Case study: Apon Wellbeing

Apon Wellbeing: Providing Affordable Goods and Services for the Industrial Workers in Bangladesh

Apon Wellbeing is one of the successful enterprises to receive Social Impact Incentives (SIINC) from the B-Briddhi programme. Through this partnership, Apon will benefit from financial incentives for achieving its impact goals in a scalable manner. How is Apon Wellbeing, an omnichannel marketplace, creating an impact for marginalized people working in large factories in Bangladesh?


Apon Wellbeing’s Traction Story

The ready-made garment industry accounts for more than 80% of the export income in Bangladesh, with more than four million people working toward the success of this industry. Apon Wellbeing was established in 2017 to create a difference for these mass underprivileged RMG workers, who make low wages that typically leave them with meagre disposable income. Founded by Saif Rashid, Apon Wellbeing focuses on enhancing the lives of factory workers by providing goods and services at affordable and fair prices, thus enabling more disposable income for savings.

Apon Wellbeing’s objective is to ensure access to the health and wellbeing of the workers by developing a sustainable platform in partnership with factories, consumer goods manufacturers and different service providers in Bangladesh and Asia.

Despite working full time, the majority of the factory workers are living in poverty as their real wage is three times lower than the average living wage. Apon aims to increase the real income of these workers (especially RMG) by setting up commissaries on the RMG factory premises, where they offer groceries and health nutrition products at reduced prices, which are 10% less than the retail prices. Apart from providing low-cost everyday items, Apon ensures the financial inclusion of the workers through the provision of interest-free credit facilities and health insurance benefits. The workers get enrolled on health insurance once they buy a certain amount of goods from the shop every month. Workers receive the benefit of free health and life insurance with a coverage of around USD 200 per worker per year. Apon’s scheme for financial inclusion have enabled the workers’ access to free health insurance, and this has changed their behaviour towards getting basic health checks, which in turn has improved the attendance to work and hence income (as these workers receive daily wage).

The Apon business model reduces the monthly expenditures of workers and enables a change in the behaviour of these workers towards their health, nutrition and financial inclusion. Therefore, the platform operates exclusively at the factory premises and provides privilege cards to the workers for availing discounts and low-cost health services. The model is adding further necessary elements to ensure the 360-degree well-being of the workers by leveraging the purchasing power of the bottom-of-the-pyramid consumers. The lower prices are ensured through negotiations for fair rates with traders and suppliers. Apon believes in forming the right partnerships with traders, insurance companies and factory owners to enable the right solutions and incentives for the millions of workers at a low cost.

The platform has taken the initiative to change the industry working space by ensuring good health and wealth of the workers by increasing their savings.

The Apon shops empower workers, especially females, to have the choice of purchasing quality goods at affordable prices. Furthermore, the platform ensures good healthcare services through health and life insurance facilities and access to finances. Through the hands of Apon Wellbeing, more than 70,000 workers are getting access to discounted goods and financial facilities, where 44 percent of the workers are females. The platform has impacted the worker community through its 16 discounted shops in different factories and has generated a total savings of more than USD 13,000 so far while providing insurance coverage to 9 percent of their customer base.

Through its social business to impact the quality of life for factory workers, Apon Wellbeing has received recognitions among the industry giants and has won the Tommy Hilfiger Fashion Frontier challenge in 2019 and Inclusion Plus Bangladesh along with receiving grants at the 2020 Dubai Expo.

Opportunities and Challenges

While impacting the lives of the factory workers through its affordable goods and services, the platform faces a multitude of challenges in running its activities throughout the ecosystem. Challenges inherent in the social construct make it difficult to penetrate the customer base equitably. It is difficult to convince female customers to purchase essentials from the shop and acquire the financial benefits due to gender norms set by the wider society, where the male counterparts are expected to make decisions and run the household activities such as shopping for essentials. Furthermore, it is difficult to convince the workers to subscribe to the insurance facilities as they prefer to avail more discounts on goods than subscribe to insurances. The platform overcomes such social and behavioural disablers through continuous awareness among the worker communities.

