Menstrual Health Management (MHM) solutions:
AFRIpads, One4Her and Impact Investment
We first learned of the Menstrual Health Management (MHM) issue in 2000 when we were contacted by Zimbabwean/Canadian activist Isabella Wright. She informed us that girls and women, in many areas, had little or nothing to help them manage their menses. In many communities, disposable menstrual products were impossibly expensive or simply unavailable: as a result their health, freedom and dignity were being severely compromised.
Lack of access to menstrual products affects millions of girls in the Global South. One part of the solution is provide girls with washable menstrual pads and underwear that will last for years. Providing reusable products means the burden of purchasing products each month is removed and the environmental devastation that hundreds of thousands of disposable pads would cause is alleviated.
Since 2000, in partnership with dozens of individuals, groups and NGOs, Lunapads has helped provide over 14,000 girls and women in 18 nations with over 85,000 menstrual pads and/or menstrual underwear, giving them an immediate, hygienic and sustainable means to go about their lives with confidence.
From the initial email that we received in 2008 from Founders Sophia Klumpp and Paul Grinvalds – telling us that they had received some Lunapads samples from a Canadian volunteer and asking what our feeling were about setting up a business making their own version – we were hooked.
Everything about it made sense: locally-produced pads would not only cost less and reduce carbon emissions by not flying Lunapads halfway around the world, it would create sustainable employment. These are the types of opportunities that we look for: what can have the greatest impact, be most sustainable socially as well as economically? We also liked the proximity of the organization to the user groups, making the essential component of education to go hand-in-hand with supplying the products.
Following our visit to Uganda in 2012, where we met Paul and Sonia in person for the first time, we created a program called One4Her: a Buy-One-Fund-One program where the purchase of each Lunapad funds the production of a Ugandan-made AFRIpad washable pad, supporting girls well being as well as employment for women.
As of Fall of 2015, AFRIpads has reached over 750,000 girls with their kits, in addition to being a model as a Ugandan business that is creating economic independence for its majority-female workforce. In 2016, we will be also broadening our One4Her focus from pads to educational materials – stay tuned!
Beyond One4Her: Impact Investing
Since our relationship with AFRIpads began in 2008, we have witnessed the growth of a prime example of what we feel has even greater potential to spur sustainable economic development, job creation, gender equality and production of affordable goods and services in developing countries: investment in a developing world SME (small-to-medium-sized enterprise).
We became shareholders and invested in AFRIpads in early 2014 as part of their plan to expand their production capacity through building an 8,000 square foot factory. The reason for the new tactic has to do with the larger issues and goals of sustainability and independence: while BOGOs (Buy-One-Give-One models: think TOMS shoes) have a positive impact of addressing an immediate need (providing cloth pads to help girls have greater freedom, hygiene and dignity), we recognized that they do little to address the underlying, root issues of poverty and gender inequality.
Although SME’s provide over 30% of total employment and generate 16% of GDP in low-income countries, they are often considered too risky for commercial investment and require more capital than micro-loans can offer. Attempting to bridge the SME finance gap, we believe this kind of ‘impact investing’ has the greatest potential to spur sustainable economic development, job creation, and production of affordable goods and services in developing countries.