Pad-onomics: Investing in Girls and Women, One Pad at a time

Pad-onomics: Investing in Girls and Women, One Pad at a time

Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
$250,000 - $500,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

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

SHE’s vision is to develop sustainable and holistic business models, primarily in the health sector, in emerging markets. SHE takes a holistic and sustainable approach to improving people's lives through education, advocacy, and business development. Rather than a donation-only approach, SHE enables individuals to develop the capacity to improve their own and their families’ circumstances through education and training, advocacy, technology transfer, and access to capital. SHE puts its approach into practice with its first initiative, SHE28, by creating sustainable businesses that address a global problem with effects on peoples’ health, their education, and a country’s economy: girls’ and women's lack of access to affordable, eco-friendly, menstrual products and services.

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

SHE28 kicked off in the Rwandan community in East Africa in 2008. The genocide of 1994 affects everyone everyday in Rwanda because of personal losses, but also because of the destruction of the economy and institutions. Despite this tragic history, it has made great leaps in the past 15 years. Rwanda is one of the poorest countries in the world with a GDP per capita at ~$350 USD/year, but the policies President Kagame is putting in place are facilitating business development and job creation. Local communities, also the leaders of rebuilding, have responded. Rwanda’s GDP growth in 2010 was 11%. Women have and continue to play a significant role in the rebuilding of the country. Currently, Rwanda has more female representation in high government (56% of Parliament are women) in the world. As a result, SHE28 has been making headway on a typically unmentionable topic. The key to our success is the individuals who lead SHE28 locally such as Julian Kayibanda, our SHE28 COO. She is a Rwandan national who grew up in Kenya because of the political situation and returned to her country to rebuild it. Julian, along with a team of other Rwandan members and partners such as the Rwandan Workforce Development Agency, the Kigali Institute of Science and Technology, are eliminating the taboo around menstruation, rolling out national health and hygiene education, and jump-starting businesses locally.

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

The SHE28 initiative will address girls’ and women’s lost educational and economic opportunity by developing a franchise model, led by a local community, to manufacture and distribute affordable, high-quality, and eco-friendly sanitary pads for girls and women. The pads will be sold for 70% less than the multi-national branded product. SHE will ensure the development and marketing of a reliable product that meets health standard requirements by sourcing local, inexpensive raw materials (e.g., banana, bamboo fibers), leveraging existing networks, including women’s organizations, and facilitating a sustainable business model operated and owned by women in the community that can be replicated globally. Once the sustainable businesses are established, SHE and its local partners will look to use the distribution network to market other essential products as well. Most of the initiatives in this arena are ad hoc, geographically clustered, and not sustainable. For example, one educational group built a school in Ethiopia, found out that girls were not attending because of expensive pads. A multi-national donated 6 months of product leaving the community without a sustainable solution. The foundation of the SHE28 model is local entrepreneurship and business development to create jobs and independency. SHE28 trains local individuals in simple business skills (e.g, inventory management) to build their own company using local materials, creating more jobs for people in the community such as farmers who typically wouldn’t use some of the plants material they grow.
Impact: How does it Work

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

SHE28 incorporates three components: education, advocacy, and business development. Education equips all members of the community with essential information about reproductive, sexual health and menstrual and hygiene management. Advocacy mitigates the taboo of menstruation causing improved health status and positive policy change. This coupled with helping local entrepreneurs launch distribution and small-scale pad manufacturing businesses ensures long-term sustainability increasing education, health, economic growth, and dignity. With the manufacturing and roll out of our menstrual pad, the LaunchPad, girls and women will have access to an affordable menstrual product which will positively affect families’ economic opportunities as women invest 80 cents in her family for every USD$1 she earns.
About You
SHE: Sustainable Health Enterprises
About You
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Last Name


About Your Organization
Organization Name

SHE: Sustainable Health Enterprises

Organization Country

, NY

Country where this project is creating social impact

, KV

How long has your organization been operating?

1‐5 years

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What stage is your project in?

Operating for 1‐5 years

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

Elizabeth Scharpf founded Sustainable Health Enterprises (SHE) in 2007 because of her shock and outrage at the incredible scale and effect of millions of girls and women in developing countries missing school and/or work because they do not have access to affordable menstrual pads.

While working for the World Bank in Mozambique, Scharpf visited a local business and inquired about absenteeism in the work place. The business owner cited menstruation as a reason why 20 percent of her employees missed work. Women typically use rags which are ineffective because they leak and might stain clothing, explained the business owner. As a result, girls and women miss school or work in this area of Mozambique (three to four days a month) for fear of embarrassment.