Despite the challenges, Apon Wellbeing has opportunities in creating more impact through its financial inclusion schemes where it provides facilities in accessing finance through services such as money transactions, savings facilities and money remittance services. Providing further financial services will enable the workers to access better financing facilities as it is difficult for them to visit banks during working hours. Moreover, Apon is expanding its offers in financial services in response to customers’ requests, including fund transfer services for transferring money to their families in the villages.

By leveraging the opportunities and overcoming the challenges, Apon Wellbeing aims to provide services in more factories, reaching workers from different sectors such as the leather and ceramics industry, while parallelly continuing to deepen their impact in improving the financial and physical well-being of their customers in a holistic manner.

Investments

Apon Wellbeing has raised funding through multiple grants, prizes and non-repayable investments. Among these, notable investments include prize money of 75,000 euros from the Tommy Hilfiger Fashion Frontier Challenge and a grant of USD 100,000 at the 2020 Dubai Expo. With the support of SIINC, Apon will be in a much better position to raise additional investments and scale their business. This is due to the fact that the SIINC payments will act as an additional revenue stream for the company, which makes an investment in Apon even more attractive for potential investors.

Apon Wellbeing has been able to raise over USD 500,000 in the form of awards and grants from multiple platforms, foundations and investors.

As a Social Impact Incentives candidate, Apon Wellbeing, has identified three impact metrics that align its impact and business growth strategies. These metrics include i) increase in average savings of their customers, ii) increase in health insurance coverage, and iii) increase in the percentage of female customers Dependent on their impact performance on these three impact metrics, Apon Wellbeing will be able to receive up to $225,000 over the next two years from Biniyog Briddhi.

With SIINC, Apon Wellbeing will be able to better address the tension between their commercial and impact model, while at the same time receiving more traction from investors and accelerating the sustainable growth matrix to bolster the objectives of the business.

Picture: Apon Wellbeing signing the Social Impact Incentives agreement with Biniyog Briddhi in a virtual meeting on 13th April, 2021

B-Briddhi’s Catalytic Funding Support

Apon Wellbeing’s initiatives can positively affect the lives of many underprivileged workers, especially women, and provide a greater impact on their livelihoods through the successful achievement of good health and well-being, gender equality, and economic growth.

Biniyog Briddhi’s catalytic funding program aims to support impact enterprises like Apon Wellbeing with the right measures and capital to scale their impact while achieving financial sustainability.

Way Forward

Apon Wellbeing reflects its achievements and learnings from the past 4 years and looks forward to enabling better and wider facilities to improve the lives of its beneficiaries. The platform aims to focus its business model through further impacts on the wider community and establish more than 500 shops with the current retail model, especially in the EPZ areas. In future, Apon targets more on customer penetration, aiming to cover 150,000 customers. In terms of its horizontal expansion, the platform aims to develop apps and its ERP system where workers outside the designated factories can avail the facilities as well. Moreover, the platform looks forward to expanding the health insurance facilities for the workers’ families.

With an ambition to enable good health and wealth for the workers in Bangladesh and Asia, Apon Wellbeing looks forward to B-Briddhi’s Catalytic Funding which can assist it in paving the way towards scaling.

Case study HelloTask

HelloTask: Building Bangladesh’s first on-demand domestic helper service /

HelloTask is one of the successful enterprises to avail support from the B-Briddhi programme’s Impact Ready Matching Fund (IRMF) scheme. This is an innovative approach to trigger investments into early-stage enterprises, while incentivizing the entrepreneurs like HelloTask to stay true to their social mission. How is HelloTask becoming the full-stack platform working towards establishing the profession of domestic workers as dignified work?


HelloTask’s Traction Story

For many Bangladeshi households, there remains a genuine need for domestic helpers, and the number of such families is set to rise, given the demographic and social trends indicating growth and stability. After personally experiencing the dire need for consistent and well trained house helpers, Mahmudul Hasan Likhon, co-founder and CEO of HelloTask, along with his brother, initiated the idea of an on-demand domestic help service provider where verified and skilled domestic helpers are connected with customers through app and website.

