Interviewd by, Anisha Saha, Team MBR
MBR: Lilac is Bangladesh’s upcoming femtech focusing on feminine hygiene & health. Will you please share with us the story behind this innovative idea of Lilac?
Ronika Karmaker: About 90% women in our country struggle with their health and I am one of them. As a woman, I always wondered why there are no holistic platforms focused on women’s health as it was a struggle for me and many women around me. Women in Bangladesh have little or no access to services related to their health and wellness, be it regarding their menstrual hygiene, pre-natal, postnatal care, interfertility and so on.
As a woman, I always wanted to build a platform/ organization which would cater to women’s health since it’s an unexplored area. I wondered why there are no digital platforms focused on making periods easier for women and create a community where women can discuss their struggles, stories, and experiences. Then I went on to share this idea with our Kamran Anand Haq (VP- Sales & Operations), and we initiated the monthly menstruation subscription package model to bring women in metropolitan cities the convenience and quality of products for their total hygiene care. Sadman (VP-Tech) came in the scene with his expertise in building the active web platform to help us to bring the monthly period bundles and the E-shop for hygiene and essential items.
MBR: As Lilac is one of the first to dive into the feminine hygiene and health sector in Bangladesh what are the factors that motivated you to create the platform?
Ronika Karmaker: The idea of building a holistic platform didn’t come to us in one day. As mentioned, we had initially decided to bring forth a subscriptionbased period care, just like renowned femtech – Lola. However, as we carried on our research and surveys, we realized that only a niche of the market can be reached through this service. As a team, we decided that we want to impact more lives than just a niche segment through our services. We realized there is no holistic platforms for women’s health and wellness but there is a great opportunity to bring modern and convenient solutions in this sector. That’s when we decided to build Bangladesh’s first-ever holistic digital wellness platform for women, with the aim to impact all women’s lives with our services.
Few of the rising healthtechs of Bangladesh has paved the way to show that the mass is gradually leaning towards online based platforms for their convenience. Even though femtech is a new concept to the people here, we are clearly witnessing the vital role women play in creating and sustaining healthy families. The FemTech market is expected to grow to USD 60 bln by 2027 but the industry here remains under-developed and underinvested so there is a huge potential for growth.
Women are now increasingly pushing for equality in all aspects of life, including the workplace and healthcare. So they have slowly started to pay attention to every aspect of their health, including general healthcare, emotional wellbeing, pregnancy, fertility, and a lot more. We believe Lilac can become 360-degree solution in their daily life, by taking care of all the health aspects under one roof.
MBR: Lilac aims to create a community and safe space for women to share their experiences without hesitation. Would you like to share a glimpse of your offered services?
Ronika Karmaker: Since we are building this platform to be the holistic digital wellness platform for women, Lilac aims to cater to women’s health by providing them support through various services ranging from Wellness Packages (Monthly Menstrual Bundles, Pre-Natal & Post-Natal Care launching soon), Ovulation Tracking, E-Shop, Blog and Medical Expert Consultation (soon to be launched). Lilac will be the one stop solution platform for women’s health concerns whether it be for tracking their monthly ovulation cycle, consulting a medical expert or gaining awareness on a hygiene item through our content.
MBR: Lilac symbolizes confidence, as your aim is to empower women and educate them about their body what are the prospects & the long-term goals of Lilac?
Ronika Karmaker: Lilac aims to create a one-stop solution for the overall women’s health & hygiene to make health care more accessible to the women of our country. In future, we envision this platform becoming a digital clinic which caters to women’s health and this platform can help creating an impact in other countries of South-East Asia where women are deprived of awareness, expert’s guidance, and products for their health. Lilac’s vision will always be to support and empower the women of Bangladesh through its services.
MBR: In Bangladesh, there is still a lot of stigma surrounding the topic of women’s health and hygiene. Can you please share with us some of the challenges that you had to face to make Lilac a reality from just an idea?
Ronika Karmaker: As you are aware, reproductive health has huge social stigma surrounding it especially in the countries of South Asia like Bangladesh, and there is severe lack of knowledge regarding proper hygiene maintenance even amongst the educated women of Bangladesh. One of the biggest challenges we faced as a team first getting into the market was that the society is heavily entangled in the taboo over women’s health and hygiene. Even in metropolitan cities, educated women de-prioritize their health and hygiene and still do not possess enough knowledge about their body or different hygiene products. Even though we can see a gradual increase in spending power of working women here, they still do not readily invest in their health and hygiene. Hence part of our challenge lies in making women aware about their health and how Lilac can be a one-stop solution to their health concerns.
HOUSING MARKET: RISING CONSTRUCTION MATERIAL PRICES & ITS IMPACT
For a country such as Bangladesh which is ever growing in terms of population and GDP, meeting housing needs as per demand was always a challenge. In such perilous situation when housing supply was struggling to keep pace with the rapid urban growth, pandemic happened. Now, as the economy crawls back to normalcy amid the coronavirus pandemic, the surging prices of building materials is threatening the country’s housing market.
Cost of almost all the construction materials such as steel, cement, coal, and stone increased significantly owing to factors such as increase of freight charges, hike in fuel price, unavailability of cargo ship, etc. This has led to increase in the construction costs (which comprise of around 50% of any overall project), by around 20% and this upward trend of cost is expected to sustain till mid-2022. The cost of mega construction projects undertaken by the government such as Padma Bridge and Elenga Road Project has increased multiple folds due to surging material prices. It has also left many developers unsure about their future residential and commercial projects. Contractors of development projects are now hesitant to bid for their new projects and are demanding price adjustments for their ongoing projects.
The housing market, however, is in its phase of rebound, thanks to certain government policies such as lower interest rates cap for banks, reduction of registration fees, etc. Along with this, recovery of the overall economy will surely make this industry come back strongly.
RIFAT ISHTIAQ KHAN
IDLC Finance Ltd.