LaunchPad : using Eco-Friendly Affordable Sanitary Pads to bring health & economic prosperity to women & girls in Sierra Leone

LaunchPad : using Eco-Friendly Affordable Sanitary Pads to bring health & economic prosperity to women & girls in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone
Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
Budget: 
$1,000 - $10,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

LaunchPad uses a market based solution to improve the menstrual health and hygiene of women and girls living in Sierra Leone. We are creating a sustainable distribution channel that sells eco-friendly, affordable sanitary pads. We focus on training female entrepreneurs to become ‘LaunchPad Champions’ and advocates for menstrual hygiene.

A majority of women and girls in Sierra Leone don’t have a hygienic way to manage their period. Women may use 5 pairs of underwear, kitchen sponges, and old cloth to manage their menstruation. They call these materials ‘pieces’. Due to the rough nature of the ‘pieces’, women experience rashes, sores and bruising on the inside of their thighs.

We create economic opportunities and improve the health and wellbeing of women in Sierra Leone.

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Sierra Leone is one of the poorest countries in the world and it is also considered to be one of the worst places on earth to be born a girl. With a high rate of maternal mortality, female genital mutilation, honour killings and sexual violence, the challenges faced by women and girls are seemingly endless. Women in Sierra Leone work around the clock, with a majority of their day spent working on farms, collecting water and selling produce at the market. Women in rural areas will walk at least 10kms per day and this is only made more difficult when using ‘pieces’ to manage menstruation. After conducting surveys with 500 women and girls across ten communities, we discovered the main issues with ‘pieces’ were rashes, bruising and sores caused by the rough material, shame and embarrassment when washing soiled cloth, strong smell and strong stomach pain which they believed were caused by the unhygienic nature of the cloth. Only 10% of the woman and girls surveyed had heard of a sanitary pad. After our survey, we conducted sensitization workshops and created a trial program which sold over 1000 sanitary pads to 147 women across 5 communities. We recently collected feedback from the participants in our trial program, and 100% said they preferred pads over ‘pieces’. The overwhelming response was that they want pads, now. The women also told us they were excited about the prospect of ‘doing business’ rather than receiving handouts. “We are business women, work with us.” They are waiting patiently for the commencement of the sustainable distribution channel.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

LaunchPad is the only organisation in West Africa addressing the issue of menstrual health and hygiene using a market-based solution. Our product is affordable for low-income earners and environmentally friendly. The sanitary pads are biodegradable and will break down in pit toilets within a 10 – 12 month period. Our two-pronged delivery method capitalises on our potential to scale up quickly. Our first delivery method is through direct selling by our LaunchPad Champions. LaunchPad Champions are ‘insiders’ in their community, and they are able to share from their own personal experience and open up a dialogue on menstrual health in their community. Direct selling enable’s LaunchPad Champions to privately explain the benefits of using sanitary pads and to build upon existing relationships with their customers. LaunchPad Champions earn a commission on each sale allowing them to reinvest in their business and family. Our second delivery method is through leveraging existing health networks that exist in Sierra Leone. By developing partnerships with BRAC and Marie Stopes International we will increase accessibility of affordable sanitary pads for women in rural communities. BRAC’s existing network of 20,000 Community Health Volunteers, and Marie Stopes Health Clinics will drastically increase exposure to more than 300,000 new customers. LaunchPad is a social enterprise with all profits being reinvested in the organisation to expand our network of LaunchPad Champions and increase our social impact.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

