Tuesday, April 22, 2014

More Periods = More Pads to Sell

How Sanitary Pads Can Help Women Improve Their Health and Education

When Arunachalam Muruganantham went to purchase disposable napkins for his wife, the only ones available were imported and quite expensive. So he figured out how to make them.
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Arunachalam Muruganantham with his invention and staff (Jayaashree Industries)
The business logic is quite simple: Find an unmet need, and then fill it. Even better: Find an unmet need that returns on a monthly basis.
That's the little formula that's fueling Arunachalam Muruganantham's thriving sanitary-pad machine business, an undertaking that's not only making Muruganantham money, but one that will improve women’s hygiene in India and throughout the developing world.
Many women living in poverty use rags, newspaper, or even mud to manage their menstrual periods. None of these work very well and can introduce infections or injuries; they also circumscribe women’s movement. Often, women fear being in public without protection from blood staining.
Muruganantham's idea for his business began when he noticed his wife with a pile of especially ratty rags and inquired as to their purpose. After it was explained to him, good husband that he was, he went off to purchase imported disposable napkins for her, no domestic product being available.
When he inspected how simply these pricey napkins were made (really, how many men deconstruct their wives’ menstrual supplies?) his response was the classic entrepreneur’s: “Hrumphhhh.  I can make these myself, and waycheaper.” And that is just what he proceeded to do.

After several years of research and design iterations, he launched Jayaashree Industries. His company manufactures sanitary-napkin machines purchased primarily by women’s "self-help groups" that are devoted to launching small enterprises. The napkins produced are comparable in quality to imported pads, and at one third the cost.
Women’s groups can purchase a machine, train in one day, and immediately start producing up to1,440 napkins per day. If financing is arranged, the groups pay the machine off with cash from sales.
The demand for sanitary napkins is potentially huge. After all, it isn’t terribly difficult to convince women who use newspaper, mud, and rags that a disposable, well-fitted napkin is preferable.
Other factors are converging to accelerate sanitary-napkin demand. Women in traditional cultures have many fewer menstrual periods than contemporary women.  The vast majority of today’s women menstruate much more often due to:
An additional driver of sanitary napkin sales is the global campaign for governments and health ministries to provide schoolgirls with free menstrual supplies. The consensus is that this simple intervention helps prevent girls from dropping out of school after menarche.
This rising generation of schoolgirls accustomed to disposable napkins is poised to become a loyal customer base. It’s hard to imagine them reverting to rags, especially since their educations and delayed marriages will raise their standard of living.  

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

EcoFuelAfrica in The Atlantic - an excerpt from the upcominig 100 Under $100

What Works
I am excited that my book research is going to be part of an Atlantic series on things that work.  My first piece highlights EcoFuelAfrica.  I love their integrated field to frying pan loop - all providing jobs, economic and environmental benefits, and good for women.  Special thanks to editor Becca Rosen.

The Little Kiosks That Could

Eco-Fuel Africa has set up a system for the production and distribution of "biochar briquettes"—small blocks of carbonized agricultural waste that provide a cleaner, easier-to-access fuel for homes across Uganda.
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Eco-Fuel Africa
Sanga Moses’ ticket out of rural Uganda was education. As an accountant at a large Kampala bank, Moses was able send money home. On a return visit to his village, he was distressed to see his kid sister coming round the bend, loaded down with firewood. It was pointless for him to pay for her schooling, she tearfully told him, because she missed too many days collecting firewood to keep up with her lessons.

