3-2-1 Launch!

29th October, 2009
Kigali, Rwanda

I was set for the first SHE health and business skill training for the group of 28 Community Health Workers. The first training session has people hailing from all parts of Rwanda, ready to equip themselves with the tools to educate and provide greater access to essential products to their peers. The training started at 10am with an introduction to menstrual health and hygiene and business management with a good exchange of ideas that ensued. People asked things such as, "Why do women and girls menstruate? What are the infections that happen when I use rags and how can I avoid it?"

Each of the Community Health Workers trained today will go back to their communities and train 100 others in the health and hygiene they learned today and set up their own small distribution businesses, earning a margin on every product sold. As two of the participants commented:

Moise says, "The training will help me improve my family’s welfare."

Claudine says "I learned about health and hygiene during menstruation, what can be done when it occurs and now I am going to pass it onto the rest of the communities."

Next training is coming up soon!

Julian, Chief Operations Wizard


This is why we do what we do

October 29, 2009
Kigali, Rwanda

FAWE Uganda is making things happen. In their study of challenges to girl child education, the Forum of African Women Educationalists (FAWE) researchers found that taboos and silence associated with menstruation in many communities mean some girls are in any case unable to ask their parents for money to buy pads, and forced to find ways of getting money on their own, sometimes through sexual relationships with much older men who can provide the cash The response? Time to talk....about health and hygiene, girls' obstacles, and how to overcome them together.

This article started circulating among Rwandan women this week and talk about how the issues some of their own sisters face and how they can help ensued...wait, not just ensued, but rather took off like Usain Bolt at the 2008 Olympics. Here's an example of one person sharing:

Hello sisters,
Thank you for the discussions but for me this is a problem i have been struggling with for quite some time.
first of all i happen to know of a female headed family(widow) who has 5 children we go to the same church.
she is not educated infact i can say she is poor; i met her daughter coming from school abit far from her home and was walking legs apart so i asked what had went wrong, she first hesistated to respond then i inquired whether she was raped? she told me she is in her monthly periods and because she uses old clothes as her pads stuff had socket and burnt her because it was a hot afternoon; then i created an atmosphere for her to talk to me freely en she said even getting soap to wash it is not easy for her mum who doesnt work.

I also happened to mentor the 200 female students at KIST but every time i met them or meet them they are ever lamenting of very little allowances that can not be enough for them to buy enough pads barked by other needs a student requires.
generally this is an issue that can not wait anymore lets give it time.

YES, this is why we at SHE do what we do.

Africa is Rich!

October 10, 2009
New York, NY

The African Social Enterprise Forum sent me an invitation to speak in late September for their inaugural conference in NYC in late September. None of the words from the title "Africa" or "Social Enterprise" or "Forum" popped out to me. But what did, was in the phrase, "Africa is rich. This is not a charity." You said it!

In the past, I'd say it wasn't a far reach to think of Susan Struthers with young skinny children with extended bellies and flies swirling around them when someone mentioned Africa. Hunger, poverty, war, and despair might have even come to mind. Well think again. Africa is rich. Hear a little bit of why I think Africa is rich as well as some of the reasons why I think being an entrepreneur is the least risky thing I could ever do:


CGI-2009 Enough Said

SHE rocks it at the Clinton Global Initiative!

SHE Founder, Elizabeth Scharpf, makes commitment along with Nobel Prize Winner Muhammod Yunus, Nike Foundation President Maria Eitel and President Bill Clinton.

SHE Hits the Clinton Global Initiative

22 September 2009
New York, NY

The Clinton Global Initiative kicked off today with Clinton calling on CEOs, Heads of State, NGOs, and individuals to put their ideas, minds, and resources together to address some of the world's most pressing problems.

With the SHE team prepping around the clock...

SHE is ready!

Bringing it Back, One Final Time

22 September 2009
New York, NY

We're bringing it back one more time as we head off to the Clinton Global Initiative tomorrow...bringing it back to our roots and our values at SHE. Why you ask? Because it's times like these (when you are in the room with CEOs, Heads of States, multilateral, and NGOs) that we need to remind ourselves and decision-makers that the past doesn't necessarily offer the solutions to the present or the future. SHE is changing the game. Read on!