Scharpf soon discovered that this problem is not only an obstacle in this village in Mozambique but in other parts of the world as well, including West Africa, Central America and South Asia. In October 2007 Scharpf founded SHE and kicked off the SHE28 initiative with the goal to do something about this problem.

Echoing Green, Harvard Business School, Bill Clinton, and The New York Times' Nick Kristof have recognized SHE for their innovation.

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

The following are key milestones of our success to date. After that, we describe our more medium term measurements for success.
Q1-Q4 2010:
• Trained 50 Community Health Workers (CHWs) in health and hygiene education;
• The CHWs have reached 5,000+ Rwandans in health and hygiene education across the country; and,
• Established new partnerships with leading school districts (FAWE) to adopt the curriculum in the classroom.

Q1 2011:
• Kicked off national health education roll-out in partnership with Community Health Workers and local authorities to train 56 trainers of trainers and local community leaders in the Rwanda Eastern Province, Ngoma.
• Hired Alphonsine Uwimana (experienced Trainer Of Trainers) to lead national health education roll-out;
• Had in-depth conversations with new NIKE/Girl Hub initiative for girl health education, entrepreneurship--any partnership would be 2012 around economic
activities/pad distribution; and,
• Disseminated health and menstrual management content to actors worldwide requesting it: India, Ghana, Kenya, South Africa, and Haiti.

Q1-Q4 2010:
• Led grassroots advocacy campaign (with 10 other leading orgs) entitled “Breaking the Silence on Menstruation,” catalyzing hundreds of Rwandans to march across the capital and engage in public discussion on how to break down barriers to girls’ education;
• As a response, the Rwandan government passed the 2011 budget which includes a new line item of $35K to procure menstrual pads for girls in the poorest regions of Rwanda; and,
• Local leaders advocated for Rwandan Parliament to vote on the abolishment of an 18% VAT on menstrual pads.

Q1 2011:
• Met with campaign committee (i.e., head of FAWE) and reviewed SHE internal recommendations on national strategy to remove pad tax; and
• Sparked interest from diverse stakeholders (i.e., UNICEF, Walmart and large girl-focused foundations such as Novo-Buffet and Belinda Stronach Foundation) to potentially collaborate on global campaign to remove pad tax.

Q1-Q4 2010:
• Equipped 50 Community Health Workers with simple business skills so that they can start their own small distribution business selling pads at 15% less than the prior African benchmark price (and ~60% less than premium brand products);
• Collaborated with MIT, North Carolina State, and the Kigali Institute of Science and Technology in developing an innovative process to use local banana fibers as the raw material to make menstrual pads (forecasted to sell 35% less than benchmark and ~70% less than premium brand products and forecasted to create 100 jobs per manufacturing franchise); and,
• Completed in-depth manufacturing center due diligence: gauging potential sites, identifying potential raw material suppliers, national distributors, machinery fabricators, etc; and,
• Kicked off partnership with Bobby Chang of INCASE to take pad 1.0 to higher sophistication in product design and manufacturing processing ensuring consistent quality.

Q1 2011:
• Planned for local fabrication of machinery using pad 1.0 design: investigating sourcing finished materials from Kenya, engaging local fabricators (CITT);
• Hired Rwanda staff: young business school graduate to be business researcher, Justine Mueteri; and
• Vetted CEOs and “implementers” from two professional shops for pad 2.0: Innovation Edge, run by former Chief Technology Officer of Kimberly Clark (—materials experts, and TC2 (—machinery, tech transfer experts.

The success of SHE’s efforts will be measured in three areas:
1. Girls’ increase in school attendance: Significant increase in school attendance and decrease in pelvic infections for target menstrual pad population (approximately 37,500 ten to fourteen year old girls in Eastern Rwandan pilot district) in short-term; in long-term, increase in income, productivity for target population (with same demographic characteristics) throughout Rwanda and beyond.
2. Women’s increase in work attendance: Significant increase in income of entrepreneurs working in franchises (one hundred 18-35 year old women) in short-term; in long-term, increase in health and education outcomes for their families.
3. Decrease in infection due to menstruation
4. Sustainability of pad franchise (pad sales covering at least fixed costs) in short-term; in long-term, profitability and financial independence from 3rd party sources.

