What is Maya?
Maya aims to become a positive mobile first & local brand that empowers women in Bangladesh from all walks of life. With App and Web as the platform, Maya aims to reach women both online and offline through multiple channels
Who is the founder of Maya?
The founder of Maya is Ivy Huq Russell.
Ivy Huq Russell is the founder of Maya. After becoming a mother for the first time, Ivy originally founded Maya in 2011 as a blog for mothers in Bangladesh. Through her personal journey she experienced first hand the challenges faced by women in Bangladesh when trying to access the information and advice they are looking for. These can range from geographic and financial barriers all the way to socio-cultural. After partnering with leading NGO, BRAC, the Maya service launched in Bangladesh in February 2015 with a clear mission to provide women with the information they are looking for, when they need it. Maya is an intuitive, anonymous messaging service that connects its users to qualified experts and each other. The service is available as a mobile app, on the web and has been growing rapidly with plans to expand to additional countries very soon.
What inspired you to start this service in Bangladesh? Why create it in Bangladesh? Describe the need.
In a country like Bangladesh, there are lots of barriers when it comes to asking for advice and these barriers range from social to financial, to geographical. E.g one might have to walk several miles to see a doctor and even when they do get to see a doctor, it costs them around $2 per visit when their monthly avg salary is around $13.
Topics like mental illness are even harder – only 1:1M psychiatrist to adult ratio and the topic itself is a major taboo.
Steps / Story
Spent time in Dhaka during pregnancy – no reliable source of local information (incl friends and family), increasingly turned to web
After Ameena was born – spent considerable amount of time in Dhaka as mother had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Set up Maya as a blog for women to share their knowledge
Friends helped out – articles were written by friends on topics that weren’t covered enough locally e.g. period, breastfeeding, depression
Early 2014 the idea of Maya was born – put a box on site “Ask Maya” and that snowballed – initially asked relevant friends to answer user queries. Figured out that what people really needed was this kind of impartial, stigma-free, accessible space to ask questions.
Pitched a mobile-first, anonymous counseling service – lots of rejections, but the amazing NGO, BRAC supported us since July 2014
Why is called Maya?
Maya is Ivy’s mother’s name and her fight with breast cancer and her personal journey while pregnant with Ivy’s daughter is what inspired me to start Maya.
Who is Maya’s target audience?
Maya is intended to be a mainstream service, available for everyone.
Our focus is on Bangladesh right now
A lot of what we do is targeting women, esp young women, given our story and that women are often most in need.
Who are Maya’s Partner’s?
Maya has been partnering with BRAC, through its Gender Justice and Diversity department, since summer 2014. They are the ideal partner for us, offering us the financial support we need to build our service. Moreover, they have unrivaled expertise in the development space and offer amazing reach for the service, helping us bridge the digital divide.
Maya’s service “Maya Ki Bole” quickly has gained trust among a wide range of users both in and out of Dhaka, the Maya team is well aware of the vast majority of people in Bangladesh who remain at the periphery of the online spaces. To better reach these offline communities, to tap into these important dialogues, concerns, and issues, to ensure non-judgmental approach to dispel stigmatization, BRAC’s Gender Justice and Diversity team partnered with Maya to better serve the women of Bangladesh.
With BRAC’s extensive outreach throughout the country, leading innovations in areas of health, education, women’s empowerment, rural and urban development, disaster management, and most importantly community mobilization, this unique partnership with Maya aims to capture the rich data from all BRAC staff and beneficiaries to better understand and address gaps that remain in gender inequalities in Bangladesh. With the support of BRAC, the Maya site will become the one-stop-online space for women of Bangladesh, providing them with solution-oriented information. From pregnancy to gender based violence, from childcare to career enhancement, from healthy living to women’s rights, BRAC-Maya site will address all topics, contextualized to the realities of that of Bangladesh.
More so, with BRAC’s support, Maya will enhance its greatest strength – non-judgmental peer to peer learning. Stigma is one of the main obstacles for women and young girls from sharing their experiences especially on issues such as violence and abuse. With online anonymity and confidentiality, women are seen to have less reservations to express their concerns. A true digital bridging can be seen with BRAC’s e-learning centers and extensive community workers bringing technology to the communities, powered with Maya’s website and features. BRAC-Maya partnership envisions to take ground level realities and challenges and turn them into opportunities with applicable and affordable technology to bring about a greater equality and equity for women in Bangladesh.