July 19, 2008
Kibungo, Rwanda

Let’s play the word association game…so when I say something you respond with whatever pops in your head. So for example, I say “Mickey” and you say “mouse.” I say “karaoke” and you say “Bon Jovi.” I say “industry” and you say “international development organizations”…..huh? What an oxymoron!…like jumbo shrimp or big NYC apartment or healthy cigarette (sorry American Spirits smokers) or chatroom party animal. Yet, there is something to this notion of the international development industry.

Despite its poverty, Kigali is not unlike other African capitals with a few posh neighbors lined with signs such as USAID, GTZ, Oxfam, etc. Locals walk along the roadside carting timber, bananas, and water jugs on their heads with mammoth four wheel drive vehicles blistering by with a logo of some international development agency blazoned across the side. This is the norm. It seems that international development organizations, often one of the biggest vehicles of money flow into a country such as Rwanda takes the place of individual and institutional investors in industries such as textiles, food processing, etc. It creates jobs like program officers and outreach specialists in organizations’ programs. It creates linkages to spark job creation in other arenas as well such as computer printer shops and gas stations (those Land Rovers need to fill up an awful lot!). So when locals, as they often do, suggest that we should “just put the driver on the phone when you need directions” or question, “how much money do you have?” we should not be taken aback, but rather take it in stride and acquiesce. Or should we?

Do we have a responsibility to change the norm? And should we want to?

Should we aim to change the mindset that outside development intervention symbolizes a dollar sign? Should we aim to change the idea that international development organizations are the main vehicle for economic growth? Don’t we increase chances for sustainable Rwandan growth without dependency on international development $$?

And by the way, we are a start-up enterprise, which is quite resourceful, but working on a shoestring budget. We walk or take public transport almost everywhere. Isn’t that how most entrepreneurs do it? If we had a garage, we’d be working in it right now.

SHE Heads to the Clinton Global Initiative

21 September 2009
New York, NY

Alright SHE samurais, put on your red sequined shoes, sit on the magic carpet, and get ready for a ride! SHE is headed to the Clinton Global Initiative, a gathering of global leaders from private and public sector to confront the world’s most pressing problems. Check out Bill below on the Daily Show talking about CGI and why investing in girls and women matter.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Exclusive - Bill Clinton Extended Interview Pt. 1
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorHealthcare Protests

Picked from a plethora of social ventures around the world, SHE is going to the Big Apple to talk about the very issues we are addressing right now in East Africa: health, education, economic growth through sustainable market-based approaches. So stay tuned! And catch the action live on the webcast starting the morning of September 23rd.

The Numbers Are In!

20:34 September 18, 2009
New York, NY

If you read the last post, "Bringing It Back," you found out that SHE talked to over 500 girls and women last year in Rwanda after 100+ practitioners and experts in health and education confirmed that girls and women miss school/work because they lack access to affordable sanitary pads. So, what did doing our homework tell us? Keep reading!


This analysis was based upon the data collected in 2008 by SHE. The sample was random and the 527 respondents reflected different demographics. This is a short sample of responses from the survey.

SCHOOL AGE RESPONDENTS: (20 years and under)

o Miss school because of menstruation = 53.6%
o Unable to carry out daily activities because of menstruation = 54.1%

• If she misses school it is because (respondents checked all answers that applied)
o Miss school because pads are too expensive = 36.0%
o Miss school because physically sick = 56.6%
o Miss school because pads don’t work well = 39.0%
o Miss school because the cloth rags they use do not work well = 13.1%
o Miss school because they do not have adequate facilities (female toilets or private spaces) = 6.0%

• Number of days of school or work missed:
o Overall average 3.49

WORKING AGE RESPONDENTS (16 years and over)

• Her menstruation causes her to:
o Miss work because of menstruation = 20.9%
o Unable to carry out normal daily activities = 52.4%

• If she misses work it is because: (respondents checked all answers that applied)
o Physically sick = 41.2%
o Miss work because pads are too expensive = 24.4%
o Miss work because pads do not work well = 22.9%
o Miss work because rags do not work well = 11.4%
o Miss work because there are no female toilets or private spaces available = 5.0%

• Number of days of school or work missed
o Overall, working age respondents: Average = 3.61 days

Want to do something about this? Heck yeah!