A baseline study has already been conducted countrywide in Rwanda, the site of the pilot, where SHE team members talked with over 500 girls and women and found that 18 percent of girls who miss school do so because menstrual pads are too expensive. Meanwhile, 12 percent of women who miss work do so because menstrual pads are too expensive. GDP loss because of absenteeism due to menstruation is significant (~$115 million in GDP/year in Rwanda).

How many people have been impacted by your project?

1,001- 10,000

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?

SHE28 will scale up operations in Rwanda as well as look to test the feasibility of replication in other geographies where the problem addressed exists such as Central America (e.g., Guatemala) and Asia (e.g., India). SHE28’s scaling up efforts in Rwanda will include rolling out 3 additional franchises in the 3 remaining provinces so that affordable pads are accessible to a broader audience. Given SHE28’s success in Rwanda, SHE will replicate program feasibility assessments in other geographies.

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

The long-term success of the system design depends on the political stability of the countries we operate in, primarily in East Africa. Ideally, the SHE28 model will be replicated in other regions of the world including Asia and South America and so the political stability in these regions of the world is imperative to SHE28 success as well.

For each country we enter, we will do a preliminary assessment both by visiting the country, and more importantly incorporating local leaders’ thoughts (and their leadership) on the trajectory of their country.

Tell us about your partnerships

The following are some of the many partnerships we have established:

Massachusetts Institute of Technology - absorbency testing
7TH Generation – product design expertise
Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE) – space for training
Rwandan Ministry of Education/Workforce Development Authority – space for machinery
Rwandan Women’s Network – access to female entrepreneurs
Population Services International (PSI) – shelf space for product
Kigali Institute of Technology (KIST) - Product design development

Explain your selections

Individuals, friends and family, and foundations financially support us and provide technical expertise. Businesses also provide technical expertise.

The national government of Rwanda supports us through advocacy and in-kind (office space and technical training materials) goods.

Customers support us by buying the existing generic pads with our new distribution network and will support us in the future by buying our SHE LaunchPad, eventually eliminating the need for venture philanthropy dollars.

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

We will strengthen our project in the next three years with a three-pronged approach. First, we drive more revenue from LaunchPad sales to cover all operating expenses within Rwanda, ensuring independent financial stability of franchises. Second, we will establish formal relationships with more local entrepreneurs in expansion countries. Lastly, we will formalize international partnerships with diverse, but powerful stakeholders (ie., UNICEF, multi-nationals such as Walmart, national governments, etc) from different sectors to together eliminate policies that are obstacles to economic growth (e.g, taxes on pads).

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


Lack of visibility and investment


Lack of skills/training


Restrictive cultural norms

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

Menstruation is a taboo and therefore, unmentionable, around the world. By creating an advocacy campaign and introducing hygiene education, we are tackling the lack of visibility around this issue.

We have and are currently training local entrepreneurs in simple business skills (e.g., inventory management, simple bookkeeping, etc). In addition, we are transferring technical expertise associated with manufacturing through partnerships with academic institutions and the government.

As mentioned above, cultural norms have not allowed the conversation to take place with regards to this issue. By creating an advocacy campaign and introducing hygiene education to all members of the community (including boys and men), we are tackling the restrictive cultural norms around this issue.

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


Enhanced existing impact through addition of complementary services


Grown geographic reach: Multi-country


Grown geographic reach: Global

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

Delivery of H&H education - In 2011 SHE28 will directly train 500 school girls in health and hygiene curriculum. These school girls, in turn, will spread the word on health and hygiene practices to 100 Rwandans each, bringing the total number of recipients of health and hygiene education to 50,000. In the following year SHE28 will double these numbers. We also hired a new H&H expert to spearhead these initiatives.

SHE28 will identify two separate communities where it will continue to conduct health and hygiene education and introduce low-cost locally made menstrual pads. Local entrepreneurs will lead this. SHE28 will monitor and evaluate these interventions with target populations.

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

NGOs/Nonprofits, For profit companies, Academia/universities.

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

As mentioned earlier, here are specific collaborations:

Echoing Green- sharing best social enterprise practices
Massachusetts Institute of Technology - absorbency testing
7TH Generation – product design expertise
Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE) – space for training
Rwandan Ministry of Education/Workforce Development Authority – space for machinery
Rwandan Women’s Network – access to female entrepreneurs
Population Services International (PSI) – shelf space for product
Kigali Institute of Technology (KIST) - Product design development