A new report says millions of dollars in wages have been withheld from garment workers around the world by factories contracted by major fashion brands.
The country has a grim history of deadly disasters on its heavily trafficked rivers.
The blaze at a refugee camp in Bangladesh left at least 15 people dead and hundreds missing. “This is the second time I lost everything in my life,” said one person whose home was destroyed.
They escaped traumatic circumstances in Myanmar and now live in harsh conditions. But refugees are creating murals drawn from their flourishing cultural traditions, reborn in Bangladesh camps.
Tashnuva Anan Shishir’s triumphant moment came after a long fight for equality that included harassment, bullying and suicide attempts.
As that nation turns 50, its surprising success offers lessons about investing in the most marginalized.
The death of Mushtaq Ahmed has renewed alarm about the country’s use of a draconian digital security law to crack down on dissent.
Based in Bangladesh, Maya is dedicated to making it easier for women to get healthcare, especially for sensitive issues like reproductive and mental health. The startup announced today it has raised $2.2 million in seed funding. The round, which Maya said is the largest raised by a Bangladeshi health tech company so far, was led by early-stage fund Anchorless Bangladesh and The Osiris Group, a private equity firm focused on impact investing in Asian markets.
The funding will be used to introduce new products to Maya’s telehealth platform and expand into more countries. Maya recently launched in Sri Lanka and plans to expand into India, Pakistan, Middle Eastern markets and Indonesia.
Maya uses natural language processing and machine learning technology for its digital assistant, which answers basic health-related questions and decides if users need to be routed to human experts. It has about 10 million unique users and currently counts more than 300 licensed healthcare providers on its platform.
Founder and chief executive officer Ivy Huq Russell, who grew up in Chittagong and Dhaka before moving to the United Kingdom for university, started Maya as a blog with healthcare information in 2011. At the time, Russell worked in finance. She had just given birth to her first child and her mother had recently been diagnosed with breast cancer. Russell told TechCrunch she realized how many challenges there were to seeking medical care in Bangladesh, including financial barriers, a shortage of providers and long travel times to clinics.
She began Maya with the goal of providing trustworthy health information, but quickly realized that the site’s visitors needed more support. Many sent messages through WhatsApp, email or the site’s chat box, including survivors of sexual abuse, rape and domestic violence. After receiving a grant from BRAC, a Bangladeshi non-governmental organization, Maya’s team began developing an app to connect users with medical information and experts.
“We were very focused on two things,” Russell said. “One is how do we built trust in our community, in their language, because it’s very important that they communicate in the language that they’re comfortable using. At the same time, we realized as soon as we started getting hundreds and hundreds of questions, that we’re not going to be able to scale up if we just have 50 experts on computers typing.”
To support Bengali and regional dialects, Maya spent more than two years focused on developing its natural language processing technology. It collaborated with data scientists and linguists and took part in Google Launchpad’s accelerator program, working on tokenization and training its machine learning algorithms. Now Maya is able to provide automated answers in Bengali to basic questions in 50 topics with about 95% accuracy, Russell said. Out of the four million queries the platform has handled so far, about half were answered by its AI tech.
Many have to do with sexual or reproductive health and the platform has also seen an increase in questions about mental health. These are topics users are often hesitant seeking in-person consultations for.
“Growing up in Bangladesh, we got minimum sexual education. There’s no curriculum at school. Recently in the last one or two years, we’ve also started to see a lot of mental health questions, because I think we’ve made a good drive toward talking about mental health,” said Russell. She added, “it’s quite natural that whatever they couldn’t go and ask a question about very openly in traditional healthcare systems, they come and ask us.”
More consultations are coming from men, too, who now make up about 30% of Maya’s users. Many ask questions about birth control and family planning, or how to support their partners’ medical issues. To protect users’ privacy, consultations are end-to-end encrypted, and experts only see a randomly-generated ID instead of personal information.
In order to understand if someone needs to be routed to a human expert, Maya’s algorithms considers the length, complexity and urgency of queries, based on their tone. For example, if someone types “please, please, please help me,” they automatically get directed to a person. The majority of questions about mental health are also sent to an expert.
Russell said Maya’s approach is to take a holistic approach to physical health and mental wellness, instead of treating them as separate issues.
“People don’t just ask about physical health issues. They also ask things like, ‘I wear a hijab and I want to go for a run, but I feel really awkward,’” said Russell. “It sounds like a very normal question, but it’s actually quite a loaded question, because it’s affecting their mental health on a day-to-day basis.”
