 February 2022) at a virtual event organised by BRAC Social Innovation Lab, H&M Foundation, and The Asia Foundation.

The global competition was launched October last year (2021) to promote improved livelihood opportunities for the women working at the export-oriented readymade garment factories in Bangladesh, promote gender equality at the factory floors and increase factory performance.

The six winning teams of the competition are: Agroshift, iSmart, Jyoti, Quizrr, Sustify and ToguMogu. Faruque Hassan, president, BGMEA, Asif Saleh, executive director, BRAC, and Diana Amini, global manager, H&M Foundation, and Kazi Faisal Bin Seraj, country representative, The Asia Foundation, congratulated the winners.

Diana Amini, GM, H&M Foundation, said, ”I think we all have different roles to play, and for us, representing the philanthropic sector, our role is to be able to support early-stage ideas, methods, innovations, and also to be able to take risks that other actors cannot. And together with our partners, we can also co-create and validate solutions and invite others to play a part in helping us scale them.”

Asif Saleh, ED, BRAC, said, “Unlike how it is perceived elsewhere, we looked at innovation that is not necessarily driven by products, it can be about processes, it can be about simple solutions, and particularly, simplicity is the key toward scaling.”

Kazi Faisal Bin Seraj, CR, The Asia Foundation, said, “The thing that stood out for me in the pitches is that all the applicants used empathy to create their solution, that it is not just technology, rather how it is more appropriate in a context, in a gender sensitive manner. I think that empathy can be seen in all the programmes, in the global nature of it and the innovative nature of it”

Faruque Hassan, president, BGMEA, said, “We need more attention and investment in innovation, from businesses and state level, to upscale our capability and adaption. Global buyers are looking for sustainable manufacturing sources which resource efficient, without technology, optimum use of water, energy, and other resources cannot be ensured. So, we need to ensure 4th generation of technology in our supply chain.” 

A member of team Quizrr said on behalf of the winners, “We look forward to new collaborations through this network. We want to learn from each other, so we can further accelerate our solutions and provide better innovations to this industry and its workforce.”

The awards for the winning teams come with grants up to USD 30,000 to pilot the solutions. The winners also will have opportunities for bootcamp training with mentors, incubators, and accelerators.

The solution focus of the winning teams are as follows.

  • Agroshift is creating demand driven digital grocery platform for RMG workers;
  • i-SMART is developing a standardized skill matrix for women sewing workers;
  • Jyoti is removing the barriers of access to sanitary pads for RMG factory workers improving menstrual hygiene;
  • Quizrr is building female RMG role models through skill and leadership development training;
  • Sustify is building capacity through gamified microlearning for female factory workers in Bangladesh; and 
  • ToguMogu is supporting female RMG workers through a health and wellbeing platform making their parenthood stress-free.

The competition started with a “concept round” in which 220 applications were received and 50 applications were shortlisted for video submissions in the “pitching round”. A total of 12 teams won to move to the final round that organised a virtual marketplace, offering opportunities to partner with RMG factories. Through a tough competition the winning teams secured opportunities to incubate their projects in these factories that had volunteered to provide time, space, and other resources for the purpose.

The Marketplace Round was a unique opportunity for the competitors both from Bangladesh and beyond to discuss their ideas with factory owners and representatives, through which they were able to understand the probable demand and feasibility of their solutions on the ground. It was a matchmaking process where the factory owners jointly showed interest in developing the business together with the team they got matched with.

The competing ideas and solutions covered a range of themes from health, to skill development, security, sustainability and others. In total nine teams moved forward with factories based on the overall practicality of their solution. Of them, six teams topped the competition.

The “STITCH for RMG: Global Innovation Challenge” is part of the STITCH for RMG pilot project undertaken by BRAC, H&M Foundation and The Asia Foundation. The goal of the project is to create an environment that advances welfare and livelihood of the women in ready-made garments sector of Bangladesh as well as boost Bangladesh’s performance in the RMG industry.

