Ivy Huq Russell, a former hedge fund professional, founded Maya with a dream to empower women by giving them access to information and a shared community. She is the CEO of Maya. As an endeavor, Maya is exceptionally intriguing in a sense that it has a very compelling value proposition along with a realistic chance to change the way women/girls access information in Bangladesh. Its mission is simple -“Connect women to the information they are looking for, when they are looking for it”
Graduated from Warwick Business School in Finance and Economics, Ivy believes that her underlying passion for helping people has always been a constant in her life. It is because of this passion, she left the world of finance and embarked on a journey to help women in Bangladesh that have not ever been tried before, that is the journey of Maya. Although her background is in Finance Ivy is fascinated by the power of technology and how it can be harnessed to help better lives.
Maya is an initiative dedicated to empowering women through access to information and a shared community. Maya.com.bd began from her enthusiasm to help women in Bangladesh to learn & do the things that matter to them. Maya has been recognized by BRAC and now works in partnership with BRAC Gender Justice department, The New York Times, The Daily Star, Tedx, Social Good Summit, Radio Foorti, ATN and other organizations and media.
Today her venture Maya has recently won the Manthan Award in 2015 under the category of e-women and technology. The Manthan Award is an annual award for South Asia given in recognition of exceptional digital content creation. Maya has also won The Inspiring Women Award as leading Start up in June 2015.
It may be hard to imagine that even now, during the age of information, many people still suffer from having limited access to knowledge. This problem becomes even more alarming when the knowledge required deals with a health/ social issues and topics that are still taboo in our society. Seeing her mother suffer from breast cancer, a rare phenomenon in Bangladesh back then, Ivy saw first hand how little information there was for people in her situation. The seeds for Maya.com were thus planted. It was during her pregnancy, when the lack of information came back to haunt her again. As a first time mother, she experienced something new everyday but could not fathom as to where to turn. Doctors were helpful but most the questions she wanted to ask seemed taboo. That is when Ivy decided to come up with a platform to bridge the knowledge gap. However, her idea wasn’t merely dissemination of information. Rather she realized early on that Maya.com would have other more specific duties as well, especially providing a support system for those in need and at the same time connecting to experts. She wanted to create a community for people to talk about any issues openly and that is exactly what she did.
Maya.com, named after the founder’s mother, began as a one-stop information hub for women. During their formative years, the website mainly focused on providing pregnancy related content, focusing on the entire duration of a woman’s pregnancy, starting from before conception to delivery. Of course, medical issues aren’t Maya’s only concern. Maya has linked up with lawyers, adding them to their outside liaisons comprising of psychiatrists, gynaecologists, general physicians and many more. One of the main reasons for bringing lawyers into the equation was the lack of information people had regarding domestic abuse and unequal treatment, a very real yet hidden feature of every country in the world, be they the most developed or the least. Today Maya focuses not only health related information but anything that touches a women, be it legal, social, beauty, fitness. Early this year in 2015, Maya.com took a much more ambitious step. They opened up an anonymous online board for users to post their health related questions. This service was called “Maya Apa ki Bolen” and initially they began getting few questions or so per day. However, proving how needed the service was, word soon spread and the Maya.com team began handling over 40 questions. Their 48-hour reply policy became harder to meet but the team never faltered. The mobile app has a simple objective: Connecting women to experts in their own field and providing tailor made information when they need it.
The questions asked on maya apa app themselves provided a classic case-study into the areas of concern for the Bangladeshi population. Sex education was a topic thoroughly discussed frequently as users could freely ask questions being anonymous. While the website made sure the users remained anonymous at all times, people volunteered certain information, specially their age. A trend developed and it could be seen that most questions came from the 15-25 age group. Indeed, the lack of sex education in schools was evidently a glaring problem and Maya.com’s team of doctors answered each and every question, with as much accuracy as possible. As the theme of questions grew, so did the interest in the website. The fact that every answer to every question was tailour-made, without a single generic answer, the entire process became more personal. The doctors, legal experts and psucho social experts even followed up when required and the number of visitors to the website began to grow. While it started off as a women’s healthcare page, there was an influx of questions from men too, including husbands who began showing an earnest interest in being with their wives throughout the pregnancy. Along with addressing critical issues, Maya.com began changing the mind-set of the people too.
Maya has been featured in New Times and as the author says: With the “Maya Apa” mobile app and website, empowerment in Bangladesh is now not only downloadable, but something that women and girls can literally carry with them.