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International Partnerships

Rural women entrepreneurs making a difference in Bangladesh

Raypur Women Business Centre’s entrepreneurs assess COVID-19 symptoms through asking questions set in Coronay Koronio app.
Raypur Women Business Centre’s entrepreneurs assess COVID-19 symptoms using the Coronay Koronio app © mHealth-GIZ project, United Purpose Bangladesh

About the Rural Women Entrepreneurs project

The ‘Rural Women Entrepreneurs’ project aims to respond to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic by closing the gaps in healthcare access for the most vulnerable members of rural communities with the help of digital technologies. It does this by mobilising and developing the capacity of 58 women’s business centres (WBC) across Bangladesh. The initiative also aims to increase understanding of COVID-19 prevention practices, and support physical and financial recovery and wellbeing for community partners by strengthening nutrition, sanitation, hygiene, and sustainable livelihood opportunities.

The project was selected as one of the winning digital solutions of the #SmartDevelopmentHack, a hackathon organised by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development and the European Commission in April 2020.

The project is now being implemented by United Purpose and mPower with support from the #SmartDevelopmentFund of GIZ (the German Corporation for International Cooperation), an accelerator that refines digital solutions to counter COVID-19 challenges.

Why the project is needed

The COVID-19 pandemic has deeply affected vulnerable groups in rural communities in Bangladesh as they are cut off from basic services due to the diversion of resources and increasing restriction on movement.

The consequences have been felt most acutely by women and the elderly, and many have struggled to access preventative care and treatment for chronic or acute illness. Simultaneously, malnutrition amongst children has risen as preventative services have been suspended and supply chains disrupted. As many are unsure where to turn to for support, there are significantly greater risks to long-term health, livelihoods and wellbeing.

Gangarampur Women Business Centre’s entrepreneurs produce and sell masks.
Gangarampur Women Business Centre’s entrepreneurs produce and sell masks © mHealth-GIZ project, United Purpose Bangladesh

The project employs 10 open-source apps that are powerful yet simple tools for providing health and agricultural services, as well as supporting the women entrepreneurs in running and growing their businesses more effectively. More specifically, these apps include: a telemedicine platform that connects remote rural communities with qualified doctors in the capital, Dhaka; child malnutrition early detection and prevention; COVID-19 screening and referral services; veterinary telemedicine; agricultural advising/networking services; and ‘back-office’ digital business solutions such as accounting for the entrepreneurs. Furthermore, the COVID services in particular are supported by extensive community outreach, including information sessions, awareness campaigns, and hygiene information outreach and services such as mask- and soap-making.

Phase 1 of the project has reached more than 40 000 households with these services and treated over 18,000 patients; Phase 2 will work towards increasing the scope of services by a further 50%.

    Gangarampur WBC leader Bandana Roy is talking to a doctor for a teleconsultation for a patient through the Click Health app.
    Gangarampur WBC leader Bandana Roy talks to a doctor for a teleconsultation for a patient through the Click Health app © mHealth-GIZ project, United Purpose Bangladesh

    Project results

    Results for phase 1 of the project include

    • Over 18 000 patients have been treated through facilitated telemedicine
    • 10 apps have been developed to facilitate access to teleconsultations, nutrition monitoring and referral of malnutrition cases to government health facilities (e.g. local hospitals and community clinics),
    • A virtual learning platform and a skills development platform for WBC entrepreneurs have been created,
    • Over 40 000 individual households have been registered within the digital ecosystem created for the project.

    Thanks to the project, the poor in rural communities are able to see real trained doctors. Women and older patients suffering with disease and chronic illness are coming for the WBC’s ClickHealth Services for health care teleconsultations provided by the specialised doctors. These centres are a resource for all, irrespective of age or gender, providing meaningful teleconsultations at an affordable cost.

    Implementing organisations

    Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, mPower, United Purpose Bangladesh