Bringing it Back

14:21 September 16, 2009
New York, NY

Greetings all! Recently, we've gotten some calls about where and how we at SHE got started. So we're bringing the blog back, to check out the some of the kernels of our beginnings. Please read on and bounce around:

22:06 June 24, 2008
Sky Hotel, Kigali, Rwanda

New York, Rome, Paris, Addis Ababa—sound like the answer to a Jeopardy question as to where you can find the best coffee in the world? Maybe so, but in my book, these cities will always remind me of my route to Kigali, Rwanda, on the first, on-the-ground, SHE Team mission. Three days after departing from New York, we finally arrived in the small and welcoming city of Kigali. I say welcoming because, in perfect cue, our bags not only greeted us at the Kigali airport, but so did about a hundred boisterous Rwandans, donning Rwanda national flags, playing horns and cymbals, and chanting. Did they do this for every team addressing menstrual management problems, we wondered? Did the airlines tip them off that we had an excruciating journey imbued with busted complimentary movies, rubber chicken dinners, and flee infested single beds for two and not one? Maybe we needed a little cheering up? How thoughtful. We appreciated it as did the Rwandan national soccer team that also arrived with us in the airport the other day.

Yes, you heard right; the SHE Team is off on their first, on-the ground, mission in Kigali, Rwanda. How much more exciting can that be? If you are not familiar with us, perhaps now is the time to introduce. We, Sustainable Health Enterprises (SHE), aim to address a simple, common, and yet largely ignored problem: girls’ and women’s lack of sustained access to affordable, high-quality sanitary napkins for menstruation. It’s hard to believe, but the problem exists….all over developing countries! It struck me as incredible that the problem is so prevalent and most of the activity to address it has been ad hoc, geographically clustered, and mainly donation based. Nearing the danger zone of being overeducated, I decided to take a step forward and do something about this outrageous problem by creating Sustainable Health Enterprise (SHE). We’d take a different approach and look to help girls and women start their own franchises to make and sell affordable, quality, eco-friendly, sanitary napkins. And since October 2007, I haven’t looked back….drumming up enthusiasm, support, and partnerships from MIT to Echoing Green to __(insert your name here!)___.

So now I am here with the award winning SHE Team from Harvard-MIT (http://web.mit.edu/ideas/www/index.htm) gearing up for a feasibility assessment in Rwanda. Sounds fancy, huh? But what is a feasibility assessment, really? We’re defining it as essential primary research to determine whether or not we’ll be able to pilot our intervention to tackle the menstrual management problem in Rwanda and beyond. We’ll be doing research in a few different “buckets” (in consulting talk); namely:
1. consumer insights which is just a fancy way of saying we’ll be talking to girls and women about what they currently use when they menstruate, if they are happy with it, and if they aren’t, how can it be improved.
2. product development which is a fancy way of saying we’ll be trying to make the darn product cheaply and locally. Well, how are we going to pull that off?
3. community networks which is a fancy way of saying we’ll be looking for local organizations to own the gig once we jump-start it. We want the local women to own the business of making affordable sanitary napkins.

And essentially, we’ll take this information and say “yay” or “nay” by the end of the mission in August.

So with much ado…we’re off to the field! Come on with us!

My Brother: Best Pad Peddler?

August 14, 2009
Nyamata, Rwanda

Most of the time incorrect assumptions in Rwanda have minimal consequences, like assuming the water coming out of the shower would be hot (not cold—yikes!) or the typical fare would be flavorless (instead of spicy garlic—yum!). What’s the worst outcome of that? A little chill and maybe some bad breath.

But today, I was confronted by a situation that challenged this. Julian, our new COO and I went off to the Bugesera district in Rwanda to continue our discussions with our new training distribution partners: Community Health Workers (CHWs). Because distribution channels and associated costs make up ~30% of unaffordable sanitary pad prices, we’re partnering with natural existing networks (e.g., CHWs) that have low transaction costs and will form the backbone of the distribution network for products such as sanitary pads. So when I walked into the room, I assumed we’d meet 10 female CHWs. Not so. In fact, the majority were men. Men? How will they teach menstrual hygiene? How will they sell product? Why am I assuming that they wouldn’t be very successful? Am I right? Isn’t the quietness and apologetic tone around menstruation all across the globe partly driven by the fact that men do not menstruate as Gloria Steinem says?

