ToguMogu app
On August 1, 2022, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) announced 10 winners of its Joint Innovation Challenge 2022 called “Positioning to Scale: Innovations to Empower Women and Girls.” Recognizing the lost progress in women’s rights because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the UNFPA launched the challenge in March 2022 to support unique, affordable and sustainable initiatives that work toward advancing gender equality and women’s rights. One of the winners is ToguMogu, a maternity, parenting and family health platform — the “first parenting app” in Bangladesh.

The Competition Details

UNFPA partnered with the World Intellectual Property Organization, the International Telecommunication Union and the International Trade Centre to fund the challenge and support the winners’ initiatives. After receiving 300 applications from 61 nations across the globe, UNFPA picked 20 finalists who pitched their ideas to a panel of experts.

From there, the panel selected 10 winners who will each receive an investment of $60,000 and a nine-month contract with UNFPA. Alongside ToguMogu, the winners come from diverse spread of countries ranging from Mongolia to Rwanda. Some of the other innovative projects include a diagnostic system for preeclampsia and a board game that educates its players about sexual and reproductive health.

What is ToguMogu?

Founded in 2016 but registered in 2017, the ToguMogu company aimed to create an all-encompassing platform to support parents from pregnancy till their child turns 5 years old. The platform offers product recommendations for newborns, educational content for first-time parents, a doctor database and recommendation services for pre-schools, daycares and after-school programs. In 2019, the company “fully launched [its] website with different services,” The Daily Star reported. The company launched the ToguMogu parenting app in 2020 to accompany its services.

For context, Bangladesh has a relatively high infant mortality rate at 24 deaths per 1,000 live births, as the World Bank estimated in 2020. A study that Jyoti Vijay led, which was published in 2019, found that infant mortality and socioeconomic status have links with higher mortality rates observed in families from a lower-income background.

In addition, a study that Sanjit Roy led, which was published in 2018, found that the risk of early neonatal mortality — the death of an infant before seven days old — increases when the mother has not received an education. Therefore, there is a great necessity for platforms like the ToguMogu app, which offers parents easy access to educational resources and information to better care for their infants. ToguMogu’s website states that its goal is to provide a one-stop platform for parenting, especially for the large population of new and young parents in Bangladesh.

ToguMogu Founding

The ToguMogu company was born after co-founder Dr. Nasimul Islam Maruf and his wife became new parents in 2016 and felt lost looking for support during their pregnancy and parenting journey, especially when it came to finding educational content in Bengali, the national language of Bangladesh.

CEO and co-founder Nazmul Arefin Momel told Future Startup that the company initially started as a content website, before gradually expanding to e-commerce and product recommendation services as well as partnering with third-party services to create the doctor database, for instance.

After the company launched the ToguMogu parenting app in September 2020, a new version update came out in April 2021. As of July 2022, the app had more than 100,000 downloads and registered users.

Other Successes

The ToguMogu company stood as one of six winners of the 2022 STITCH for RMG Global Innovation Challenge, which the H&M Foundation launched in partnership with The Asia Foundation and the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC). The challenge aimed to support female workers in the ready-made garment industry in Bangladesh, a vulnerable population that often faces poverty and unsafe work conditions. ToguMogu’s work in the garment industry is to increase job retention after pregnancy and motherhood and ensure those female workers have the resources needed to make family care easier. ToguMogu won a $30,000 grant and will pilot its project in specific factories.

Future for the Joint Innovation Challenge

UNFPA and its partners will provide a virtual boot camp, mentorship and training until December 2022 to all of the winners. The training and boot camp will touch on project design planning, including market entry and deployment, to facilitate the implementation of these initiatives by March 2023. With the support and funding from the U.N., projects such as ToguMogu can have a tangible impact on women’s health and rights.

– Ramona Mukherji
Photo: Flickr

Parental Leave Policies
In a family setting with parents or guardians caring for young children, climbing out of poverty can be extremely difficult. In these situations, parents or guardians often struggle to balance the need to financially provide for the family while ensuring the well-being of the children. Within countries that do not provide adequate parental leave by law, this struggle heightens as parents often have to prioritize income over crucial child care time. In a 2012 survey, about 46% of employees did not take essential medical or family leave because they could not afford it. Working women may also face workplace discrimination if there are no parental leave protections. For instance, an employer may unfairly dismiss a worker due to pregnancy. In order for parents to successfully lift their families out of poverty, they need supportive parental leave policies that allow them more financial freedom and job assurance.

Parental Leave Policies

Britannica defines parental leave as an “employee benefit that provides job-protected leave from employment to care for a child following its birth or adoption.” Policies surrounding parental leave vary drastically across countries. For instance, in The Bahamas, women may only take “maternity leave once every three years.” On the other hand, Germany allows new parents to take “up to three years of parental leave to take care of a newborn until the child turns 3 years old.”

However, the International Labour Organization (ILO), an agency of the United Nations, has set recommendations for parental leave. The ILO “calls for a minimum 12-week leave” but recommends a 14-week leave ideally. In countries that offer paid parental leave, the ILO recommends that the payment amounts to “no less than two-thirds” of the parent’s previous salary, with complete coverage of health benefits. Another standard that the ILO set is the guarantee that a woman will not lose her job because of pregnancy.