One of the company’s goals is to make the app feel accessible, so people feel more comfortable seeking support. “We’ve literally have had sweets delivered to our office when a user has a baby,” Russell said. “These are the personal touches that I think Maya has delivered in terms of dealing with both physical as well as mental health conditions combined together.”
The company is currently working with different monetization models. One is business-to-business sales, positioning Maya as a software-as-a-service platform that employers can offer to workers as a benefit. Garment manufacturing is one of Bangladesh’s biggest export sectors, and many workers are young women, fitting Maya’s typical user profile. The startup has worked with Marks and Spencer, Primark and the Bangladesh Garments Manufacturer and Exporters Association (BGMEA).
Another B2B route is partnering with insurance providers who offer Maya as a benefit. On the direct-to-consumer side, Maya recently launched premium services, including in-app video consultations and prescription delivery. Demand for consultations increased sharply during the COVID-19 pandemic, and it now handles about 300,000 video visits a month. Russell expects many users to continue using telehealth services even after the pandemic subsides.
“They’ve really seen the advantage of just having a doctor right in front of you,” she said. “For people with chronic conditions, it’s easier because they don’t have to go somewhere every week, and the fact they have monitoring and their history gathered is helpful for regular users, too.”
The blaze comes as officials in Bangladesh look for longer-term solutions for the refugees from Myanmar, who fled anti-Muslim violence.
Moderna, the biotech company behind one of the two mRNA-based vaccines currently being rolled out globally to stem the tide of COVID-19, has announced that it will purse development programs around three new vaccine candidates in 2021. These include potential vaccines for HIV, seasonal flu and the Nipah virus. Moderna’s development and clinical trial of its COVID-19 vaccine is among the fastest in history, and thus far its results have been very promising, buoying hopes for the efficacy of other preventative treatments being generated using this technology which is new to human clinical use.
An mRNA vaccine differs from typical, historical vaccines because it involves providing a person with just a set of instructions on how to build specific proteins that will trigger a body’s natural defenses. The mRNA instructions, which are temporary and do not affect a person’s actual DNA, simply prompt the body’s cells to produce proteins that mirror those used by a virus to attach to and infect cells. The independent proteins are then fought off by a person’s natural immune response, which provides a lasting lesson in how to fight off any future proteins that match that profile, including those which help viruses attach to and infect people.
Moderna’s new programs will target not only seasonal flu, but also a combinatory vaccine that could target both the regular flu and SARS-CoV-2, the virus that leads to COVID-19. The HIV candidate, which is developed in collaboration with both the AIDS Vaccine Initiative and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is expected to enter into Phase 1 trials this year, as will the flue face. Nipah virus is a highly lethal illness that can cause respiratory and neurological symptoms, and which is particularly a threat in India, Bangladesh, Malaysia and Singapore.
mRNA-based vaccines have long held potential for future vaccine development, in part because of their flexibility and programmability, and in part because they don’t use any active or dormant virus, which reduces their risks in terms of causing any direct infections up front. The COVID-19 pandemic spurred significant investment and regulatory/health and safety investment into the technology, paving the way for its use in other areas, including these new vaccine candidate trials by Moderna.
In New York City, 142,000 children are learning English in school. Online classes are especially challenging for them.
Noor and Aziz are Rohingya Muppets who will feature in educational programming that will be shown in refugee camps.
More than a million Rohingya Muslims have fled atrocities in Myanmar for tent cities in Bangladesh. Some are now being taken to a low-slung landmass in the Bay of Bengal.
Abortion drugs administered as early as 28 days after a woman’s last period can offer comfort in uncertainty to those who want it.
While the French have supported their government’s crackdown, it has opened the country to criticism that its complicated relationship with French Muslims has taken an ugly turn.
A startup that is aiming to digitize millions of neighborhood stores in Bangladesh just raised the country’s largest Series A financing round.
Dhaka-headquartered ShopUp said on Tuesday it has raised $22.5 million in a round co-led by Sequoia Capital India and Flourish Ventures. For both the venture firms, this is the first time they are backing a Bangladeshi startup. Veon Ventures, Speedinvest, and Lonsdale Capital also participated in the four-year-old ShopUp’s Series A financing round. ShopUp has raised about $28 million to date.
Like its neighboring nation, India, more than 95% of all retail in Bangladesh goes through neighborhood stores in the country. There are about 4.5 million such mom-and-pop stores in the country and the vast majority of them have no digital presence.
ShopUp is attempting to change that. It has built what it calls a full-stack business-to-business commerce platform. It provides three core services to neighborhood stores: a wholesale marketplace to secure inventory, logistics (including last mile delivery to customers), and working capital, explained Afeef Zaman, co-founder and chief executive of ShopUp, in an interview with TechCrunch.