Julian reports, "Interesting to know is that after several discussions, all were interested in the project, and suprisingly one of the men said ‘ahubwo ubu mbitekerejeho nsanga abantu twarashize’, in kinyarwanda loosely translated as ‘after thinking about the lack of menstrual health and hygiene educ and the fact that women are not using the right materials, we as a community are actually all gone/finished’ meaning they do realize the dangers involved in not having facts about the issue.

Is there a grave consequence to my assumption that women would’ve been in the room this morning? Would we have missed out on powerful male advocates? Distribution partners? What do you think?

Right Place, Right Time

Kicyuru, Rwanda
August 11, 2009

Talk about being in the right place at the right time.

Today, one of our important activities (Health and Hygiene Education feasibility study) took off and guess what, the group that we interacted with (all in Kigali town) all confessed, they do not talk about menstrual health and hygiene, Seriously can you imagine that? Ok, do you actually talk about menstrual hygiene? Because it looks like we are doing the right thing at the right time.

They do not mention it to their own kids, or anywhere else and so, it's amazing to know that the most frequent health occurrence is actually not being noticed, except for SHE who is taking it personal.

We definitely need to pass on a menstrual health program, a heads up for SHE!

We are off to Bugesera, see you soon with more news.


Hillary, Hillary, Let Done Your Hair

August 8, 2009
Kigali, Rwanda

So what were you up to on Wednesday? While I was picking flowers or braiding my hair (a joke for all those who don’t know me), our sister, Hillary Clinton, was picking up her pliers in the country next door. SOS Clinton gave a fierce speech addressing the Kenyan leadership, a leadership that is a result of an inflamed election and harrowing post-election violence killing 1,000 in 2007/2008. No one was rebuked. Clinton remarked, “this has not yet translated into the kind of political progress that the Kenyan people deserve,”

One symptom: corruption on all levels. Listen to this:

“According to Transparency International, a bribe is expected or solicited in nearly half of all transactions in Kenya, which is high even by New Jersey standards.” As a Jersey girl, I think she might be right.

The WSJ reports, “The ‘West’ has spent an estimated $2.3 trillion on foreign aid over the past five decades. Yet in a typical African country, one-third of the children under five still have stunted growth due to malnutrition.” Of course, this then begs the question, “What’s the point of international ‘aid’ so to speak and how can we change it?” Is this outrageous statistic a reflection of the political leadership? The international aid system in general? Or the capacity of the African nations and its people to take $$ and produce significant results?

What do you think? Rumors are that Hillary will be in Kigali tonight, perhaps she’ll kick back a few and expand.

SHE Culture Guide: Is it Touchy Feely Optional or Hard Core Vital for an Entrepreneur?

August 6, 2009
Kigali, Rwanda

Never one to dig following rules or embracing “protocol” (I was late to high school 43 times my senior year), I was surprised when I found myself on Monday talking with Julian, our new SHE COO, about that exactly. So why did I change the radio station? I’ve realized that organizational culture and initiating it early can heavily influence the probability of success as an entrepreneur whether success is financial returns, social returns, or just plain, work quality of life.

Rules, protocol, or a “cultural guide” as I am going to call it, are not so important if everyone is homogenous. But who wants to work with such a group? I’m a firm believer that better decisions are made if people come to the table with different experiences, skills, talents, and points of view. But there must be a common unifying thread among all such as the enterprise’s and employees’ mission, a respectful work environment, oh jeez, and dare I say a cell phone/blackberry etiquette? Don’t worry I am making sure I include another essential: fun.

Fun: All employees must have some.

Red Light to the Red Tide?

Hey people,

I have been thinking to myself, "would i stop menstruation if i could?" Aside of the fact that EMS would kill me for sabotage (she has been working on SHE and how dare i come up with this idea? ).