The Importance of Parental Leave

According to Katrin Schulz of the World Bank Group, “ensuring that mothers and fathers have adequate paid leave for the birth of a child should be a priority for economic development.” To understand this better, Schulz says it is important to note that “adequate maternity leave can lead to lower infant mortality rates, health benefits for the mother, higher female labor force participation and increased breastfeeding rates.”

On the other hand, paternity leave also has a wide range of advantages in terms of development outcomes, such as “health and economic benefits to the mother, more equitable division of household labor and increased child bonding.” In fact, studies specifically link paternity leave allowances to “increased earnings for the mother, reduced mother-absenteeism due to sickness and higher female employment in private firms.” All of these factors, in the long run, will improve the family’s well-being and ability to rise out of poverty.

Parental leave laws play an important role in poverty reduction. For impoverished families, paid parental leave proves essential for their economic well-being. Additionally, in its cross-national comparison of parental leave, the World Policy Center found that more extensive parental leave policies correlate with a decreased risk of poverty for both two-parent households and single mothers. The extra money that some parental leave programs may provide support the family economically and may also boost income following parental leave.

Progress in Parental Leave

Some of the most successful parental leave programs come from European and Nordic countries. Norway is one of the more generous countries in terms of paternal leave. Its policy allows 12 months of leave for each birth and a “parental benefit,” which stands as a source of income for new parents during the leave period. Both parents can take leave until the child reaches age 3.

Norway’s leave policy has helped narrow the gender income gap down to 13%. “The retention of women” in the workforce has also helped Norway collect higher tax revenue, strengthening the economy. These tax benefits contribute to Norway’s high GDP per capita, which now stands at $89,741, a representation of the country’s economic prosperity. Nordic countries aimed to reduce the stigma surrounding paternal leave with a campaign to normalize paternal leave. Now, about “90% of Norweigan fathers” take paternal leave, bringing wide-ranging benefits on a household level as well as a national level.

Norway’s example shows how parental leave policies can be beneficial not only for the families raising children but the economy surrounding them. Better parental leave is a small push toward building a more prosperous future. When children receive proper care in the first years of life, they have a better chance of breaking generational cycles of poverty.

– Hariana Sethi
Photo: Unsplash

Male role modelsWhat is the most effective way to fight global poverty? That is the question people all around the world have been asking for decades. Some commonly known solutions include building wells to provide people with clean water, teaching farmers how to grow more food, building schools and small medical clinics, and giving communities access to shelter and vaccinations. But did you know that the solution could be as simple as ensuring the presence of positive male role models in children’s lives? Recent studies support this claim and discuss opportunities for youth to connect with positive male role models in their communities.

The Problem

According to the United States Census Bureau, more than 1 in 4 children in the United States grow up without father figures in their households. This is equivalent to 19.7 million children in the country. These children are 4 times more likely to experience poverty and 2 times more likely to drop out of school. They are also more likely to commit crimes and go to prison, consume drugs and alcohol, become victims of abuse and violence, and experience depression and other mental illnesses. These consequences are likely to continue into adulthood and impact future generations of these families. The importance of male role models in children’s lives cannot be understated.

How Can Parents Help?

There are many ways to connect children with positive male role models:

  • Encourage children to get involved in extracurriculars like sports with a male coach or mentor. Many of these coaches and mentors dedicate their time because they are passionate about working with children. This passion will inevitably captivate youth and help them grow into better people.
  • Expand social circles to include positive men in the community. This can include distant family members, a kind-hearted neighbor or the father of a child’s friend. It’s that easy!
  • Request male teachers for children at school. This will not only allow the child to see men in their community in typically nurturing, female-dominated roles, but it will also expose them to teaching styles that may differ from those of their female teachers.
  • Research initiatives that aim to connect children to positive male role models in the community. There are so many people who are excited to work with children. All it takes is a simple Google search!

Examples of Initiatives

  • An initiative that helps connect children to male role models in their communities is the Uncle Project in Australia. As part of this project, men in the community volunteer their time to interact with boys ages 6 through 12 through sports, board games and treasure hunts as well as dinner discussions in which they delve into deep and meaningful topics. This inevitably helps young boys grow into better men.
  • Another related organization is the National Fatherhood Initiative, which helps fathers become better parents. In addition to training 34,815 fathers and distributing 9,407,021 skill-building resources, it has helped similar organizations reach more people across the United States.
  • There is also the annual Fathers Walk in Ohio, in which fathers are encouraged to walk their children to school and spend the day participating in fun-filled activities with their children. If a parent is unavailable because of work, they are encouraged to find an alternative male role model to take their place. This helps children spend time with and learn from positive men in their community.

The findings of these studies and information about how parents can surround their children with positive male role models in their communities aim to enlighten readers about the important role of men in the lives of children. These role models will not only slow the spread of poverty but will also help young boys become successful and healthy men.

Rida Memon
Photo: Pixnio