BRAC, Embassy of Denmark sign MoU to implement rainwater harvesting project in Mongla

BRAC signed a memorandum of understanding with the Embassy of Denmark (EoD) in Bangladesh this morning (Thursday, 27 January) at the Danish ambassador's residence to implement a project titled ‘Enhancing Safe Drinking Water Security and Climate Resilience through Rainwater Harvesting’ in Mongla Upazila of Bagerhat District. The Danish embassy in Bangladesh will provide the total budget of the project at 29 million DKK over three years of project period to reach 67,300 climate vulnerable people with access to safe drinking water.

Mongla is one of the most climate-vulnerable areas in Bangladesh, particularly in terms of salinity intrusion. More than 60% of its inhabitants have no access to safe drinking water and are suffering from health and income loss. Women and girls are disproportionately affected due to the overburden of domestic work and social insecurity.

Winnie Estrup Petersen, ambassador of Denmark to Bangladesh, said at the signing ceremony, “We are very happy to take this step to deliver on the talks of COP 26. By 2023, Denmark will provide at least 500 million USD per year globally in grant-based climate finance. Bangladesh is amongst the world’s most climate vulnerable countries and should of course benefit from our strong climate commitment. This partnership signals first of several Danish commitments to climate adaptation and mitigation programmes for Bangladesh starting 2022.”

Highlighting the importance of adapting climate-adaptive measures for the people of the coastal belt of Bangladesh, Asif Saleh, executive director of BRAC said on the occasion, "No one should walk 2 km to fetch drinking water. However, climate change is driving an acute drinking water crisis in coastal Bangladesh. BRAC has been working persistently to ensure this basic human right of getting safe drinking water.  We appreciate very much the support of the Embassy of Denmark in this endeavor. Together we will work towards developing a holistic and sustainable model of providing water at the last mile for every single Bangladeshi."

The project’s goal is to improve the wellbeing of the most climate-vulnerable population of the upazila by creating access to a nearby source of safe drinking water, a solution which can be replicated in other similar localities. In line with the Danish Development Strategy “The World We Share”, the project will enhance climate resilience following a community-centric locally-led approach, while coordinating with the government and other non-governmental actors.

BRAC Global is pleased to announce that Jerome Oberreit has been appointed as its first Executive Director, effective 10 January 2022.

BRAC is an international development organisation founded in Bangladesh in 1972 that partners globally with over 100 million people living with inequality and poverty to create sustainable opportunities to realise their potential. BRAC Global was established in 2019 by BRAC’s founder, the late Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, to promote policy and programmatic lessons from BRAC among the global development community, and to provide coordination and coherence across all of BRAC’s entities. The OneBRAC family includes two operational entities – BRAC Bangladesh and BRAC International; and two fundraising entities – BRAC UK and BRAC USA. BRAC Global is distinct from BRAC International which implements BRAC’s development programs on the ground in all countries apart from Bangladesh.

As Executive Director of BRAC Global, Jerome will, together with the leaders of other BRAC entities, play a critical role in advancing BRAC’s global strategy, resource mobilisation and organisational development. Jerome will guide the development of key cross-cutting issues, including risk management and safeguarding, human resource, financial management, communications, monitoring and learning.

“The Board of BRAC Global is delighted that Jerome Oberreit brings to the OneBRAC family a range of relevant experience and skills from his distinguished career with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), and is confident that Jerome will provide the kind of facilitative leadership to the OneBRAC family that BRAC Global is committed to,” said Marty Chen, Chair of the BRAC Global Board.

“As BRAC turns 50, its achievements as a truly person-centric organisation are humbling. I am both honoured and excited to be the Executive Director of BRAC Global. We remain in a world of great uncertainly as the pandemic, climate change, global inequalities, and the continued unprecedented displacement remind us. These uncertainties reinforce the need for all of us, individually and collectively, to be socially enterprising. With a deep understanding of poverty reduction, BRAC has shown, through a supportive and inclusive approach with each individual, community and national partnership, how empowerment can create the necessary opportunities to turn lives around in the most challenging environments. BRAC is critical to reducing poverty and paving the road to social justice in our fast-changing world. I very much look forward to being part of this incredible journey,” said Jerome.