These small shops are facing a number of challenges. They are not getting inventory on time or enough inventory and they are paying more than what they should, said Zaman. And for these businesses, more than 73% (PDF) of all their sales rely on credit instead of cash or digital payments, creating a massive liquidity crunch. So most of these businesses are in dire need of working capital.
Zaman declined to reveal how many mom-and-pop shops today use ShopUp, but claimed that the platform assumes a clear lead in its category in the country. That lead has widened amid the global pandemic as more physical shops explore digital offerings to stay afloat, he said.
The number of neighborhood shops transacting weekly on the ShopUp platform grew by 8.5 times between April and August this year, he said. The pandemic also helped ShopUp engage with e-commerce players to deliver items for them.
“Sequoia India has been a strong supporter of the company since it was part of the first Surge cohort in early 2019 and it’s been exciting to see the company become a trailblazer facilitating digital transformation in Bangladesh,” said Klaus Wang, VP, Sequoia Capital, in a statement.
The startup has no intention to become an e-commerce platform like Amazon that directly engages with consumers, Zaman said. E-commerce is still in its nascent stage in Bangladesh. Amazon has yet to enter the country and increasingly Facebook is filling that role.
ShopUp sees immense opportunity in serving neighborhood stores, he said. The startup plans to deploy the fresh capital to deepen its partnerships with manufacturers and expand its tech infrastructure.
It opened an office in Bengaluru earlier this year to hire local tech talent in the nation. Indian e-commerce platform Voonik merged with ShopUp this year and both of its co-founders have joined the Bangladeshi startup. Zaman said the startup will hire more engineering talent in India.
Girls and young women from refugee camps in Bangladesh, promised to men they have never met, are undertaking the dangerous journey to Malaysia to join them.
With pledges of a coronavirus vaccine, China is on a charm offensive to repair strained diplomatic ties and bolster engagement with other countries.
Dozens of worshipers were severely burned in the blast on Friday night just outside Dhaka.
India, the world’s second most populated nation, sees more than 20% of the global flood-related fatalities each year as overrun riverbanks sweep tens of thousands of homes with them. Two years ago, Google volunteered to help.
In 2018, the company began its flood forecasting pilot initiative in Patna — the capital of the Indian state of Bihar, which has historically been the most flood-prone region in the nation with over 100 fatalities each year — to provide accurate real-time flood forecasting information to people in the region.
The company’s AI model analyzes historical flood data gleaned from several river basins in different parts of the world to make accurate prediction for any river basin.
For this project, Google has not worked in isolation. Instead, it has collaborated with India’s Central Water Commission, Israel Institute of Technology, and Bar-Ilan University. It also works with the Indian government to improve how New Delhi collects data on water levels. They have installed new, electronic sensors that automatically transmit data to water authorities.
Thrilled by the initial results, two years later, Google’s Flood Forecasting Initiative now covers all of India, Google announced on Tuesday.
The company also said it has partnered with the Water Development Board of Bangladesh, which sees more floods than any other country in the world, to expand its initiative to parts of India’s neighboring nation. This is the first time Google is bringing Flood Forecasting Initiative outside of India.
Part of the job is to deliver this potentially life-changing information to people. In India, the company said it has sent out more tthan 30 million notifications to date in flood-affected areas. It says its initiative can help better protect more than 200 million people across more than 250,000 square kilometers (96,525 square miles). In Bangladesh, Google’s model is able to cover more than 40 million people and the company is working to extend this to the whole nation.
“We’re providing people with information about flood depth: when and how much flood waters are likely to rise. And in areas where we can produce depth maps throughout the floodplain, we’re sharing information about depth in the user’s village or area,” wrote Yossi Matias, VP of Engineering and Crisis Response Lead at Google.
Along the way, the company said it worked with Yale and found that there was room for more improvement.
This year, Google said it overhauled the way its alerts look and function to make it more accessible to people. It also added support for Hindi, Bengali, and seven other locaal languages, and further customized the messaging in the alerts. It has also rolled out a new forecasting model that doubles the warning time of many of its alerts.
Moving forward, the company said its charitable arm Google.org has started a collaboration with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies to build local networks and deliver alerts to people who otherwise wouldn’t receive smartphone alerts directly.
“There’s much more work ahead to strengthen the systems that so many vulnerable people rely on—and expand them to reach more people in flood-affected areas. Along with our partners around the world, we will continue developing, maintaining and improving technologies and digital tools to help protect communities and save lives,” wrote Matias.