Facebook’s Internet.org initiative – Free Basics
What is Free Basics? What does it do?
Free basics by FB provides people with access to useful services on their mobile phones in markets where internet access is less affordable.The websites are available for free without data charges and include content on things like like news, employment, health and education and local information
Why did you want to join Free Basics?
We saw this is an important distribution channel to help us build our user base among a larger population outside of the “higher tier” smartphone and desktop internet users we had primarily reached at the time.
With Free Basics, how do you see the reach and usage of Maya changing?
For FreeBasics, we provide a very clean experience of Maya, centred around the Maya service, with some daily relevant content updates
Through FreeBasics, we receive about 50% of our usage, so its a very important channel for us. We intend to invest further in the platform to engage our users more and expand our base further
When it launched in Bangladesh (summer 2015), it really boosted the Maya service and within a couple of months grew usage 18x
Right now, Free Basics makes up about 50% of our total user base and 35% of all questions of the Maya service.
Why is Free Basics important? Why is it good for the Bangladeshi society? Why is it good for your users?
Data costs in Bangladesh are still quite high, roughly the equivalent of $3 per GB, so enabling access to the web ( with helpful content) for free is a good thing in my opinion
Its helped services like ours expand our footprint and improve what we have to offer as a result, which in turn we believe in its own small way, is benefitting society
How does Free Basics enable your organization to reach your goals? To do more good? To reach people you could never reach before?
Grow our audience, reaching those with feature phones and with challenges affording data plans
Tools to optimize our service
Before Maya existed, how might a young woman (or young man) get answers to their questions?
As of now, for instance, when a young mother seeks out advice on a topic like breastfeeding (from my own experience – often a v challenging process!), they can resort to Google (and sites like Babycentre), social media, go to their close friends/family or find an expert.
Google/websites/blogs can provide excellent reference-able information, but this is not personalized.
Social media is not private and lacks the 1-to-1 aspect
and similarly, friends and family may not be accessible (e.g. is everyone comfortable talking about their personal situations with their family? Are they available at 3 in the morning?) and can often offer up bad advice, which is not unusual in Bangladesh
What can a user do on Maya that they might not be able to elsewhere?
1) Its not always easy asking for help and advice, especially in developing countries –
Moreover, even when one is ready to get help, there are many barriers. I see Companies in this region are under-playing the scope simple messaging applications that cuould totally overcome these barriers.
2) It needs to be a dialogue, not a one-way conversation –
Simply pushing out SMSes, although super scalable, is not the solution. Turning to Google, an amazing source of information, is also not always the solution particularly as information isn’t validated at an individual level. Users turning to Maya want to know that someone is responding to their unique problem.
3) Efficiency is critical to drive sustainability – (why maya worked so well)
In order to meet the demand and maintain efficiencies, traditional models of recruiting/managing experts (e.g. like in clinics, call centres) will not work. A more real-time demand-supply model, like uber, is the way to scale efficiently and what we are focusing on at Maya. Related to this, introducing the feedback loop through a rating system could be a game changer in this space.
Knowledge Partners of Maya
Maya has knowledge partnership with diverse sets of local and international organizations. Here are some of Maya’s knowledge partners:
JPG BRAC School of Public Health
University of Amsterdam
Who are behind Maya?
Behind Maya is a dedicated team of experts answering your questions. Maya’s experts are Certified Doctors; Advocates and Psycho-social Counsellors who are skilled in handling your medical, social or legal concerns.
How do I apply at Maya?
To apply at MAYA.COM.BD, send a cover letter with a subject and your CV to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Visit the Career section of our website to know more about our job openings.
Please check the list of opened jobs and also read the instructions here before applying.
How do I partner with Maya?
Maya is always looking for mutually beneficial partnerships and actively collaborates with various organizations. To establish a partnership with Maya, email at email@example.com
Can I contact Maya by phone?
Maya does not provide service through phone. However, we can be easily reached through email (firstname.lastname@example.org) and also through facebook.