HelloTask’s vision is to build an ecosystem where every family employs trained, skilled, and verified domestic helpers, with an aim to provide a secure workplace for millions while also establishing ‘domestic work’ as a dignified profession. 

The domestic help provider and caregiver industry of Bangladesh is estimated to be worth an overwhelming USD 4 billion which remains largely unregulated and informal. For a long time, the rights of domestic helpers had remained under the radar, resulting in their exploitation in terms of work hours and wage rate. At HelloTask, the team works relentlessly to build a fair marketplace platform to connect domestic help seekers with the helpers and caregivers, all the while ensuring they are rightfully paid for the hours they work. In just 3 years, HelloTask has been able to generate a GMV of total US$ 150,000, with 50,000+ users ordering service through their mobile app. Presently, they have an Annual Recurring Revenue of US$1 Million, and the platform is also working in collaboration with development organizations to formalize the care-economy and provide training to upgrade the skills of the domestic helpers.

Unlike most companies that put user experience on top of their priority, HelloTask works to ensure both user and worker experience simultaneously. To make sure the users are receiving quality service, the front line of service providers receive hands-on training to improve their skills measured in three levels: primary, advanced, caregiver. HelloTask is working in collaboration with BRAC, OXFAM and World Bank to provide training to domestic helpers. HelloTask has developed a training module for domestic workers under Project ‘Securing Rights of Women Domestic Workers in Bangladesh’ – supported by OXFAM. Under this project workers enlisted in the platform receive both training and certification from National Skill Development Authority.

The RMG industry of Bangladesh currently employs nearly 5 million workers. This industry has been brought under a structure owing to the demand generated overseas. Thus, the workers in this industry get the benefit of a well structured workplace. HelloTask’s impact lies in the creation of that structure in the domestic help industry of Bangladesh, allowing women choosing this profession to undergo a properly designed training, and eventually, find employment opportunity. This creates an impact on the lifestyle and earnings of women from a certain demographic background, who would otherwise get exploited or have to struggle choosing domestic help as their profession.

Currently, HelloTask operates similarly to the Uber platform, but for domestic help providers. Service seekers get the option to choose an instant service provider who will be available in an hour’s time, or hire someone on a subscription basis. Upon arrival, the service provider undergoes a simple procedure of scanning their ID cards using the ‘Porichoy’ app, after which they can begin their work.

At the moment, HelloTask has 2000+ active female domestic workers enlisted in their platform, of which 2% identify themselves as disabled.

In an attempt to ensure their safety, elaborate steps are taken by HelloTask, and so far, there has been no cases of severe harassment. The workers are advised to call 999 or reach out to the team through an SOS number provided in the app in case they feel threatened or harassed.

Working towards digitizing an unstructured industry that employs workers who are not considered under the labour law, brings forth complex challenges. During initiation, it took the team over eight months to build a sustainable and scalable business model, which equalized the demand and supply for domestic service providers. Most service providers do not own a smartphone, which stands as an obstacle during operation for HelloTask. To address that, HelloTask has recently developed a computer automated system of connecting on demand service providers to the service seekers in real time, without the dependency on smartphones. This has enabled a large number of workers all over Bangladesh – who were previously excluded because of manual operation limitations – to leverage the maximum usage of their existing device The team also ensures full financial inclusion for the enlisted domestic service providers by making their platform fully based on cashless transactions. Service seekers pay using bKash or bank transfer, which is then transferred to the service provider’s Nagad account.

Opportunities and Challenges

HelloTask thrives on a strong brand image built on the foundations of its first-mover’s advantage in the market.

It is the first platform in Bangladesh that connects domestic service providers and seekers using technology, and takes measures to formally bring domestic workers under the umbrella of financial inclusion. 

In addition, HelloTask’s team works efficiently to ensure proper service quality control and consistency. The team is also working towards prominently establishing the caregiver industry in Bangladesh through proper training of the workforce.HelloTask has partnership with development organizations such as BRAC and OXFAM to train 16,000+ domestic helpers and provide them job placement through HelloTask by 2023.

