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Like An Apa (Big Sister), Bangladesh’s “By Women, For Women” App Is A Safe Space To Get Answers

Posted: March 17, 2019

Maya Apa, a personal digital assistant app, is giving Bangladeshi women and men, access to information about health, psycho-social services and legal help.

A graduate from University of Warwick in Finance and Economics, Ivy Huq Russell always had a passion for helping people. 8 years ago, pregnant with her first child, she realized the importance of having access to a reliable source of information about her body and pregnancy. She also observed that she could learn a lot from the experiences of other women.

The importance of access to information struck her even more deeply during and after her mother’s fight against cancer. “My mother was also recovering from cancer and was depressed, but refused to seek help as she was worried people she knew would see her in the waiting room,” she says.

So she started Maya, an information blog, in 2009. Later, she added a basic comments box –a question and answer platform called, Maya Apa Ki Bolen (Ask Sister Maya). “I routed the questions to my friends with relevant expertise. There are many issues women face in Bangladesh alone (domestic violence, mental health etc.), and I believed Maya could help solve these issues. Delivering this kind of service turned out to be the killer feature,” says Ivy.

Based on this success, in 2015, she partnered with BRAC, to launch ‘Maya Apa,’ an android-based mobile application, designed, developed, and implemented by female engineers, doctors, and entrepreneurs. Achia Khaleda Nila and Shubrami Moutushy Mou, who developed the app, believe this ‘one of a kind’ app is instrumental in empowering women through technology.

The way the app works is simple:

  1. Users ask questions anonymously through app, website or SMS and these questions are routed to their vetted expert network.
  2. The system detects nature of the question and matches it with relevant experts. They call their experts’ panel “Florence,” where the relevant expert logs into and starts answering queries. Each user’s personally identifiable information (PII) is kept secure through encryption. Experts are only able to view the user’s question history, to give them well-rounded and customised responses.
  3. The user finally rates the expert’s response which is then used for quality assurance, rigorous data analytics and coaching methods to continually improve service.

The anonymity feature allows people to ask questions about sensitive or taboo topics, without the fear of judgement. “One user question really stuck with me – a teenage girl had taken the morning-after pill and was bleeding and scared. Her mother was a gynaecologist but the girl couldn’t talk to her, and couldn’t go and see another doctor because they would tell her mother. To me, this really validated the idea behind Maya – a safe space where users can get advice, and we can give them directions to other resources or people who can help them,” Ivy points out.

While the app certainly helps women, it has many questions coming from men too, about their wife’s pregnancy, or about women’s lives or about the pressure on men of providing for their families.

Maya Apa was the first start up from Bangladesh to be selected for the 5th Google Launchpad Accelerator.

In Bangladesh, there are an estimated 3.05 physicians per 10,000 population and 1.07 nurses per 10,000 population. Health workers are concentrated in urban secondary and tertiary hospitals, although 70% of the population lives in rural areas. Mental health too is a highly neglected sector. Maya Apa is helping to bridge these gaps.

The theme of International Women’s Day, 2019, which falls on March 8th, is “Think equal, build smart, innovate for change”. #IWD2019

With women still a minority in science, technology & related innovation, it’s time to shine a spotlight on female innovation champions! Enjoy our Women Innovators Around The World series, where we profile 19 inspiring women innovators, from 19 countries, whose work has a big social impact.

Want to know what other innovations women around the world have pioneered? Read about Maysoun Odeh Gangat here.

Image source: YouTube

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Vijayalakshmi Harish is a book blogger and writer. To paraphrase her librarian, she is a

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