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Kinship AI aims to revolutionize how garments factories manage their workers

Bangladeshi entrepreneurs aren’t lagging behind in this age of artificial intelligence (AI). A venture named ‘Kinship AI’ has already crossed the national borders, making its way into Cambodia, Vietnam, Indonesia, and India. Kinship AI is a unique platform with a special chatbot, created for the management of the workers in the garments factories. It connects workers and employees to digital technology, thus adding sustainable development and transparency to a supply chain.

Kinship’s journey

Kinship AI started its journey in 2016.  Boutaina Faruq, the daughter of Golam Faruq (Chairman of SQ group), was trying to build a new platform to communicate directly with the workers, take their feedback and thus increase the quality of their life. They owned 5 factories in Bhaluka and Maona. Her husband Rameez Haque helped her. The result of their joint effort was the new communication platform of SQ group, an app named ‘Kutumbita’. The Kinship AI is an initiative to connect the ‘Kutumbita’ app to the global platform.

Read more: How to support the fashion industry for a better RMG sector in Bangladesh

Some garment factories of the country, as well as international brands like Zilingo, have already shown their interests in the Kinship AI platform. Alvi Awal, Shahriar Rahman and Shafkat Alam joined  Boutaina and Rameez in 2017. Alvi and Shahriar look after the business aspects, whereas Shafkat is currently working as the Chief Technical Officer. The company headquarter is situated at Gulshan, Dhaka. Its global activities are conducted from the Singapore office. Currently, there are 12 people working in this venture.

Alvi, the head of national operations, joined this venture after completing his studies from the USA. Rameez and Boutaina currently handle the global management of Kinship AI from Singapore. Their platform is ready to launch in several factories in Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia, and India. The venture has also received funding from some big multinational companies.

Impact on the garments sector

Seema Begum (alias) works at a garments factory in Savar. She told that she can now apply for a leave of absence from her phone, through an app on her android phone. The HR representatives of the company can then immediately respond to that application.  

Kinship AI - Automating HR for the factory workforce
Kinship AI – Automating HR for the factory workforce

Johan Ahmed, Deputy Chief People Officer at SQ group, has informed that they use the Kinship mobile app to easily communicate with the workers. The current user base is estimated to be around 17 thousand factory workers. This app can be used for both giving useful information and gathering their responses. It can also operate as a survey tool. It has made communication between the workforce and management a lot smoother, especially in case of reporting any harassment incident.

Kinship CEO Rameez Hoque claims it to be a unique and ultra-modern workforce management platform based on artificial intelligence.

He reports that it is currently serving 30 thousand workers across 10 factories in the country.

Shafkat Alam, the CTO, says that the use of this platform automates the office management, reducing the management cost. Kinship AI works in three different modes- Kiosk, SMS and App. Workers can respond directly through the Kiosk. The use of artificial intelligence makes tasks easier. Workers can use this platform in both Android and Feature phones.

How Kinship works

There are different modules in the Kinship platform. The easy connection module is named ‘Connect’. There is a provision of automated engagement or response in the ‘Engaged’ module. Chatbots can be used for direct surveys or polls. ‘Mobile HR’ can make human resource management easier. Information given by the users is analyzed through artificial intelligence to predict behavioral patterns of the workforce. The platform can generate forecasts of the worker’s risks, contentment, health as well as attendance.

Kinship AI - Engagement for the factory workforce
Kinship AI – Engagement for the factory workforce

Last year, they received funding from the Techstars’ Impact program in Austin, USA, as well as from an Omidyar network named Humanity United.  Alvi further informed that the Kinship Kiosk has been implemented at two factories in GEEBEE (Savar EPZ) and Hoplun (Gazipur). A UK based company named Gain uses this platform to monitor nutrition programs in readymade garment factories. But Kinship isn’t limited to being a communication platform, it now operates as the workforce management platform of the whole garments sector.

The biggest brands in the world have taken to artificial intelligence-based platforms to head into the age of the fourth industrial revolution. A domestic venture like Kinship creates hope among entrepreneurs of our country. Responses from several big international brands have set them on a path towards success.  

Rubana Huq: breaking glass ceilings

Rubana Huq, the managing director of Mohammadi group, is the new president of Bangladesh Garments Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA). She is the first female in the history of Bangladesh to attain this position. Her panel secured a sliding victory at the biennial election.

Landslide victory

Among the 35 available posts for directors, Rubana Huq’s panel, Sammilata Forum, filled all the spots.

1492 out of 1956 voters had cast their votes in this election. Voters were from both Dhaka and Chittagong. The position is a two-year long tenure, resulting in relatively high turnout.

Her agenda

Huq addressed some of the major issues that the garments industry of Bangladesh faces in her victory speech. She stated “all the time people continue saying that Bangladesh is the country of cheap labor. Cheap is not good, but competition is good. We need to change this narrative of Bangladesh.”

Moreover, she understands that several small factories face the threat of being shut down. She emphasized on the need to stand beside them during such times. She plans on tackling such problems in her tenure. The voters resonated with her powerful vision for Bangladesh.

Bangladesh’s garments sector is often under scrutiny by the Western media, especially around issues about low wage and abuse. However, Huq adds perspective and highlights inaccuracies in these negative campaigns. She aims to fix these issues and improve the image where the reality is better than it is being portrayed. She hopes to encourage better practices in pricing, introduce more innovation and policies for sustainability.

Huq, an exemplary person

Apart from being a celebrated entrepreneur, she is also a prolific writer, a poet and a philanthropist. In 2013 and 2014, she was in BBC’s list of 100 outstanding women. Her accolades include wining the SAARC literary award in 2006. She has also launched a literary magazine called Monsoon letters along other Bangladeshi writers.

Rubana Huq has actively worked towards empowering women– advocating for women’s economic independence, voicing challenges regarding female garment workers rights. She hopes to bring her perspective and provide solutions to improve women’s conditions. Over 5000 women work in factories managed by Rubana Huq; and believes that these women are slowly changing their own narrative through their work. Always humble, she acknowledges that there is still a long way to go. Most of these women are still not truly emancipated in their own lives, but the work continues.

Striding forward in a male-dominated industry

More often than not, women have lived in the shadows of men. We can see glimmers of hope in moments like these. Bangladesh’s cultural norm and practices continue to limit the capabilities of our women-especially when it comes to advancing to positions of authority. Rubana Huq has often spoken at length about the challenges in being a woman and paving her way in this industry. Often, she has felt alone and powerless in her journey, but we are very fortunate that she managed to cross the hurdles that she encountered.

Women like her are gradually changing the narrative for working women in Bangladesh.

each and every woman in Bangladesh is fighting in some way or the other to move forward. As more women are in positions of power, attitudes both at home and the workplace will shift.

She is truly an inspiration for all of us. Here’s to more women being in positions of power and striving to improve women’s lives collectively. We look forward to a day where a woman attaining a leadership position in Bangladesh won’t be the reason behind headlines everywhere, but rather it would be the norm.