Moses recalled he collected firewood in his youth, too, but a decade earlier trees had been more plentiful and closer to the village. Widespread deforestation had turned fuel-gathering into a full-day task. Moses devoted himself then and there to finding a sustainable solution.
Researching fuel alternatives, Moses zeroed in on biochar-based briquettes. Standard charcoal is made by carbonizing wood in kilns. Biochar uses the same process, carbonization, but its raw products are agriculture waste, sparing trees. Formerly farmers burned crop residue just to get rid of it. For making biochar briquettes, this waste is carbonized in repurposed oil drums.
Biochar briquettes offer end-users many advantages:
  • Money pocketed, costing 20 percent less than wood-carbonized charcoal
  • Smoke-free burning, making cooking healthier and more pleasant than over wood or charcoal
  • Long-lasting flame, designed for local stoves
  • Women spend less time and effort spent scrubbing pots (because it burns so clean)
  • Available in small quantities, suited to low-income customers
  • Eliminates both the time and physical stress of wood gathering, helping girls stay in school
Eco-Fuel Africa, the business Moses has built, features an integrated supply chain from field to kiosk.
  • Biochar is sourced from a network of local farmers who create it from crop waste in specialized drums, providing farmers with income. The farmers retain some of the biochar to use on their farm to enrich depleted soils. 
  • Eco-Fuel Africa employees mix the biochar with other ingredients in the company’s hydraulic presses. The presses were designed for off-grid settings and require no electricity.
  • Briquettes are delivered by teenagers on bicycles, providing yet more employment
  • Branded kiosks are staffed by village women—typically divorcees, single mothers, and widows—recruited by Eco-Fuel Africa to sell the briquettes and whatever additional sundries they choose
  • Promoting habitat restoration, Eco-Fuel Africa has planted more than 150,000 trees by distributing seedlings to schools and community groups
Eco-Fuel Africa has expanded by setting up franchises. Theirs is a replicable, scalable business model providing employment along with environmental benefit. Fuel is a daily necessity, there is an abundance of agricultural waste in Uganda, and forests across the country are under stress.  

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Microfinance Tour with En Via in Oaxaca - TripAdvisor is right - #1!


Mother and daughter, whom we met on the En Via
tour - this lovely embroidery came home with me as 
a gift for my neighbors.  
This blog is rarely personal reporting but my recent visit to Oaxaca, Mexico, afforded me an unusual opportunity - a tour to meet directly with microfinance clients.  Fundacion En Via, based in the beautiful, folk-art filled tourist destination city of Oaxaca, has a triple community development mission:
  • Microcredit
  • Education
  • Responsible Tourism
They have several hundred microcredit client portfolio.  The state of Oaxaca is one of Mexico's poorest, though rich in sunshine, history, and cultural tradition.  Many indigenous tribes live in their own communities, some for whom Spanish is a second language.
The main problem for Oaxaca's famous craftswomen (and men) is a lack of diversification and access to larger markets.  They concentrate their labors in producing what they learn and know how to do well - embroidery, weaving, tin work, pottery, and painting
 - all very beautiful.  But they drive down prices by flooding local markets, heavily dependent on fickle tourism. And they tend to differentiate their offerings only in small, subtle ways.

En Via has developed a terrific tour, which amazingly and cleverly, is #1 on TripAdvisor's list of Oaxaca activities.  Volunteer led, with both an English speaking guide and translator, it was fascinating.  A trip like this is self-selecting, so naturally the people were simpatico and appreciative of all things Oaxacan and asked a million questions. Their first loans are interest-free, but as they move up the chain and borrow larger amounts, they do charge interest.

We visited about a half dozen clients and asked each what they were doing with their loans.  Many of the artisans are using their loans to directly purchase materials for their craft work in larger, more economical quantities.  Typically a reseller provides the materials and then buys their products, leaving them no negotiating leverage. Partly a loan helps women think out of the box, more proactively.  One woman, though not one we met, is making laptop cases for a San Francisco store out of her beautiful weavings, and has hired other women to help fill orders.  This makes great sense - how many rugs and tote bags can tourists buy?  I want a sleeve for my laptop - hoping they can find an artisan to make one!

Soot-covered bulb in the
tortilla baking kitchen
Our first hostess bakes 200 tortillas each morning and she shared her product with us.  Cooked on a large plata over an open fire, I realized what a hard sell it will be to talk her into a clean cookstove.  I noticed good news - she has electricity, with a CFL overhead.  The bad news: it is covered in soot, deposits from daily cooking over smoking fires.

En Via runs English classes (for which they recruit volunteers) in several of the villages where they work.  Their client students realize it will be helpful to communicate with customers directly, and English is important for that. They recruit volunteers for this, so consider Oaxaca is you are looking for an immersion experience.

Our guides stressed their tours are not intended to be a shopping expedition. But!  We visited four wonderful craftspeople who each demonstrated their techniques and showed us their work. Many of us ***supported them*** by buying beautiful pieces. The sellers were delighted and validated, and netted much more than when selling their work wholesale, and the buyers have not only beautiful weavings and embroidery, but lovely connections to their creators. Warning, if you do the trip - find out how many artisans you will be visiting.  Pace yourself!