Google said on Wednesday it has expanded its jobs app, called Kormo Jobs, to India as the Search giant looks to offer a helping hand to millions looking for entry-level roles and further displace Microsoft’s LinkedIn relevance in the world’s second largest internet market.
The company first launched Kormo Jobs in Bangladesh in 2018 and expanded it to Indonesia last year. Also last year, Google made Kormo available in India under the brand Jobs as a Spot on Google Pay app.
Since making Jobs available as a Spot, Google says a number of companies including Zomato and Dunzo — a Bangalore-based startup it has invested in — have posted over 2 million verified jobs on the platform.
Google said today it is rebranding Jobs Spot on Google Pay as Kormo Jobs in India and also making its standalone Android app available in one of its key overseas markets.
In addition to helping users identify open calls for entry-level roles, Kormo Jobs app is also designed to help them learn new skills, and easily create a CV.
Bickey Russell, Regional Manager and Operations Lead at Kormo Jobs, said the company will continue to invest in bringing new features and jobs to the app in the future.
“In the wake of the pandemic, the jobs landscape stands altered, with demand shifting to new services that require different sets of skills and experience. Businesses of all sizes face the challenges of the new normal, while job seekers are having to adapt to this shift quickly,” wrote Russell in a blog.
“We are heartened to be able to play a helpful role in facilitating connections to impact lives for the better, including introducing important features like remote interviewing earlier this year to ensure social distancing,” he added.
The move further illustrates Google’s growing interest in courting a big slice of the job-related search-queries. The company launched a jobs search search engine in 2017 in the U.S., which it has expanded to several markets since. Earlier this month, it rolled out a virtual visiting card feature in India.
Google’s push into this category stands to hurt LinkedIn, which does not have a strong presence in emerging markets. In India, for instance, LinkedIn had about 24 million monthly active users on Android in the month of July, according to App Annie, up from about 22 million during the same period a year ago. Google reaches about 400 million users in India.
The country’s latest calamity illustrates a striking inequity of our time: The people least responsible for climate change are among those most hurt by its consequences.
As the pandemic destroys paychecks, migrant workers are sending less money home, threatening an increase in poverty from South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa to Eastern Europe and Latin America.
Bangladesh’s regulator has ordered telecom operators and other internet providers in the nation to stop providing free access to social media services, becoming the latest market in Asia to take a partial stand against zero-rating deals.
Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission, the local regulator, said late last week that it had moved to take this decision because free usage of social media services had spurred their misuse by some people to commit crimes. Local outlet Business Standard first reported about the development. Bangladesh is one of the largest internet markets in Asia with more than 100 million online users.
Technology companies such as Facebook and Twitter have struck partnerships, more popularly known as zero rating deals, with telecom operators and other internet providers in several markets in the past decade to make their services free to users to accelerate growth. Typically, tech companies bankroll the cost of data consumption of users as part of these deals.
In Bangladesh, such zero rating deals have been popular for several years, said Ahad, chief executive of Bongo, an on-demand streaming service, in an interview with TechCrunch.
Grameenphone and Robi Axiata, two of the largest telecom operators in Bangladesh, enable their mobile subscribers to access a handful of services of their partners even when their phones have run out of credit. Both telecom firms have said they are in the process to comply with Dhaka’s order.
It remains unclear whether Free Basics, a program run by Facebook in dozens of markets through which it offers unlimited access to select services at no cost, will continue its presence in Bangladesh after the nation’s order. Facebook relies on telecom networks to offer data access for its Free Basics program.
In Bangladesh, Facebook struck deals with Grameenphone and Robi Axiata, according to its official website, where Facebook continues to identify Bangladesh among dozens of markets where Free Basics is operational.
Several nations in recent years have balked at zero rating arrangements — though they have often cited different reasons. India banned Free Basics in early 2016 on the grounds that Facebook’s initiative was violating the principles of net neutrality.
Free Basics also ended its program in Myanmar and several other markets in 2017 and 2018. Facebook did not respond to requests for comment.
Mr. Saleh, 33, was found dismembered and decapitated inside his Manhattan apartment.
A hospital owner was arrested trying to flee in disguise after selling certificates saying that migrant workers were coronavirus-free. Most were never tested.
Fahim Saleh, 33, was followed into his luxury Manhattan condo by a man dressed all in black, the official said.
Flooding in Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Myanmar and Nepal has killed scores of people, destroyed homes and structures, drowned entire villages, and forced many to crouch on rooftops hoping for rescue.
How to combat Covid-19 in a developing economy.
A sprawling 645,000-square-meter data facility is going up on the top of the world to power data exchange between China and its neighboring countries in South Asia.