So now am thinking, if I could I would because it's totally not fun to look forward to periodical stress (some women have serious aches due menstruation), and so it's just uncomfortable. By the way, I read somewhere that in the old days, women never got out of bed during menstruation,PERIOD. So why would I not stop this if I could? It would make our lives better and comfy; however; on second thought, menstruation makes women special in every way: reproduction and staff, etc........... So to you all out there, what do you think?

Would you stop menstruation if you could?


Welcome Julian Kayibanda, SHE's New COO!

July 30, 2009
Kigali, Rwanda

Hold onto your feathered hats--Julian Kayibanda is SHE's new Chief Operations Officer, running the show in Rwanda. She will lead the continued roll-out of the SHE pilot which consists of health and hygiene education and establishment of businesses to distribute (and eventually manufacture) affordable sanitary pads.

Julian, who is also known as "Sweet," is a sharp, personable, and savvy woman of the world. She is Rwandan, grew up in Kenya, and studied in India. And if you think you are going to talk about her behind her back, think again--she knows English, Swahili, Kinyarwanda (Rwandan language), Rutoro, Luganda (Ugandan language), French, Hindi, and Kannada (Indian languages). Yes, I said Kannada! She brings a wealth of operational experience to SHE and passion for our mission. Watch this space as Julian takes the pad and runs with it!

Rags Aren't Always the Answer

July 10, 2009
Turerane, Rwanda

Women have been using rags for thousands of years when they menstruate. If that's the case, why would SHE take a different approach and try to decrease the cost of sanitary pads?

Recently, our on-the-ground SHE investigator, Maria, had the chance to talk with Rwandan girls at a local Young Women's Association. Listen to what they say:

Annalita says, “The second day of my period it is very tough. It is very painful because it is very heavy. It requires me to use a lot of rags and I need to change a lot of times and also it is very difficult in the village to get soap. So if there is a chance of getting affordable pads then I would be able to change.

If you have pads when you are travelling it would be easy. That would help you to continue with your daily programs and let you go where you wanted to go and do what you wanted to do.”

Anonsiatta says, “The reason I want to stop using rags is because when I spend a day with a rag it burns my thighs. Sometimes when you board a bicycle you sit on it and when you leave you have stained the seat that’s why I wish we could get pads. I think the pads would be easy for us to use.”

From The Girls

June 23, 2009
Rwamangana, Rwanda

Today I was reminded of why I started SHE in late 2007. I headed off with Maria, our new Rwandan correspondent (introduction coming soon!), to talk with a group of young women about health and hygiene—their thoughts, questions, and answers. A shy beginning evolved into an engaging conversation revealing some of the common issues girls and women face around the world—for example, Angela reflects some of the curiosity that girls/women have about their bodies, the health and hygiene and the difficulties in getting that information sometimes. But also, Jessica shares some of the issues that are not experienced by all, but are still serious, urgent, and need to be addressed. Check it out:

A Page From George Bush??!

June 16, 2009
Kigali, Rwanda

Half of girls in Rwanda say that they miss school when they are menstruating. They claim that the leading reason for this is that pads are too expensive. So why is there still an 18% Value Added Tax on pads?

Well, we have good news for you. The Rwandan Association for University Women have teamed up with SHE in their efforts to make sanitary pads more affordable to girls and women in Rwanda as they look into reducing the VAT on pads. Check out the news release in the latest Rwandan New Times article!


History in the Making.

June 13, 2009
Kigali, Rwanda

Banana fibre extraction machines arrived in Kigali and were assembled by technicians from India, accompanied by mechanics and engineers from Utextrwa (Rwanda fabric manufacturer who is involved in banana fibre project) and the Kigali Institute of Science and Technology.

After months of waiting, the banana fibre extraction machines are ready for business and SHE continues to partner with the Rwandan government to be a part of the research and technology initiative to help develop the new industry in Rwanda. Everyone gathered around in excitement to watch the first stem being shredded into long fibres to celebrate the important technology transfer and the birth of a new potential manufacturing tool.