From 2012 to 2018, Jerome was the Secretary General of Médecins Sans Frontières International having been the Director of programmes from 2006 to 2012. He was instrumental in coordinating complex organisational systems in a multi-centric organisation focused on providing health services to the most neglected in resource-limited environments. In this role he led global positioning efforts and defined strategies and systems for securing resources (financial, human, and technical), ensuring both internal and external accountability. He also has country-level experience with MSF in several African countries and in the Middle East.

From 2019 to 2021, Jerome took part in the development of the Global Antibiotic Research and Development Partnership (GARDP), a new initiative launched by the World Health Organisation and Drugs for Neglected Disease Initiative, where he held the position of Senior Advisor to the Executive Director.

Jerome is fluent in French and English, holds a master’s in geography, and a bachelor’s in politics and geography.

BRAC receives 56 million cloth masks From US multinational Hanesbrands

Distribution will be made among most vulnerable communities across country

As Bangladesh braces for a probable new wave of Covid-19, exacerbated by the Omicron variant, BRAC has received a bulk of 56 million three layered reusable cotton masks from Hanesbrands Inc., a US multinational corporation. The masks will be distributed among the most vulnerable people in all the 64 districts through community clinics.

Earl R Miller, US Ambassador to Bangladesh, formally handed over the masks to Asif Saleh, executive director of BRAC, at a ceremony at the BRAC Centre in the capital this evening (Thursday 06 January).

Lokman Hossain Miah, senior secretary to the Health Services Division, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, attended the event as the chief guest with KM Tariqul Islam, director general, NGO Affairs Bureau, and Earl R Miller, US Ambassador to Bangladesh, being present as special guests.

US-based funding organisation the Open Society Foundation (OSF) and Yale University jointly coordinated the initiative to deliver the masks to BRAC.

Senior secretary Lokman Hossain Miah congratulated BRAC, Hanesbrands and other entities involved in this “great” initiative, and said, “There are two major ways to tackle transmission of Covid-19 at present. One is to ensure the wearing of masks by people including rickshaw-pullers, street vendors and day labourers who are constantly on the move for their livelihoods, and the other is vaccination. So it’s imperative that we make facemasks easily available to these people.”

US ambassador Earl R Miller at the ceremony said, “BRAC, the Government of Bangladesh, the American private sector and the US Embassy are working together to provide over 56 million masks to the Bangladeshi people donated by Hanesbrand, the American clothing company based in North Carolina. By heeding the lessons of science and history and through collaborative efforts like these, together, as a global community, we will defeat this pandemic.”

NGO Affairs Bureau director general KM Tariqul Islam said, “This bulk of masks will greatly help our vulnerable communities continue their fight against the pandemic. BRAC will distribute these masks across the country through the government’s community clinics network.

The BRAC executive director thanked the US government, Hanesbrands, Open Society Foundation (OSF) and Yale University for mobilising the donation and said, “Making masks available and accessible for all is crucial in the fight against Covid-19. We have seen significant success in mass vaccination in high-risk areas in Bangladesh, but additional preventive measures such as wearing masks are still vital. This donation will allow us to scale up our preventative efforts, and ensure that we can get free masks to the people who need them the most. We are extremely grateful to have support from multiple partners, which in addition to providing resources, provides us with encouragement that we are not in this fight alone.”

On 8 December 2021, BRAC's gender justice and diversity programme, with the support of BRAC’s social empowerment and legal protection (SELP), organised a roundtable discussion on ‘Strengthening the public prosecution system to ensure justice for sexual and gender-based violence’ in solidarity with the 16 Days of Activism 2021.

The discussion focused on identifying the best practices and potential solutions which can overcome key weaknesses in the public prosecution system in order to ensure justice in cases of violence against women and girls. Therefore it brought together key actors from all stages of the public prosecution system, such as police officers, forensic doctors, public prosecutors, legal aid lawyers, judges, along with government and non-government service providers, development partners and activists.