1. Creating employment opportunities for women living in rural communities. We work closely with our targeted communities, and the chiefs of each village help us identify female leaders who could become LaunchPad Champions. After the Champions have been identified, they will undergo basic financial literacy training, and participate in senstisation sessions that discuss the benefits of using sanitary pads. Our LaunchPad Champions will sell sanitary pads door-to-door and use word of mouth marketing to promote the product throughout their community. We believe that greater economic participation amongst women strengthens the community and promotes gender equality. 2. To improve the menstrual health and hygiene of women and girls Each month, women and girls expose themselves to an array of life-threatening diseases due to poor menstrual hygiene. Teenage girls will miss out on up to one week of school every month, just because they have their period and are too embarrassed to attend school. Through sanitary pad sales, sensitisation workshops and conversations led by our LaunchPad champions, we aim to drastically improve the menstrual health and hygiene of women and girls living in rural Sierra Leone. Our sensitisation workshops provide women with access to new information and knowledge to better manage their own health and wellbeing. 3. To create a scalable business model that can be replicated in other countries There are millions of women across the globe who face similar issues. We aim to create a sustainable business model that can be scaled up and replicated across the globe.
About You
Organization:
One Girl
About You
First Name

Chantelle

Last Name

Baxter

About Your Organization
Organization Name

One Girl

Organization Country

, VIC

Country where this project is creating social impact

, N

How long has your organization been operating?

1‐5 years

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Innovation
What stage is your project in?

Operating for less than a year

Share the story of the founder and what inspired the founder to start this project

I (Chantelle) was travelling through Africa in 2010.

On my travels, I met and befriended a young girl called Brenda. Brenda was 14 years old, and she lived with her grandmother and three siblings in a slum area of Kampala.

One day Brenda came to me with a panicked look on her face. “I have malaria,” she said. “Malaria? Oh my god! We have to get you to a doctor!” I yelled. After a few conversations with Brenda and a woman who spoke to the local language, we discovered that Brenda didn’t have malaria. She had just gotten her first period.

A few days later, Brenda approached me and asked me to buy her a packet of sanitary pads. I said no. I was leaving in a few days and I wouldn’t be there to buy her pads each month. Whatever she was currently using would have to do. “The nurse said I’ll get cancer if I don’t use sanitary pads,” Brenda replied. “Ahhh rubbish,” I said, “She’s only trying to scare you.”

After returning to my hostel, I began to do some research. It turns out that Brenda’s nurse was right. Cervical cancer is one of the biggest killers of women and girls in developing countries. It has been linked to poor menstrual health and hygiene.

I caught up with Brenda a few days later. She had taken the whole week off school because she was too embarrassed to go when she had her period. Not only was she facing a whole range of diseases, but she’d now be missing out on a week of school every month as well.

Being a part of Brenda’s experience is what inspired LaunchPad. Menstruation shouldn’t mean inequality.

Social Impact
Please describe how your project has been successful and how that success is measured

In Oct 2010 we began market research in ten rural communities in the northern Sierra Leone. 500 women and girls participated. Of those surveyed, only 10% had heard of a sanitary pad and only 1 woman was currently using sanitary pads. The remaining women and girls used old cloth and other makeshift materials to manage their period. No organisation had ever discussed menstrual health with any of those surveyed. All gave positive responses to LaunchPad starting in their community.

In Jan 2011, we created a small trial program to establish market demand. We conducted sensitisation workshops in 5 communities. Our sensitisation workshops discussed the benefits of using sanitary pads, and a demonstration on how to use them. After the workshops we sold more than 1000 sanitary pads to 147 women. Word of LaunchPad travelled quickly, and women from surrounding communities were visiting our targeted communities in an effort to purchase their own pack of pads.

In Apr 2011 we conducted interviews with 100 women across the 5 participating communities. 100% liked the softness and comfort of the pads. They said the pads allowed them more privacy and dignity because no washing was required. None of the women experienced any rashes, bruising or sores. Only 5 women said that they were unable to afford the pads, however they could afford to buy smaller packs of pads (2 at a time) at a lower cost.

The women loved the business aspect of LaunchPad, and they made it very clear to us that they will embrace this business to help themselves and their communities.

How many people have been impacted by your project?

101-1,000

How many people could be impacted by your project in the next three years?

More than 10,000

How will your project evolve over the next three years?

For the next year we will be working on setting up a sustainable distribution channel in Sierra Leone. Initially we will supply pads to 5 targeted communities, with the intention of recruiting more LaunchPad Champions and expanding our reach consistently over the next twelve months. We will be continuously collecting information regarding sales, challenges and will also develop systems to ensure LaunchPad is scalable.