Not All Checks Are Created Equal

June 5, 2009
Kicyru, Kigali, Rwanda

I invite you, oh SHE samurais, to come and try on a SHE shoe….you’re traveling on Bolt Buses (glorified Greyhound with wifi) to Boston and back, becoming the 21st passenger in the Matatus (African buses that seat 15) to reach home, helping yourself to networking event appetizer that is your dinner, enjoying Pabst instead of Pinot Noir. You are arguably like every other start-up venture full of passion but carrying a slim wallet. So if someone just wrote you a check for $3.1 Million for the next five years, you’d pop open the Perrier and rev up the Rover, right?

In the book of Elizabeth Scharpf likes and dislikes, signed checks are usually right up there next to orders of cilantro garnished guacamole that are “mistakenly” delivered to your table. So what is there to contemplate? Checks, or investments, are not created equal and good entrepreneurs must gauge the activities and outputs that are required of checks as they may take your strategic plan astray. How would the culture of your venture change? How would the prioritization of activities and constituents served change? And I invite you to share your tales of this very situation.

Does that mean I have to do the same with the guacamole? Nah, I’d just eat it.

Dead Aid?

May 26, 2009
Kigali, Rwanda

A few months ago, Dambisa Moyo came out with a book called Dead Aid in which the author argued that aid was not only failing to help African countries, but actually debilitating their ability to organically grow. This news feed was remarkable on a number of fronts:
-the author is an African economist who is analyzing Africa;
-the author has worked in the private sector;
-the author is a woman.

She is the antithesis of almost all dominant voices theorizing on what is going to turn developing countries (especially in Africa) around—that is, foreign, academic, and male. Now, I’m not out to make enemies, but I think the public debate is clearly ready to be complemented with a voice that has relevant information given the time she spent in Africa, given her work with the actor that may be the economic growth engine (private sector), and given her insight into the best ROI vehicle (women). But then again, isn’t this just another opinion added to the mix? Maybe, but maybe this time she’s calling it right. To be continued this summer when I hopefully talk with Dambisa herself.

An International Affair

May 24, 2009
Kigali Rwanda

France, Italy, Kenya, Rwanda, India, Germany….Is that the origin of the starting heat for the Olympic 400m competitors? Or maybe the origin of the front row participants at the latest UN conference?

Not even close…in fact, those are the countries which contribute to the production of the existing Rwandan sanitary pads. The materials are from France, the machine from Italy, the packaging from Kenya, the packers from Rwanda, the management from India, and I’m sure some Germans had a hand in there somewhere.

Silly or sly?

Kigali, Rwanda
May 18, 2009

Yes, it is true! The core SHE Team is now reunited as I join Hannah in Rwanda. It's like when Laverne came back from that journey and joined Shirley. Or Ponch and Jon from "CHiPs"....or Sylvester and Tweety...or Bill and Ted! We've banded together again as the SHE Team plans to roll out its pilot to increase access to affordable sanitary pads in Rwanda and beyond!

As we plan, there are a number of decisions to make...including our legal organizational structure which leads me to ask: Is Rwanda going down the yellow brick road to find a pot of gold or a pot of manure with its new structural laws? Right now, Rwanda does not allow NGOs to have income generating activities that cover NGO operational costs. Did the country just not read the latest handbook on sustainability? Or is it that they are being more visionary than others? By driving ventures like us to the for-profit sector, the Rwandan govt aims to increase its tax revenue and wean its way off of development aid. Brilliant, huh?! That is if people follow suit and NGOs don't just flood the market with free products/services, thereby making it uncompetitive for those nascent, tax-paying businesses like SHE!

Dance Dance Dance

Youth Center, Rwanda
May 11, 2009

SHE Rwanda has been making some great strides towards getting sanitary pads to girls and helping them stay in school. One way we are doing this is to partner with youth centers around Rwanda that will sell our pads, along with other family planning products, in youth-friendly environments.

During a recent visit to one of the youth centers I witnessed a huge dance party being held as an excuse to pass on educational lessons about reproductive and sexual health.

Because of the popularity of these centers, and their importance for educating communities in rural locations, SHE’s partnership with them enables us to greatly increase girl’s access to low cost sanitary pads. In the first three months of sales at youth centers, SHE anticipates being able to reach up to 10,000 girls in rural locations and that’s only the start!


NYTimes' Kristof Joins the SHE Team!