The discussants at the event included: Md Golam Kibria, Director (Training), Judicial Administration and Training Institute (JATI); Anna Minj, Director, Integrated Development Programme; Advisor, SELP and Protection Cluster, HCMP, BRAC; Jenefa Jabbar, Advocate, Supreme Court of Bangladesh; Director, Social Compliance and Safeguarding, BRAC; Nobonita Chowdhury, Director, Gender Justice and Diversity, and Preventing Violence Against Women Initiative, BRAC; Dr Md Shahadat Hossain Mahmud, Director General (Additional Secretary), Health Economics Unit, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare; Md Habibur Rahman Chowdhury, Deputy Director (Finance), Joint District and Sessions Judge, National Legal Aid Services Organization, Law and Justice Division, Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs; Mohammad Tabarak Ullah, Additional Deputy Inspector General (DIG) of Police, National Emergency Service, Bangladesh Police; Ali Asgor Swapon, Special Public Prosecutor, Nari O Shishu Nirjaton Domon Tribunal Tribunal, Dhaka; Reena Debnath, Special Public Prosecutor, Nari O Shishu Nirjaton Domon Tribunal Tribunal, Narsingdi; and Dr Sohel Mahmud, Head, Department of Forensic Medicine, Sir Salimullah Medical College. Family members of a rape survivor and acid violence survivor also spoke at the event, highlighting the challenges and hurdles they faced when seeking justice.



The discussants highlighted the necessity of a number of reforms, including the need to: introduce a victim and witness protection system, incorporate virtual court system in Nari O Shishu Nirjaton Domon Tribunals, ensure gender sensitisation training for justice sector actors (such as judges and public prosecutors) and introduce a compensation scheme for survivors. The discussants also stressed the need to increase budgetary allocation for the public prosecution system and support services for survivors, such as by appointing more judges and prosecutors and establishing One Stop Crisis Centres and shelter homes in every district. All discussants acknowledged the necessity of jointly working together towards strengthening the public prosecution system to ensure justice for survivors of sexual and gender-based violence.

Opportunities to enhance youth employment in retail sector

The retail sector of Bangladesh has already employed over six million (60 lakh) people. The sector has much growth potentials and will create employment opportunities for many more youths particularly women from the disadvantaged sections of the society in the coming years. Speakers came up with the observation while addressing a roundtable discussion on “Enhancing employment: Opportunities for youth in Bangladesh’s retail sector” organised in Dhaka today on Thursday.

The event, organised by BRAC’s Skills Development Programme (SDP) at the BRAC Centre this morning, aims to foster discussions with the private sector on youth employment in retail sales and skills training required for the jobs and advocate women and persons with disabilities inclusion in the retail industry.

Nihad Kabir, president, Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MCCI) was present as the chief guest at the event. Speakers at the roundtable, among others, were Tamara Abed, managing director of Aarong, BRAC, Syed Nasim Manzur, MD of Apex Footwear Ltd, Murtoza Zaman, chief executive officer of Unimart, Tanvir Sohel Khan, business director of Shwapno, Shaheen Khan, chief executive officer of Gemcon Food and Agricultural Products Ltd, Nure Alam Shimu, Managing Director of Gadget and Gear, M.M. Ferdous, Executive Director of Best Electronics, Mosaraf Hossain, Chief Operating Officer of Mirror Outfitters, Rubaiyath Sarwar, Managing Director of Innovision Consulting Ltd, Aziza Ahmed, head of operations of Bangladesh Business and Disability Network, Masudul Haq, MD of Amanah Group, Maria Huq, director of BRAC, Tasmiah Tabassum Rahman, Current in-charge, BRAC Skills Development Programme, and Joydeep Sinha Roy, Head of Operations, BRAC Skills Development Programme.

Considering the prospect of job creation in this sector, BRAC’s SDP is implementing a project titled “Progressing the retail sector by improving decent employment (PRIDE)”. The project aims to create a model for scale, providing sustainable livelihoods for low-income urban youths in Bangladesh in partnership with the retail sector and the Government of Bangladesh.

