One day suddenly she made the decision to come up with the first ever women focused online based application in Bangladesh where women users could connect and find answers to all queries related to health and social issues and many other things – that was the day when www.maya.com.bd was invented in short “Maya Apa”
She is none other than Ivy Huq Russell who, undoubtedly is one of the forerunners of young women entrepreneurs in Bangladesh. She is full of innovative ideas and has a business mind to achieve something unique and great everyday.
On Woman’s Day, we are celebrating woman power and of course Ivy makes one of those women who had just not made difference in their own lives but also to many others. A true inspiration for many young ladies in Bangladesh, this woman apart from being a successful entrepreneur is also a fabulous mother to a beautiful daughter.
1.What is “Maya Apa” all about?
Maya apa is simple Anonymous messaging service connecting users to professional experts in various fields. We are re-inventing the way people get counselling particularly women in Bangladesh. People get access to trained experts 24/7 at the comfort of their homes. In Bangladesh where patient to doctors ration is 4000:1 – using maya apa means No queue, No appointments needed, no judgement.
2. How Did Maya happen to you?
I almost stumbled upon the idea of Maya as a result of my personal journey while being pregnant with my first child and soon after finding out about my mum being diagnosed with breast cancer. I first started Maya in 2009, soon after I had my first child,as a blog to start gathering/creating/sharing female-oriented content in Bangladesh. I found there to be a massive gap between the information/knowledge women needed in a country like Bangladesh, and how they could access it. The goal then was to provide high quality, locally relevant content to women, mostly mothers.
Our site was very bare bones, and on a whim, I added a very basic comments box on the homepage with the call to action, “ask Maya Apa anything”. We started to get a few queries every day, and this eventually led to us responding to 15-30 questions a day. I was routing these question to my friends who had relevant expertise. We realized quickly that this was the “killer feature” and in 2014, Maya pivoted to focus primarily on the “Maya Apa” service.
3.Does Maya in anyways supports any rural development cause of Bangladesh? If then we would like to hear about it.
Maya Apa is accessible through app, web and m-site through low end feature phones. We get hundreds of ‘written’ and ‘voice’ questions coming from low end feature phones. By demand. we have integrated the “what app” like voice feature which enable our user to record their questions when they are unable to type them. This has really helped our users in the remotest areas to reach to maya for any questions they may have. In countries like Bangladesh, where there are many barriers, (like cost, geographic, taboo) to accessing reliable advice (particularly for women), Maya provides an easy-to-use service where users ask questions anonymously. Queries are then routed to a vetted network of experts (doctors, lawyers, therapists etc.) through a real-time, uber-like backend.
4.Was it difficult to convince people to invest in your plan?
Maya Apa is truly a “global first” concept, product and service. It is definitely the first of its kind in Bangladesh. It has been very difficult to convince people about the concept of maya because no one has seen anything like this. BRAC, the largest NGO in the world gave Maya a grant and it took them close to 3 years to buy into the idea but once they have – the metrics that maya provides blows everything out the water.
5.What do you have to say for future women entrepreneurs who face difficulties in being a woman every day?
I think women need to put themselves out there more and if you are confident, communicate and most importantly if your product is good then half of the battle is won. The other half is execution of your dream, your plan, your promise. On the other side I think there are some external factors that slow down women for instance, social pressures to look a certain way, family responsibilities, and the fact that women want to give in before they have to.
6.What is Womanhood to you?
Womanhood is big, giving, patient, tolerable, determined, and deep. I am hugely proud to be a woman and I am lucky to have a daughter who hopefully will grow into a beautiful women inside and outside. I am open, tenacious, aggressively determined, giving.
7.To you – What is the future of Women entrepreneurs in Bangladesh?
It’s full of promises. And as with any nation men need to support for women to move forward. And that support starts straight at home. I feel I have a village of people supporting me: husband, mum, sister…. I am very lucky and fortunate.
The ecosystem of start-ups have been evolving rapidly for the last several years in Bangladesh and now is the time for women to leap forward and come out with all their ideas and make them into reality. It’s very much possible. Women in BD need to have a leap of faith in themselves and start their venture.