Check It: Chief Instigating Officer Explains How Banana Fibers Keeps Women Working on PBS NewsHour

Check out Elizabeth Scharpf's latest interview on PBS NewsHour in which she describe SHE's approach for addressing the problem of lack of access to menstrual pads via social entrepreneurship. Elizabeth's interview is part of The NewsHour's Agents for Change series that highlights individuals helping communities solve problems, build businesses and create jobs.

Listen to Elizabeth explain SHE's model:

SHE's A Family Affair

Since this summer, I have been meeting with hundreds of schoolgirls all across the Kayonza district, the site of our industrial-scale pilot. I realized they all share a common experience regarding menstrual hygiene management while at school that I am sure you would find interesting:
  • I visited 10 different schools, yet all the girls said currently available menstrual pads are expensive. They even devised a pricing strategy – that the price of pads should be proportional to the number of pads in a package = one pad for 100 RWF.
  • When it comes to product choice, the girls don’t have any choice what type of menstrual pads they would like to use. Only one imported brand is available at the nearest shop.
  • The one imported brand that is available, however, doesn’t meet their full expectations. Many girls complained that the pads don’t stick well to the underwear and that 10 pads/pack are not enough for those who have a heavy flow.
  • There’s still a huge desire for menstrual hygiene education. The girls realize that they don’t know the full story when it comes to menstruation and proper hygiene management.
Despite lack of reliable access to menstrual pads, the schoolgirls are still active. I enjoyed learning about their lives outside of school: some of these girls play football and are members of the school team; others are members of dancing clubs.

One story that Nyiraminani, a 15-year old student at Gs Gishanda, shared with me shows how girls overcome the menstrual taboos is by being entrepreneurial! Her parents provide her pads while she’s at school, but during the holidays, she has to use cloths. Nyiraminani works hard to please her mother, in return to earn money that she can use to buy pads during the holidays.

“During the holidays we look for a way to get pads. We help our parents with chores in order to earn money. Therefore, I get up early to go to fetch wood, then I cut grass for the cows, and I cook. In the afternoon, I sweep the ground and clean dishes. After I complete all these chores, I sit with my mother and she says that I am a good girl and that I work hard. Then I feel comfortable asking her for money, even though I don’t say it’s for pads, and she provides it to me.”

SHE's a family affair - we are talking to girls and their mothers, some of whom are also our banana fiber suppliers.
On the other hand, when I talked to Mama Fasila, one of the banana farmers who are part of our banana fiber supply partnership with the Kamara co-op, she told me that many young girls are still afraid to request money for pads. She remarked, “Girls don’t dare ask money for pads from their fathers when the mother is absent. They will just stay at home, miss school and wait for their mothers to return and ask on their behalf.” As we discussed, Mama Fasila told us that many mothers don’t initiative the conversation to discuss menstruation with their daughters. They assume that they will learn about this at school.

While SHE’s industrial-scale pilot will be centered at the school level, insights and buy-in from parents, especially mothers, is critical to ensure our success. I look forward to learning more from the mothers, which is my next project.


- Gerardine, Junior Marketing Officer

SHE is in search of Business Wizards located in India

Sustainable Health Enterprises (SHE), recognized by Harvard Business School, Echoing Green, and Bill Clinton as an innovative social enterprise, aims to drive social and economic change through sustainable business development in emerging markets.  SHE’s first initiative, SHE28, is addressing girls' and women's lack of access to affordable menstrual pads often leading to missed school and/or work. SHE is stemming these significant costs by developing a franchise model, coupled with health education and advocacy, to manufacture and distribute affordable, eco-friendly menstrual pads for girls and women by sourcing local, inexpensive raw materials (e.g., banana fibers).
SHE currently operates in Africa, but is in an exciting position and is looking for an individual or a team of all-star graduate students to conduct a market entry assessment into India. Our vision is to find a partner organization who will co-operate a SHE India franchise.

We are in search of business school students to conduct on-the-ground research for us starting January 2013-end of February 2013. Final analysis and recommendations will be presented to SHE’s leadership team by the end of February 2013. 

The Junior Business Wizard role is an unpaid, volunteer-based position, requiring at least 10-12 hours/week, however, SHE will cover travel and project-related costs incurred while conducting primary research in India.

Lastly, the Junior Business Wizard will be working directly with the SHE senior management team including the CEO. The team will also directly present their final research to the senior management. The skills and networking gained by our past business fellows have well-prepared them for the next stage in their professional career.

Don’t miss out on an exciting opportunity to increase SHE’s impact and develop an insider’s experience into the social enterprise industry

Desired skills/experience:
We are seeking to build a team of 3-4 MBA or Master’s level students or professionals with a background in operations management, supply chain operations, marketing, international development, and management consulting.

To apply, please submit your resume and a cover letter explaining why you are interested in the mission, values, and activities of SHE to by December 28, 2012. In the e-mail subject line please write “Junior Business Wizard India.”