Over the last 3 years, HelloTask received requests for domestic helpers worth over US$ 600,000, but was able to deliver only 1/4th of the amount. HelloTask’s highest one day delivery of work has been 115 so far because of reliance on manual operation systems. With their recent technological upgrade they are hoping to connect a much greater number of domestic helpers to the seekers in real time, thus expanding the horizon of their opportunity countrywide.

As the country grapples to stay afloat amidst the new wave of COVID-19, lockdowns become frequent and necessary to impose, and so does the need for a reliable helping hand at home. This gives HelloTask an opportunity to make a prominent mark as they continue innovating everyday to increase the efficacy of their work. In August of 2021, HelloTask plans on introducing new offers and builds on the opportunity to sell baby and elderly caregiving services.

However, the competitive landscape of HelloTask stands as a challenge. The concept of informally getting a domestic helper using local maid agencies is still prevalent in Bangladesh. Changing that mentality and instilling new ways to do the same thing remains an ongoing challenge. Other formal platforms have now come up too such as Sheba.xyz, HandyMama, Appointme, and Amar Astha who are providing similar services in the market.

Investments

HelloTask estimates that every household earning at least BDT 25,000 monthly tends to appoint a domestic helper to help with everyday house chores. Based on this estimation, the business scope of HelloTask is seen to be broad in a country of over 166 million people.

HelloTask has been able to raise US$ 420,000 in forms of equity, SAFE and grants from Startup Bangladesh, Accelerating Asia, BD Ventures, OXFAM, and Biniyog Briddhi. 

Through B-Briddhi programme’s Impact Ready Matching Fund scheme, the enterprise has an opportunity to raise upto US$ 100,000 as non-repayable investment.

Picture: HelloTask signing the IRMF investment agreement with Biniyog Briddhi in March 2021

B-Briddhi’s Catalytic Funding Support

HelloTask’s far reaching scope of business, has the ability to positively affect the lives of many underprivileged women, who struggle everyday to earn their bread and butter, and eventually lay a greater impact in terms of improvement of livelihoods.

Biniyog Briddhi’s catalytic funding program aims to help HelloTask transition into a properly groomed impact oriented organization, with the ability to accurately measure impact metrics. 

Among HelloTask’s impact based KPIs are the increase in earnings of the domestic workers, the improvement level and diversity brought into the skills they possess, and the number of work they are getting. As a result of improved skills, their rating increase which allows them to get more work and earn more. The rating works two ways, with workers getting the opportunity to rate their experience as well. This helps create a positive impact by giving the workers a sense of judgement and a voice that counts.

In addition, HelloTask’s properly designed training modules also helps create an opaque path for transition from advanced level to caregiver level. Currently, the workers are earning 1.5 times more on the hourly rate, which can increase up to 3 times as they advance on to the caregiver level.

It is possible to create a massive impact as a startup if the impact angle is integrated into the business model. Designing training modules of the domestic helpers, and forming strategic partnerships with development organizations interested in transforming the industry, it is possible to create employment opportunities for a large mass of people who would otherwise have been a part of the informal economy. By ensuring the supply of qualified domestic workers meets the demand that is, currently, coming in large numbers, it is possible to contribute towards inclusive growth in the economy.

Way Forward

Looking ahead, HelloTask reflects on their learnings over the past 3 years and gears up to bring structure to the caregiver industry of Bangladesh. Not only will it empower workers in this industry, who are mainly women, it will also provide them with a stable earning source and a profession they are proud of. Their goal is to build a platform that would improve the lives of domestic workers and maids and at the same time take the trouble out of finding a domestic worker who is consistent and skilled.

Being the pioneer and first mover, they believe they have an edge to work with these women, gain their trust and help them be self-reliant. 

With an ambition to build the largest platform for domestic workers in Bangladesh, HelloTask looks forward to B-Briddhi’s Catalytic Funding which can assist them in paving the way towards scaling.