The retail sales project, funded by IKEA Foundation and UBS Optimus Foundation, aims to impact changes in the retail sector by providing decent work opportunities for disadvantaged urban youth, particularly women and persons with disabilities. It also supports industry standardisation in major cities like Dhaka, Khulna, Chattogram and Sylhet.

MCCI president Nihad Kabir in his chief guest’s speech said, “Women essentially need training to enter jobs in the retail sector. But at the moment training facilities for the aspirants are very limited. The government should focus on establishing these facilities.”

MD of Aarong Tamara Abed said, “It lies with us the employers to create decent work environment for both men and women at the workplace. There should be a continuous effort to make workplace environment more comfortable and healthy. There should also be sexual harassment prevention policies at place. Businesses should have separate washrooms and shift-based work schedule not only for women staff, but for the persons with disabilities also.”

Apex Footwear MD Syed Nasim Manzur observed, “It’s not only sufficient to organise training and employment in the retail sector, but quality improvement of the sector is also imperative. The government needs to play a decisive role in formulating necessary laws and giving recognition.”

Gemcon Food CEO Shaheen Khan said, “It’s a highly conventional idea that women cannot work as hard men. The women retailers in Bangladesh have proved their ability. We want more women in retailing. We have policy of inclusion in our business.”

Though the retail industry contributes significantly to Bangladesh’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), opportunities for formal training hardly exists in the country for those looking for jobs in this sector. A baseline survey conducted in 2020 showed that a very low percentage of retailers provide formal training for their employees.

BRAC SDP, in collaboration with Bangladesh Technical Education Board has developed the country’s first accredited retail sales training module. Following this module SDP is currently providing training to those participating in its own training courses. Since the training began 54% of its participants are currently employed despite having no prior experience and the Covid-19 situation.

The retail industry in Bangladesh is male dominated with only 8% females. Retailers are reluctant to hire female staff citing safety issues and due to a pervasive perception that women cannot take physical strain. In the baseline survey, more than 50% of the respondent persons with disabilities stated they were not provided with specialised orientation although they had no previous work experience.

Retailers who did not hire persons with disabilities stated a number of reasons, the major ones among them are - the nature of business was not suitable, lack of accommodation at the workplace, and no applications received from aspirant persons with disabilities.

Tackling impact of Covid-19 on girls and young women Skills training in informal sector stressed

More than 50 million (5 crore) people involved in the country’s informal sector have borne the brunt of the Covid-19 pandemic. Women and adolescent girls engaged in this sector still suffered the worst of all. Participation in the labour market through effective skills training should be a high priority to assist them in recovering the situation. Speakers expressed these views at a discussion organised by BRAC’s Skills Development Programme (SDP) today on Thursday (2 December) at the BRAC Centre at Mohakhali in the capital.

K M Tarikul Islam, director-general, NGO Affairs Bureau, attended the event titled “Tackling Covid-19 adversities on girls and young women through skills training in the informal sector” as chief guest. Md Abul Kalam Azad, former principal coordinator (SDG affairs) at the Prime Minister’s Office was present as the special guest.

AFM Shahidur Rahman, director, Programme Development-Asia, PRL and Monitoring Department, BRAC, delivered the welcome speech, followed by a keynote presentation by Nobonita Chowdhury, director, Gender Justice & Diversity and Preventing Violence Against Women Initiative, BRAC, on the current state of girls and young women in the informal sector. Tasmiah Tabassum Rahman, in-charge, Skills Development Programme, BRAC, and Dr Narayan Chandra Das, senior research fellow, BRAC Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD), gave another presentation on “Skills interventions for mitigating risks on girls and young women - skills training for advancing resources (star), an apprenticeship-based skills training model”.

Veera Mendonca, deputy representative, UNICEF Bangladesh, Shahriar Islam, senior programme manager, Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Mirza Nurul Ghani Shovon honoured as Commercially Important Person status by the government, chairman, Informal Sector Industry Skills Council, spoke as panel speakers.

