Last week in Jakarta, Indonesia, HERproject partners from around the world gathered with more than 40 participants from Indonesian factories and NGOs and HERproject participating companies to discuss workplace women’s health solutions and kick off the initiative in the country. At the meeting, we shared HERproject impact stories and data from Bangladesh, China, Egypt, India, Pakistan, and Vietnam; explored challenges and solutions to workplace interventions; and discussed methods to sustain and replicate successful programs.

I've been managing HERproject for more than three years now, so I didn’t expect to leave Jakarta with many new ideas. And yet—as always happens when smart and passionate people with different perspectives gather together and share—the group discussions and conversations over meals pushed me to view some of our same challenges and approaches in different ways.

Some of my key takeaways were:

  • Factory (or other workplace) ownership of worker programs should be supported and included in the design phase of a successful program. To ensure this, ask the factory to design key performance indicators for the program, sign a memorandum of understanding outlining objectives and key roles and responsibilities, or let the factory give the program its own name and brand.
  • Factories should conduct their own needs assessments to ensure ownership of any workplace program. Almost all female factory workers will benefit from a women’s health awareness program, but maybe their need for a reliable and sanitary water supply or a safe and affordable bank account is more immediate. Instead of suggesting programs to participate in, leading brands should provide a needs-assessment template to factories and ask them to complete it and identify for which programs they would like financial support.
  • The “systems case” may be as or more important than the business case. During HERproject kick-off meetings, we always present the business case for participation (reduced absenteeism and turnover, increased productivity, etc.). After factory management gives us a nod of approval, they always ask detailed questions about time implications and training schedules. Last week it finally clicked: Nothing can have a business benefit in a factory if it isn’t systematized to the same minute detail that everything else is. Detailed systems are typically a common area of weakness for NGOs, and an area where BSR can hopefully help. Making the “systems case” stronger can also ensure the sustainability of a program long after NGO involvement ends.
  • Factories will often let programs die because they don’t have the materials or the knowledge base to keep it going. Building factory staff capacity in line with worker training programs and creating a suite of women’s health materials factories can use on their own are both critically important to sustaining and replicating HERproject and other successful programs.

I ended up leaving Jakarta armed with a full case of new ideas that we’ll apply to HERproject in the coming months, especially as we shape our new programs in Indonesia, Kenya, and beyond.