Sustainable Health Enterprises


SUMMARY: Girls, who, in much of the developing world already face enormous social and cultural pressures to stop their education many years before boys, face a compounding challenge: the lack of affordable menstrual pads and taboos surrounding menstruation, which further disrupt and often completely derail their schooling. A lack of sanitary pads also impacts the productivity of young women already in the labor force. Since raising the education level and status of women is widely recognized as the single most important indicator of economic and social progress, this is a major global problem. SHE, founded by Elizabeth Scharpf, is a successful enterprise currently based in Rwanda and planning to expand into other African nations and beyond. SHE has designed a comprehensive strategy to locally produce eco-friendly pads made from agricultural residue (discarded banana fiber) using no chemicals and very little water, simultaneously raising consciousness in the larger society in order to dispel unproductive attitudes surrounding menstruation. The organization not only seeks to provide sustainable hygiene products, but also aims to empower women and stress the crucial importance of girls’ education. SHE’s pads produce local employment and cost substantially less than conventional, chemical-laced, imported brands, which can cost as much as a day’s wages for many women in developing countries. This is a compelling approach to this major social problem, and SHE’s model has the potential to be replicated globally.

PROBLEM SPACE: “Over 800 million women menstruate regularly in low/lower-middle income countries with many of them lacking access to adequate, affordable menstrual products (Sebastian, 2013). Societal taboos, coupled with high costs of product and lack of availability limit product choices. Pads in many developing nations cost more than a day’s wages. Moreover, a lack of access to an effective and affordable product has proven negative impacts to girls’ educational outcomes, and women’s productivity. Girls are absent in school and women miss work. 1 in 10 African school-age girls do not attend school during menstruation (UNICEF, 2013) with absences of approximately 4 days every 4 weeks (WB, 2005). 18% of women and girls in Rwanda report missing out on work or school because they cannot afford to purchase pads. SHE figures estimate a potential GDP loss of $215 per woman per year – a total of $115,000,000 annually in Rwanda. Locally-made, biodegradable disposable pads may be one option, however, these pads are not currently available in many places, and must be developed.” (UNESCO, 2014) SHE is unique; by producing locally-sourced go! pads through our patented process, SHE has effectively reduced the price of pads for women and girls by 29% compared to domestic alternatives.”

SOLUTION: “Launched in 2009 in Rwanda, the SHE28 initiative is increasing accessibility to affordable menstrual products with a locally produced eco-friendly product. By utilizing a scalable franchise business model SHE affects social and economic change for girl/women in Rwanda.

SHE developed the patented, mechanical process to make an absorbent core – the highest material cost drivers – to create go! pads from banana fiber without chemicals and minimal water usage. SHE’s innovative design bridges the gap between unhygienic rags and high-cost premium import pads. By utilizing a local agro-waste and cutting out middleman distribution, we are able to cut pad cost while increasing women’s participation and economic empowerment. Since much of the manufacturing and production processes of the pads are done locally, SHE assures that the Rwandan institutions, industries, transporters, distributors, and individuals benefit economically and ecologically, rather than, as is often the case, foreign entities. Jobs are created across the value chain: from the farmer, to the pad assembler, to pad distributor. Coupled with health and hygiene education our approach will facilitate SHE impacting the lives of 100,000 girls by the end of 2016, and 250,000 girls by the end of 2017. SHE also advocates for a policy approach to increasing access to affordable menstrual products; advocacy efforts are centered on removing 18% VAT tax on pads.
Globally, SHE’s patented technology and licensing opportunities will enable entrepreneurs to replicate our innovation and deliver an affordable, eco-friendly product to girls/women in the next 5 years. SHE has gone from a person with an idea to an organization that has developed an innovative that is changing the lives of girls and women. This adaptable model can address other social issues and will enable entrepreneurs to replicate our innovation and deliver an affordable, eco-friendly product that is designed to serve girls’ and women’s unmet needs.”

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