As part of our series of interviews with those carrying out sterling work in the employee wellbeing space, we were delighted to talk to Deborah Saberi from MSI Reproductive Choices. Deborah is the company’s Global Head of Learning, Development and Wellbeing and she shared her thoughts on how it has supported staff during the past couple of years, as well as how she looks after her own wellbeing.



SWW: You have such a huge role in employee wellbeing; from research and development, through to delivery of content, and a focus on supporting employees in an engaging and proactive way. How did this come about?

Deborah Saberi: I think, like many organisations, the Covid pandemic was a catalyst for change for MSI when it came to wellbeing. While we had been talking about health and wellbeing for a long time, the connection with workforce resilience was not front of mind for us. As an organisation I would say that a positive coming out of the last few years has been a shift to raising awareness about our team members’ mental health and more of a focus on wellbeing.  

To give you a little context for those who do not know us, MSI Reproductive Choices is a sexual and reproductive health social business working in 37 countries with our largest support office in London. During Covid generally anyone working in support offices has been working from home but many of our team members across the Partnership have continued to provide our essential services globally and therefore a large portion of our workforce have continued to work under really challenging conditions.

When the pandemic hit it was a natural process for me to shift my main focus from learning and development to ensuring we were prioritising team members’ wellbeing and mental health.


SWW: You have over 11,000 employees over 6 different continents, can you describe any other initiatives MSI is running as part of its global wellbeing strategy to promote, maintain and improve the health of team members?

DS: A key focus for us has been working to ensure that every region has a trained Mental Health First Aider who employees can reach out to for support.  I am really proud that since the pandemic began we have trained around 100 Mental Health First Aiders globally. It is important to us that those first aiders become a community that can support each other and share learning and we do this with voluntary drop-in sessions every two weeks and champion events every six months.  

We also put a lot of focus on Mental Health Awareness week each year to make it a global event and to promote connection across MSI. We would not be able to have a global wellbeing approach without the initiatives that happen at the country level and Mental Health Awareness provides an opportunity to share those initiatives and connect with team members across the MSI Partnership. Some of the highlights have been the MSI Global Wellbeing Challenge and dressing brightly for MSI.

The pandemic has also provided the opportunity for many wellbeing webinars/workshops to be truly global for us for the first time. My first role in that first week of Lockdown was to set up a Coronavirus Helpful Hub on our global intranet. This is a go to site where we have been posting links related to wellbeing but also posting dates of live events and all our recordings. Right at the beginning of lockdown it was the go-to place before other teams started to shift their ways of working at MSI.  

We then started to think about what programmes we could run that would be most relevant at the time.  The focus of these webinars was very much on trust, communication, change and wellbeing of team members. Other initiatives we have run included a Mindfulness series, various remote working sessions, introducing internal one to one CBT sessions, mini coaching sessions on wellbeing and of course sessions around mental health awareness and stress management. 


SWW: What was your favourite?

DS: I really enjoyed the Carer Coffee Breaks that we ran during lockdown when a lot of team members were homeschooling or had caring responsibilities. They were an opportunity to take 30 minutes every other week to chat to other caregivers, share tips and advice but most importantly have their kids with them if they wanted and not worry about interruptions! From a personal perspective, I was in the situation myself and valued the support on the calls. I also realised that just 30 minutes could have a huge positive impact on some of the attendees and sometimes all someone wanted was to join the call and feel really heard.


SWW: Since becoming Global Head of Learning, Development and Wellbeing, what has given you the most satisfaction?

DS: I love my job and feel lucky to be in a role that is so engaging and varied. What inspires me most is hearing the stories of the work our team members do every day to serve our clients, and the resilience and dedication they show every day. When Covid-19 started spreading at an increased rate, our team members had to rapidly adapt to continue to meet the needs of our clients. Despite the challenges, MSI staff across the global partnership demonstrated teamwork, ingenuity, and care for others in order to protect access to life-saving healthcare in the communities we serve.


SWW: When it comes to your own wellbeing, what are your non-negotiables / must do activities that you turn to, to maintain your wellbeing? 

DS: To maintain my wellbeing I definitely find talking to my friends, colleagues and family extremely helpful.  I am a natural worrier so I often find I can ruminate if I do not vocalise my concerns or question my inner critic! One of my favourite quotes I share in sessions is from Mark Twain who said, I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened”. I always try to remind myself of this and use tools such as the Circle of Influence or a short meditation if I am becoming stressed.  

Getting out of the house each day for at least twenty minutes is also non-negotiable. During lockdown I often overlooked this and quickly learnt how important it is for my own wellbeing. 


SWW: Finally, if you had to give one piece of advice to someone who wants to get involved in employee wellbeing at work, what would it be? 

DS: Working in wellbeing can be extremely rewarding and there are so many different aspects you can get involved in. I think if someone is interested in working in wellbeing the most important thing is to make that known. Suggest ideas and initiatives, offer to help with any wellbeing strategies or ask to be involved in wellbeing projects. I think a great starting point is also to become a Mental Health First Aider; by doing so you are not only helping individuals when they are struggling but you become a workplace wellbeing champion with lots of opportunities to promote mental health awareness, positive wellbeing and reduce stigma.