When Apple announced the name of its tablet – the iPad – it quickly became a widespread menstrual pun of social networks. Questions arose as to whether women’s opinions were included in naming the product, suggesting it was insensitively-named. After all, a woman’s period is no small matter. Poor menstrual health and hygiene is linked to cervical cancer – one of the biggest killers of women and girls in developing countries. On that note, the LaunchPad is a social enterprise that sells low-cost, eco-friendly sanitary pads made from bamboo and corn fibre to women and girls in Sierra Leone.
After learning that the majority of women in Sierra Leone do not have a hygienic way of managing their period, David Dixon and Chantelle Baxter started the LaunchPad project. Both are co-founders of One Girl, a nonprofit organization that empowers women and girls to create and lead change in their communities with a focus on access to education.
Their inspiration for the project came from their travels around Africa. Both had befriended 14-year-old Brenda from Uganda and recall their encounter.
“One day Brenda came to us with a panicked look on her face. ‘I have malaria’ she said.”
“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.”
Brenda knew that she needed to use sanitary pads because a local nurse told her that she could get cancer if she did not use them. She asked Chantelle to purchase them for her. The duo reached out to Brenda a few days later and found that she had taken a whole week off school due to the embarrassment of having her period.
Women who have no hygienic means of managing their period would use five pairs of underwear, kitchen sponges, old cloth, and other substitute materials. These lead to rashes, sores, bruising, and exposure to reproductive and urinary infections.
As in Brenda’s case, girls would miss a week of school every month because of their period and fall behind in class, eventually dropping out.
The LaunchPad costs 50% less than other pads available on the market, meaning they will be affordable to even the lowest income earners. Other than providing sanitary pads to women and girls, LaunchPad will adopt a distribution model similar to VisionSpring’s Vision Entrepreneur where women can start their own businesses and become LaunchPad Champions. They will initially work with female leaders who are active in their communities and would be targeting hard-to-reach communities. LaunchPad will also partner with established local NGOs to make the sanitary pads available across the country with a goal of reaching 1.6 million women.
With a grant from the School for Social Entrepreneurs in Australia, the founders are able to take LaunchPad from pilot to proof-of-concept. They sold over 1000 sanitary pads to 147 women in their first trial with many wanting to start a distribution channel. Women from surrounding communities visited the trial areas to see if they could purchase pads for themselves. As LaunchPad awaits the women’s reactions on their sanitary pad experience, the case is clear: women want pads, or at least “Launch”Pads.
Photo from One Girl.
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