In order to expand our customer base, we will be establishing formal partnerships with Marie Stopes International and BRAC Sierra Leone. Using BRAC’s existing networks of 20,000 health workers, we will scale LaunchPad so that it services a majority of the rural communities. Women in urban areas will also be able to buy pads through Marie Stopes Health Clinics.

Sustainability
What barriers might hinder the success of your project and how do you plan to overcome them?

1. Access To Start-Up Capital
LaunchPad is in its startup phase with limited available capital. We have successfully established market demand and proof of concept which positions us well to attract significant investors. We have identified three main funding streams for startup capital including : grant applications totalling access to $125,000, cause marketing initiative with a large hygiene corporation and access to funds through a group of Australian Family Trusts.

2. Lack of recognition and acceptance of a new product
Introducing sanitary pads into a new market where a majority of the customers have never heard of or seen a sanitary pad before will raise a number of challenges. To combat this, we will be running sensitisation workshops that detail the benefits of using sanitary pads and demonstrations on how to use them. Our LaunchPad Champions will also undergo marketing training to ensure they can run smaller workshops with women from their communities.

2. Disposal Methods / Environmental impact of pads
To avoid the spread of diseases, or to prevent ‘creating a new problem’, we need to ensure the sanitary pads are disposed of appropriately. All of our Champions will be trained in the correct disposal methods, and they will also understand what issues will arise if pads are not disposed of correctly. We will be continuously evaluating the disposal methods of our customers to ensure there is no harm to the environment. Or pads are biodegradable and will breakdown in drop toilets within 10 – 12 months.

Tell us about your partnerships

We believe in a strong partnership philosophy. By sharing knowledge and using existing networks we save time, money, reduce duplication and increase accessibility for women and girls to manage their menstruation with dignity.

Once established, we will be looking to partner with BRAC Sierra Leone. BRAC has a network of 20,000 female Community Health Volunteers who could also become potential LaunchPad champions. The Country Director of BRAC has expressed interest in partnering with LaunchPad once the business has some proven ongoing success.

Marie Stopes International has been working in Sierra Leone since 1987 and is a global leader providing sexual reproductive health services. Marie Stopes have been extremely helpful in identifying numerous health issues women face when it comes to menstruation. We aim to work with Marie Stopes International to distribute affordable sanitary pads through their health clinics. Marie Stopes have 12 health clinics throughout Sierra Leone and provides health services to almost 200,000 women a year.

MakaPads is a technology leader manufacturing affordable eco-friendly sanitary pads in Uganda. With support from the Rockefeller Foundation and the UN-Habitat program MakaPads is now producing and distributing the locally made sanitary pads throughout Uganda and Kenya. We are currently liasing with Makapads to establish best practice for selling pads in Sierra Leone.

Explain your selections

LaunchPad's financial support has come from fundraising initiatives via friends and family, a $500 prize for coming 2nd in Australia’s Brightest Young Minds competition and equal 1st place in the University of Sydney’s Business Plan Competition receiving $1,500. This small amount of capital has allowed us to complete surveys and run a trial program that established market demand and proof of concept. Once LaunchPad’s distribution channel has been established, the money from sanitary pad sales will be reinvested to allow for expansion.

LaunchPad receives pro-bono support from Social Traders (business plan development/skills training), Norton Rose Group(legal advice), Get Started (office space). LaunchPad was incubated through the Australian School for Social Entrepreneurs nine-month action learning program.

In Sierra Leone LaunchPad has received the support from the highest level of government through to women in the rural communities. The First Lady of Sierra Leone has pledged to support LaunchPad, and we have worked with Marie Stopes and BRAC to gather information for our trial program and business plan.