New York Times
May 6, 2009

Nicholas Kristof went where many do not once again when he talks about girls' absence from school because of menstruation and what SHE is doing about it. Check it out!


President Kagame Meets SHE

April 30, 2009

Last week, SHE champion and businesswoman extraordinaire Christine, took me three hours out of Kigali, to sit in a field in a small district to see President Kagame.
Kagame makes rounds between districts to encourage local communities to work hard and to hear complaints directly from citizens. Christine wanted me to go to address Kagame about SHE. I have generally become very comfortable talking to all manner of people about sanitary pads, including one very uncomfortable Ambassador, but I have to say, the prospect of having a conversation about sanitary pads with President Kagame, in front of a crowd of thousands whilst being broadcast on every radio station in the country, was a bit too daunting. However, Christine took the torch, and waited in line to announce to His Excellency and all of Rwanda, the work that SHE is doing in Rwanda. Go Christine!


15 Years Later

During the first week of April, Rwanda shuts down for Memorial Week to remember those who were killed during the genocide in 1994 and to say, as a country, “never again”. The theme this year was “hope”; an indication that even during a week dedicated to mourning, the country continues to look forward rather than backwards. During the week, commemorative events are held, including a candle light procession to the memorial in Kigali, and a service at the stadium in town. Music and dancing at any time are prohibited and the country takes on a definite feeling of mourning. It is a reminder to us all that while Rwanda amazes everyone with the strides it has taken to overcome its past obstacles, there is an important lesson, which is not to be forgotten, lying not far in its past. However, the word “hope” is a key message here, and one that Rwandans do not take lightly. Once the week finished, the call to go back to work was heard and the regular bustle in Kigali resumed with amazing efficiency as everyone kept their eyes on the prosperous future they so clearly want to realize.


Protopads Are In!

4:35pm April 21, 2009
Raleigh, North Carolina

We took one step forward for menstruating kind with the senior design class from North Carolina State sending through their first editions of the SHE protopad!

Women + Income= Benefits for All

Eastern Province, Rwanda
March 19, 2009

Numerous studies provide data on why assisting women in generating income benefits the community at large, but actually meeting the women behind those statistics is the best part of my job. Last week I had the opportunity to visit a banana wine cooperative in the East who we are hoping to work with in procuring banana fibres. The coop goes through 7 to 10 tons of banana trees a week meaning that the part we need for our sanitary pad project is being thrown out. Christine, the president of the Coop understood this as a terrific way for village women to earn more money and as she is already a successful business woman she was concerned about spreading wealth to others in her community. She invited women from her village to come talk to me about the need for low cost sanitary pads and then asked one of her coop members to demonstrate how to extract and prepare banana fibres. She also invited the Chief of Police and the Executive Secretary of the district to come watch and give their support for SHE and banana fibre extraction. What a day!


When A Period Ends More Than A Sentence.

"Menstruation matters? Yeah, so let's talk about it."

This phrase, my blogger friends, is not the status quo email in my inbox. But I was more than happy to respond to and meet with Rachel Kauder Nalebuff, author of My Little Red Book, not too long ago. Twenty emails, five phone calls, and one tea at the Tick Tock Diner later, Rachel and I co-wrote the following OpEd that landed on the front page of the Huffington Post on International Women's Day. Check it out if you want to learn about why menstruation matters in the global economy and what you can do about it!


Hannah's Excellent Eastern Adventure

Doing business in Rwanda is certainly an education in linguistics, and I learned this during my visit to the Urugero Women’s Cooperative in Rwamagama yesterday. In hopes of procuring banana fibre for our research in the United States, I went to the East of Rwanda to meet with the women’s cooperative who had been trained in extraction and to try to bargain with them for the price of fibre which had been rapidly increasing as both the banana farmers and the women’s coop realized there was money to be made.

The conversation over the price of fibre switched between a terrible hybrid of French, English and Kinyarwanda. Jokes were made that then had to be passed from one language to the next like some ridiculous form of the telephone game, and business transactions were interpreted over and over again until everyone was confident that their sentiments had been properly articulated to the other party. However, despite the language barriers and the potential for misunderstandings, the interaction was remarkably amiable and everyone ultimately wanted the best for the business. In the end there were smiles all around, and I was presented with a beautiful piece of artwork made from banana leaves which I cherish. The visit was not just a great excuse to get out of Kigali but an opportunity to connect with some of the women whose lives SHE is hoping to have a positive impact on as our business grows.