More good news.  The mother pictured has two children, both in school. Mexican family size has dropped very quickly, and many more children are in school.

And the best news of all: by educating tourists and taking them on a great outing, En Via has built up a great support network, plus the net of each tour group's fees is rolled into new loans.



Monday, February 3, 2014

Photo of the Week: a new artform - Solar lantern paper cuts

title: TOGETHER author: GABRIELLI KUHN
Panasonic has introduced a portable solar lantern to the growing collection of off-grid lighting options.
To celebrate, they are running a contest titled Cut Out The Darkness, inviting paper cut designs which will be turned into solar lantern shields.  They are really beautiful!  Many of the countries where they will help off-grid people access light have paper-cutting cultural traditions, so this could inspire people to have a lot of fun with the concept.
Panasonic is a Japanese company, and celebrates Japanese papercutting and lanterns.
Hat tip Mindy Shapiro, a paper-cutter friend.
They will be donating lamps to low-income people.  Perhaps not the best approach, but the lamp looks very attractive.  (see below.)


In this project, we call for online entries of lantern shade designs.
One hundred designs will be selected based on an online poll.
Using the selected designs, we will produce lantern shades
and send lanterns with those shades to people living without electricity.



Sunday, January 26, 2014

100 Under $100 Picture of the Week: Solar Ear Designers Discussing their Solar Charger in Botswana




















Sarah and Akangang, pictured above, two of the co-founders of the Solar Ear project in Botswana.  They helped invent the product and teach other workers how to manufacture them.  They are discussing (speaking in Sign) how the solar charger works.   Photo: SolarEar

Solar Ear has designed an affordable hearing aid as well as a revolutionary hearing aid solar battery charger.  A company to watch!  The vast majority of hearing-impaired children in low-resource areas receive to education nor are they fitted with hearing aids.  This could change everything!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

100 Under $100 Photo of the Week: Multitasking in Ghana, Cellphone and Soup

This woman in Ghana is speaking on a celkphone attached to a phone charger, designed and sold by BurroBrand, which markets energy solutions for people without electricity.  (There are about 1-2 billion such people in the world).

Look at the red paste in the basin on the lower left - pepper and spices - crushed on a mortar known in Ghana as an apotoyewa, with a wooden pestle. You can practically taste and smell it. Burro tells me she is preparing soup. (Now all she needs is an Improved Cook Stove to multiply her benefit from inexpensive, energy-sipping technologies.)

She is recharging her mobile phone while watching her pot, like most everyone I know.  More people in the world own cellphones than toilets.  They have changed our world, giving access to information, social connection, and mobile money, and allowed people to connect to the larger word in myriad ways.  Cellphones are fun to use.  It is that simple.

Cellphone charging is now right next to lighting in driving demand for energy. More and more solar lamps include cellphone charging function.

Burro, send us the recipe!

Burro was founded by Whit Alexander. His brother Max has written a book about their adventures in Western Africa, creating a business model to help address energy poverty, Bright Lights, No City: An African Adventure on Bad Roads with a Brother and a Very Weird Business Plan 

Burro, send us the recipe!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Picture of the Week: Hunt for Sack-Gardening Turns Up A Treasure

An amazing picture from Rikitembizi's Blog

A large and lovely task connected to writing 100 Under $100 is searching for just the right photos which capture women hard at work, concentrating on their tasks,  not posed in groups for the camera, or standing in lines waiting for health care
or emergency feeding.  One of the 100 items is sack gardening, utilizing small urban spaces to raise food for local consumption.  These farmers, working their sacks, produce impressive yields, improving their own food security and supporting, or at least supplementing their income.  As rural folks keep on migrating and cities grow and grow, urban farming is a major answer to food provisioning and urban unemployment.

I was thrilled to find this beautiful photo of a woman sack-gardening in Kibera, said to be the largest slum in Africa. Through the wonders of social media, I was able to track down the blogger via twitter and he has graciously permitted me use of this photo.  Thanks, @manjis !

This post also celebrates my 10,000 hits since starting the blog.  Who are you all?!