One Girl co-founders David Dixon and Chantelle Baxter are spearheading the development of LaunchPad, with support from a team of volunteers and board of directors. The board consists of Julie Mundy (former CEO of Marie Stopes Australia), Jennifer Black (Senior Executive at Ernst & Young), Ranj Samrai (former Executive of Fundraising at CARE Australia).

Our customers support the project by buying sanitary pads for 3000Le per pack (68 US cents)

How do you plan to strengthen your project in the next three years?

In order to succeed, we will be sourcing funding from numerous sources in order to kickstart LaunchPad and successfully establish a sustainable distribution channel. We will hire new staff to fill roles such as logistic and project managers, financial literacy trainer and monitoring and evaluation experts. We will expand both our local and international team, and focus on building their capacity and increasing our asset base. It’s imperative that we have the right people on the bus, sitting in the right seats.

We will be establishing systems and processes to ensure that we have a strong foundation in which to grow and expand to meet the needs of our customers. Well developed systems are key to managing the growth of the organisation. There will be strong emphasis on collecting data to determine the social return on investment, as well as the ongoing monitoring of project successes and challenges that arise along the way.

We will be strengthened by increasing sales, accessing new customers and establishing a strong & loyal customer base. Our sales growth will be slow at first while we work to establish systems, processes and ironing out challenges that arise. We believe in getting things right on a smaller scale initially, rather than racing ahead and expanding too quickly. Our priority is to ensure the health and wellbeing of our customers, the environment and the financial sustainability of our LaunchPad Champions.

Our business plan includes further details about legal structure, financial growth projections and staffing requirements moving forward.

Challenges
Which barriers to employment does your innovation address?
Please select up to three in order of relevancy to your project.

PRIMARY

Restricted access to new markets

SECONDARY

Lack of skills/training

TERTIARY

Underemployment

Please describe how your innovation specifically tackles the barriers listed above.

The high cost of sanitary pads and the lack of education around menstrual health and hygiene keep the market restricted. Sanitary pads can only be purchased from western style supermarkets and larger street vendors in the capital Freetown. The introduction of affordable sanitary pads combined with sensitization workshops will establish a new segment of the market.

Our financial literacy and marketing training will assist LaunchPad Champions in becoming successful entrepreneurs and increase their earning capacity.

Our current LaunchPad champions are teachers, farmers and small retailers. Selling sanitary pads will diversify their income stream and ensure their own financial sustainability.

Are you trying to scale your organization or initiative?
If yes, please check up to three potential pathways in order of relevancy to you.

PRIMARY

SECONDARY

Grown geographic reach: Multi-country

TERTIARY

Grown geographic reach: Global

Please describe which of your growth activities are current or planned for the immediate future.

We are currently setting up a sustainable distribution channel in Sierra Leone. We’re starting in our 5 targeted communities, and then we will expand to neighbouring communities in the Northern Region. Once our systems and processes have been established, we will leverage existing networks to continue to grow throughout Sierra Leone.

Once LaunchPad has been successfully established in Sierra Leone, we will look to neighbouring countries (such as Liberia), and create a trial program to establish market demand, and begin the LaunchPad startup process again.

Based on conversations with development experts from other countries around the world (East Timor) we believe there is a large market of women who would benefit from the introduction of low cost, eco-friendly sanitary pads.

Do you collaborate with any of the following: (Check all that apply)

Government, Technology providers, NGOs/Nonprofits, Academia/universities.

If yes, how have these collaborations helped your innovation to succeed?

LaunchPad has collaborated with two eco-friendly sanitary pad manufacturers : MakaPads (Uganda) & Jayashree Industries (India). Both organisations pioneered development of new technology and established new markets in Uganda, Kenya and India. They have provided LaunchPad with valuable knowledge on barriers to entry, market demand, operational costs, and available technologies.

Marie Stopes International is known for its sexual health reproductive clinics. Through their experience working with women in Sierra Leone they have been able to provided vital knowledge on the issues women face when it comes to menstruation.

Our meeting with the First Lady of Sierra Leone has resulted in free furniture for our office in Sierra Leone. She has pledged to help if logistical issues arise.