Introducing Hannah Poole, SHE's Rwanda Operations Wizard!

Let's all welcome Hannah Poole back to Rwanda in her new role with SHE. Live from Hannah in Rwanda.....

If an organization was a person, SHE would be that fearless, resourceful, yet open-hearted female entrepreneur who’s intrepid and tenacious attitude gets her where she needs to go as she forges ahead with strategies to bring true meaningful change to the world. We have no SUVs or pretences, rather we use our talent and our spirit to bridge the gap between the women and girls we are passionate about empowering, and those who have the financial means and political power to make it happen. As I undertake my new role in Rwanda, this is the attitude and goal I have so that SHE Rwanda can become a reality.

Last night, having been invited to the British Embassy for cocktails, I felt I truly embodied the SHE spirit. Knowing that the dress was smart casual, I dressed appropriately in a knee-length narrow black skirt topped with a tight long sleeved t-shirt and heels. My hair and make-up done, I finally got around to thinking about how I would make my way up the road to the Embassy. My house is about a 20 minute walk from the main road through a village on an extremely uneven dirt track. In running shoes the terrain in a challenge, in stilettos a ridiculous endeavour.

However, hating to waste money (which would be better spent elsewhere) for just me in a huge taxi, and realizing that there was absolutely no way I could straddle the back of a motorbike-taxi in my skirt, I took up the challenge to walk. And what a spectacle I was! Dressed up and sinking into the dirt with every step of my heel, I teetered up the hill and past the local village houses that line the road. Within minutes I had collected a hundred peculiar looks from the adults, and a posse of children dancing around me, yelling “Umuzungu” (white man) grabbing at my hands, the hem of my skirt and the edge of my t-shirt making each step all the more precarious. But as I made my way up the hill trying to make walking in stilettos on a dirt track in Africa look as natural as possible, despite being ridiculously out of place and inappropriately dressed for my surroundings, I thought to myself that there was no other way I would have rather travelled. My escort of children, and the “bonjours” from the local women helped to remind me who I am really working for and how important it is to be connected to them.

At the top of the hill I stepped into a hotel and with the nod of a doorman suddenly fit in again with my surroundings. I dipped into a hotel bathroom, wiped the sweat from my brow and dirt from my heels and got ready to step into the world of expatriates and diplomats, a strange yet important transition, but one that many people are afraid of making. Stepping out of the car and forming the bridge between the poverty I had just walked through and those who I hoped to inspire to help me empower the women and girls of Rwanda.

High Fives to Hillary and Rachel

3:24pm January 14, 2009
Boltbus from Boston to NYC

While 2009 may mark the year of the Ox in China, for us at SHE in NYC/Rwanda, it's the month of Hillary and Rachel. Hillary and Rachel? Hmmmm...never heard of them....are they a new comedy act? Do they have that MTV reality show with that guy who used to be Pee Wee Herman? We're talking about Hillary, as in Hillary Clinton. And Rachel, as in Rachel Strohm. Find out why they are our first honorary members of SHE's 28 Day Club!

Hillary: At today's hearing for approval for Secretary of State, Hillary told us the truth about poverty.

“Of particular concern to me,” she said, “is the plight of women and girls, who comprise the majority of the world’s unhealthy, unschooled, unfed and unpaid.”

Goldman Sachs' report underlines the urgency to address this by arguing if we invest in girls' education (including the availability of affordable sanitary pads), we invest in the economic growth of our nations.

Rachel: SHE is full steam ahead in researching and developing an affordable sanitary pad for the girls and women Hillary is talking about. To do this, scientists at MIT, NCState, and KIST are experimenting away. But where do they get their materials to test considering SHE is using materials locally found in our pilot country of Rwanda? I'd like you all to high five Rachel, a social entrepreneurial star, who makes things happen...even if it involves large suitcases, international transport, and bizarre facial expressions at customs!

Way to work it, Hillary and Rachel, the first honorary members of SHE's 28 Day Club!