The speakers observed that the informal sector has been the worst affected in terms of the country’s labour market. The situation has its direct impact on the people involved in the sector, risking the livelihood of 52 million (5 crore 20 lakh) people. Women are the worst sufferer as nearly 91.8 per cent of total women labour force are engaged in informal economy.

A research carried out by BRAC last year (2020) revealed that regular earning dropped by 66 per cent for women involved in the informal sector, while their opportunities for work reduced by 24 per cent. Apart from these, the risk of dropping out of school has seen an alarming rise due to a prolonged shutdown of educational institutions and economic crisis, which has its inevitable adverse impact on other social situations.

Another study reveals that child marriage saw a staggering rise by 220 per cent between July and September last year. Experts mostly put down the causes to staying out of school and earning.

To recover from the crisis, BRAC puts particular emphasis on the re-engagement of women in the labour market and has accordingly designed its programmes and activities to fulfil that aim.

NGO Affairs Bureau director-general KM Tarikul Islam said, “All the organisations are working to fulfil the aim to have 10 million (1 crore) people employed in the Mujib Borsho (Birth Centenary of Mujib). The government has created a number of industries which will provide employment to women as well. But it’s a big challenge to tackle which the non-state development actors should come forward to assist the government.”

Former principal coordinator for SDG affairs at the PMO Md Abul Kalam Azad said, “In Bangladesh over 18 million (1.8 crore) women are employed in the labour market. We must also think what crisis these women may face in their livelihoods in case the Omicron variant of Corona virus spread in Bangladesh. We have to be adequately prepared to tackle the situation.”

In his closing remarks BRAC’s senior director KAM Morshed said, “It is a time when skills development should be a planned option. Many young people can choose skills development education instead of pursuing the path of conventional education.”

BRAC launches information website to support survivors of violence

The local service mapping website titled “Shongjog” will offer information on medical, legal, psychosocial and other relevant local services.

BRAC has launched a specially designed database on a user-friendly local service mapping website called “Shongjog” to support survivors of violence to access eight types of necessary information and avail services from state and non-state actors.

The interactive tool that offers name, contact details and other information on service providing agencies was introduced for the public at an event held at the BRAC Centre on Thursday morning, 2 December 2021.

BRAC will offer information on eight types of services from this platform that has been developed based on a mapping conducted in 61 districts covering 435 upazilas across Bangladesh.

Aroma Dutta, member of parliament, and Md Habibur Rahman Chowdhury, deputy director, National Legal Aid Service Organisation (NLASO), attended the event as the chief guest and special guest respectively. Asif Saleh, executive director, and Jenefa Jabbar, director, Social Compliance and Safeguarding, BRAC, also spoke at the event.

The services in the mapping mainly include medical/health services, legal services, psychosocial services, safe/shelter homes, police stations and other necessary local service information for the survivors of violence. Through this website any victims/survivors of abuse, harassment and violence will be able to gain access to information and services designed to assist them to recover from traumatic experiences. It will result in an increased access to the system of government and non-governmental services, expected the organisers.

Appreciating this initiative, lawmaker Aroma Dutta called on all the civil society entities working on women’s rights to join the effort. She suggested BRAC should use the information on this website to develop a data bank to ensure more efficient support for survivors of violence.

NLASO deputy director Md Habibur Rahman Chowdhury assured that initiative will be taken to add details of all the government legal aid offices in different districts to this website. He emphasised the need to bring all the organisations working with survivors of violence under a single umbrella for success of this initiative.

BRAC executive director Asif Saleh said “This initiative will be truly successful only when people will get updated information from this site. But it’s not possible for BRAC only to entirely update it. It needs collaboration from all relevant stakeholders.” He urged all to not consider the website as an initiative solely of BRAC and to make their own contributions so that it becomes successful.

Jenefa Jabbar, director, Social Compliance and Safeguarding, BRAC, said her organisation will collaborate with the government and non-state actors at both the central and local levels to create a wider range of connectivity and referral linkage.