The cloud computing and data center, perched on the plateau city Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, and developed by private tech firm Ningsuan Technologies, has entered pilot operation as it announced the completion of the first construction phase, China’s state news agency Xinhua reported (in Chinese) on Sunday.
Northeast of the Himalayas, Tibet was incorporated as an autonomous region of China in 1950. Over the decades, the Chinese government has been grappling with demand from many Tibetans for more religious freedom and human rights in one of its most critical regions for national security.
The plateau is now a bridge for China to South Asia under the Belt and Road Initiative, Beijing’s ambitious global infrastructure project. Ningsuan, a Tibet-headquartered company with data control centers in Beijing and research teams in Nanjing, is betting on the increasing trade and investment activity between China and India, Nepal, Bangladesh and other countries that are part of the BRI.
This generates the need for robust IT infrastructure in the region to support data transmission, Hu Xiao, Ningsuan’s general manager, contended in a previous media interview.
While hot days and spotty power supply in certain South Asian regions incur higher costs for running data centers, Tibet, like the more established data hub in Guizhou province, is a natural data haven thanks to its temperate climate and low average temperature that are ideal for keeping servers cool.
Construction of the Lhasa data center began in 2017 and is scheduled for completion around 2025 or 2026, a grand investment that will total almost 12 billion yuan or $1.69 billion. The cloud facility is estimated to generate 10 billion yuan in revenue each year when it goes into full operation.
Alibaba has skin in the game as well. In 2018, the Chinese e-commerce giant, which has a growing cloud computing business, sealed an agreement (in Chinese) with Ningsuan to bring cloud services to industries in the Tibetan region that span electricity supply, finance, national security, government affairs, public security, to cyberspace.
As the West settles into a grinding battle with the disease, the virus surges across the Middle East, Africa, Latin America and South Asia.
Vaccinations worldwide have dropped as the fight against the coronavirus continues.
Extreme weather presents an even bigger threat when economies are crashing and ordinary people are stretched to their limits.
The worst damage was reported in the Indian state of West Bengal, home to the metropolis Kolkata and many small, coastal villages.
Facebook has rolled out a new safety feature in India that will enable users to easily lock their account so that people they are not friends with on the platform cannot view their posts and zoom into and download their profile picture and cover photo.
The feature is especially aimed at women to give them more control over their Facebook experience, the company said. “We are deeply aware of the concerns people in India, particularly women, have about protecting their online profile,” said Ankhi Das, Public Policy Director at Facebook India, in a statement.
Locking the profile applies multiple existing privacy settings and several new measures to a user’s Facebook profile in a few taps, the company said. Once a user has locked their account, people they are not friends with will no longer be able to see photos and posts — both historic and new — and zoom into, share, and download profile pictures and cover photos.
“We have often heard from young girls that they are hesitant to share about themselves online and are intimidated by the idea of someone misusing their information. I am very happy to see that Facebook is making efforts to learn about their concerns and building products that can give them the experience they want. This new safety feature will give women, especially young girls a chance to express themselves freely,” said Ranjana Kumari, Director at New Delhi-based women advocacy group Centre for Social Research, in a statement.
A user can lock the account by tapping on More under their name, then tapping the Lock Profile button and the confirmation button that prompts afterward.
Prior to Thursday’s announcement, this feature was available to users in Bangladesh, a Facebook spokesperson told TechCrunch.
The new feature appears to be an extension of a similar effort Facebook made in 2017 in India to combat catfishing. That feature, called Profile Picture Guard, allowed users to protect their profile picture from being zoomed into and shared by their friends and those not in the friend list.
The storm is hitting a starkly vulnerable and densely populated region that is still under coronavirus lockdown.
Millions fled, and several deaths have been reported, but for the moment, at least, residents say it appears it could have been much worse.
The storm is weakening as it approaches landfall, but still carries potentially deadly force and flooding rains.
Hundreds of thousands have been evacuated as Cyclone Amphan approaches, one of the region’s most powerful storms in decades.
A mother balances coverage of tsunamis, plane crashes, bombings and other tragedies with life at home during a coronavirus lockdown.
From Bangladesh to Cambodia, basic labor rights are unraveling for some as the industry grapples with the coronavirus fallout.
At least three boats carrying Rohingya refugees have been adrift for more than two months. As of this week, rights groups that had been tracking the boats lost sight of them.
Experts say that for the first time since 1998, global poverty will increase. At least a half a billion people could slip into destitution by the end of the year.
Pushed out of their village by a drought and lack of food, a group of Nepalis are fighting to amplify the voices of those forced to relocate by the planet’s warming.