Opening opportunities by changing attitudes

Our i2i project looks to improve employment opportunities for people with disabilities. Learn about how the work we do with Bangladesh Business and Disability Network is helping organisations like Unilever to become more inclusive.

A man speaking with the text "Let's build a disability inclusive workforce in Bangladesh"

Many companies want to provide inclusive and accessible workplaces, but knowing what to do can be difficult.

Our Innovation to Inclusion (i2i) project, funded by UK Aid Fund, looks to improve employment opportunities for people with disabilities.

The programme sees companies like Unilever as critical partners in achieving this goal. It also recognises the private sector’s potential is often overlooked.

Changing the narrative

Murteza Khan leads the Bangladesh Business and Disability Network (BBDN). BBDN was set up to involve the private sector in conversations about disability and employment. But, he says: ‘It has always been looked at either as a charity, welfare or medical issue. It’s not necessarily as an employment-driven issue.’

i2i works with BBDN members and other companies to alter this narrative. This is a welcome change for many in the private sector. ‘The key thing resonating now with employers is this shift from charity towards talking about skills and creating an enabling environment,’ says Murteza.

Meet Joshiah Sangma

In 2020, Unilever advertised to fill a marketing internship for their PureIt brand. Joshiah Sangma was a perfect fit for the position and their company.

Joshiah, 25, has a Masters in Sanskrit Literature and a proven record of advocating on behalf of others with physical disabilities. He had also already demonstrated his aptitude for creating compelling communications. So it is unsurprising he is a valued member of his team.

Joshiah has lived with Osteogenesis Imperfecta since birth and uses a wheelchair. But, this has no impact on his ability to do his job. He says: ‘I’m a confident person to do any work. I don’t need sympathy.’

Joshiah’s employer Unilever is a prominent member of BBDN. Sibat Nuhas is the company’s Diversity and Inclusion Manager. ‘There are countless bright people with disabilities,’ she says. ‘If they get the appropriate opportunity then they can be successful.’

Meeting individual needs

BBDN offers opportunities for its growing network of employers to share experiences. ‘Networking is key in the sense of the private sector understanding that the good practices are actually being rolled out at the local level,’ says Murteza Khan. ‘It can really inspire change from a big force in society, which is business and the private sector.’

There are some encouraging examples of good practice within the network. An example would be Joshiah’s employer Unilever, who have made significant changes to their physical environment. Unilever also promote positive attitudes through awareness-raising activities for all staff. Unilever’s Sibat Nuhas says: ‘There were some proud moments during these sessions as the trainer himself was a disabled person.’

For Joshiah, it is the quality of his work and not his disability that makes him stand out. ‘Sometimes what happens is people try to be a bit sympathetic so they don’t treat you like a normal person,’ says Joshiah. ‘It’s something I face in everyday life, but I haven’t faced that in my workplace.’

Unilever is challenging the assumption that making a workplace more inclusive must be expensive. They show that being flexible for all employees, particularly those with disabilities is a good investment. Through i2i’s work, it is one more and more employers across Bangladesh are willing to make.