Taslima Yesmin, associate professor, Department. of Law at the University of Dhaka, and representatives from different organisations also attended the event. From BRAC, Tahmina Yesmin, safeguarding lead, Kollol Nag, Head of Platform under Technology Division, Taqbir Huda, advocacy lead for Communications and PVAW at Gender Justice and Diversity Programme, and Shashwatee Biplob, programme head, Social Empowerment and Legal Protection (SELP), were present, among others at the programme.

Change in social psyche must for disability inclusion

Ensuring rights and inclusion of the persons with disabilities is a formidable challenge towards achieving sustainable development. Tackling the challenge summons essential change in the pervasive negative social attitude and collaborative efforts from all including the government and non-governmental entities. Speakers expressed these views at a webinar organised by BRAC today on Tuesday.

The event was organised on the occasion of International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD) to be observed on 3 December. Mahfuza Akhtar, secretary, Ministry of Social Welfare, attended the webinar as chief guest with Sheikh Rafiqul Islam, director general, Department of Social Services, attending as special guest. Asif Saleh, executive director, BRAC, Shafiqul Islam, country director, ADD International, Valerie Taylor, founder, CRP, Dr Morseda Chowdhury, and Maria Huq, directors, BRAC, spoke as panel speakers at the webinar. Rafe Sadnan Adel, head, Media and External Relations, BRAC, moderated the discussion.

The organisers said one-tenth of the country’s total population are persons with different kind of physical and mental disabilities. The overwhelming majority of these people are absent from the mainstream development scenario of the country, mainly owing to different inclusion related issues. Formulation and effective execution of disability-friendly policies are essential to promote inclusion of persons with disabilities in the mainstream development activities and build a sustainable future for them. All have to come together to make it possible.

Asif Saleh, executive director, BRAC, said, “Ideas such as persons with disabilities are people with very limited capacities, or they should not be given higher responsibilities, are very common in our society. We must break these ideas through exemplary development initiatives for persons with disabilities.” There is a lot of scope to work in this area, ensuring the equal rights of the persons with disabilities as the disadvantaged group of our society, he added.

The government is firmly committed to ensure the rights of and opportunities for the persons with disabilities, said Mahfuza Akhtar, secretary, Ministry of Social Welfare. The persons with disabilities need to be motivated about their potentials to become successful and at the same time the society has to change its conventional mindset. Although the government has promulgated laws and rules to safeguard their rights and formed committees in the districts and upazilas, it is, however, not possible for the government to do all that is needed. Collaborative initiatives from the government and the private sectors are essential to bring effective changes, the secretary observed.

Sheikh Rafiqul Islam, director general, Department of Social Services, called on the entrepreneurs, industrialists and private sector employers to provide jobs to the persons with disabilities, besides taking initiatives to create opportunities for them as well as undertaking rehabilitation and skills development initiatives.

ADD International country director Shafiqul Islam said, “The laws of Bangladesh safeguard the right of the persons with disabilities to access employment and safeguard them against discriminatory practices. The government is legally and politically committed to the cause, but it is not possible for the government alone to implement those rights. It needs coordinated and active participation from the persons with disabilities and the organisations that work with them.”

Having highlighted the exemplary successes of persons with disabilities in their jobs, CRP founder Valerie Taylor viewed that changes are happening now. “But the changes need to be speedier and it would be great if we all can be stakeholders to bring the change.”

BRAC Human Resource Division director Maria Huq mentioned a range of measures undertaken by BRAC to establish a disability-friendly workplace, and said the organisation has set a target to appoint 900 persons with disabilities as its staff by 2025.

BRAC Health, Nutrition and Population Programme director Dr Morseda Chowdhury observed that initiatives to give soft skills training to persons with disabilities are still few in Bangladesh. Having stressed that measures should be taken for both soft and hard skills training for them, she called on all to take collaborative efforts to ensure equal opportunities for and dignity of the persons with disabilities at the workplace.

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.

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