Athieno Mary Lucinda is changing girls’ lives one sanitary pad at a time
She stood up in class, her classmates laughed at her. The boys said that she had slaughtered a chicken. They made fun of her for a long time. She couldn’t afford sanitary towels, the anxiety of the monthly period coupled with the embarrassment she had faced which would have destroyed her self-esteem as a young girl instead stirred her resolve.
Meet Athieno Mary Lucinda a YALI fellow, the founder of Eco-Pads a social enterprise dedicated to the production and distribution of reusable pads and environmentally friendly to girls in Uganda.
“That experience kept me wondering what I would ever do to save a girl the embarrassment I had gone through. While at university, I went to volunteer with Kadama Widows Association where I am the Executive Director now and as I interacted with the girls, they had similar challenges. I then started saving part of my stipend to make the pads and that was my aha moment.” Lucinda says.
The sanitary pads are distributed to young women in rural Uganda. These Eco-pads are Menstrual Kits that are made from very high performance fabric and provide comfort and supper protection for a period up to 12 months.
“The Eco-pads project started in 2008 as a local thing trying to just help girls in the community. In 2014 we realized we can improve on quality and start selling for sustainability and we have been growing daily from just the local community to many parts of the country with over 20 full time and 35 part time employees.”
“I am most proud of last year when we reached 50,000 girls with Eco-Pads, the feedback from the girls attending school daily is heart-filling. The involvement of parents and the whole community in the cause is great. We have reached over 75,000 community members on Menstruation being an issue and how they support. Mentored over 10,000 girls” Lucinda says.
There are challenges that are still to be overcome. Being a local product, Lucinda’s biggest challenge has been in marketing and getting the product to be known, convincing the clients that it is a good product since it is new. The very first money that they used was grant money that they used to buy equipment and set up and buy some few materials.
Despite the challenges, she has mentors that encourage her when things are going down hill. my “Atuki Turner the ED of Mifumi, Tracey the founder of glad rags U.S, Mary Mosinghi the ED of KwaAfrica. They remaind me that I need to remain a learner and humble in whatever I do.”
At the heart of this project is the desire by Eco pads that every girl child remains in school. Eco-pads give affordable sanitary pads for girls, because many miss out of school during their menstruation. They are competing against appalling statistics 80% of Girls in Uganda are absent from school during their periods. 70% of female students reported difficulty of attending class attentively due to menstrual related problems. 90% of the poor women and girls do not use (off-the-shelf) sanitary pads, but instead improvise with unsanitary materials. Prior to their first period only 51% of girls had knowledge of menstruation and its management
“We educate girls on MHM, conduct mentorship sessions and educate the parents and teachers on the need to support girl child. We shall continue to do something regardless of the tide. One sanitary pad at a time.” Lucinda says
This Ugandan Startup is making low cost sanitary pads out of sugarcane!
It all started when Lydia Asiimwe Sabiiti the Founder of EcoSmart Pads, met a 16 year old girl Kyomuhendo who had travelled a long way, hailing from her village in Rwanyamahenbe, the Western part of Uganda.
Kyomuhendo was being escorted by her mother in search for better health care at Mbarara Regional referral Hospital. She had developed wounds in her vagina that had first presented with itching soon after her menstruation period.
“As I approached her, I could tell she was in so much pain. Her eyes were swollen from crying and her mother seemed weary from managing her daughter’s pain. They couldn’t find their way through the hospital so I offered to walk with them to the department of Obstetrics.” Lydia explains.
As the two walked and talked, Lydia learnt that due to failure to afford sanitary pads, Kyomuhendo had been using 3 pieces of the same old cloth over the last 2 years of managing her menstrual flow. She learnt that the same cloth was shared among 3 of her sisters and 2 other cousins who all lived with them.
Her mother mentioned with distress that the cloth had not only changed color over time but had also developed a very bad odor making it increasingly uncomfortable to wear at school or any other public place.
“I silently concluded that this form of menstrual management was the source of Kyomuhendo’s pain and I was determined to do something about it. I facilitated the CAMTech Uganda internship programme and I got my chance to tell this story to ateam of students who had enrolled for the programme.” Lydia explains.
When Lydia finally told her story, three other students on the programme were inspired to act and they joined her and together, they formed a team. The team grew to be known as the EcoSmart Pads team and they have figured out a way to upcycle sugarcane fiber into a material that they are now using to make low cost and eco friendly sanitary pads that people like Kyomuhendo will be able to afford. Their vision- To ensure equality, vibrancy and dignity in menstrual management among girls and women in Uganda.
The Eco-Smart Pads idea
The Eco Smart Pads are sanitary pads made out of sugarcane recycled residues for girls and women of menstrual going age from low income backgrounds.
“Sugarcane residues at sugar manufacturing factories are the raw materials to our product and are obtained at an affordable price.” Lydia says. She is convinced that this idea will work because of the low costs of production that will significantly lower the price of this product.
The team first conducted an experiment in the Microbiology lab at Mbarara University of Science and Technology to determine which one of the two between Maize and Sugarcane had residues with a high absorbance rate. Sugar cane emerged with a higher absorbance percentage and was selected as the plant to be considered as a raw material for this innovation.
“We did conduct a needs assessment, interacted with our end users and generated findings from them, informing our price estimates and product packaging quantities.” Lydia explains.
Right now, EcoSmart pads team is sending on the market a 12 piece pack (because the end users said on average each would be conformable to use 12 pieces in a single menstruation period).
“We are selling each pack at UGX 1500 cutting down current costs by 50%, 90% of the end users we interacted with said they could only afford to pay between ugx 1000 – 1500. We are not looking to generate much revenue from sales because we are selling to low income earners. We are looking to work with philanthropists to cause impact in our local community. As for the sustainability of our company, we are looking at other income generating options.” Lydia elaborates.
These pads are also disposable. The team figured you don’t give a reusable pad to uneducated- rural based -low income earners and expect them to maintain it at its required high standard hygiene levels. They will maintain it the same way they maintain the old cloth that they use – washing it at night and keeping it wet under their beddings. It will cause infections and the problem will not have been solved. The EcoSmart sanitary pad is disposable and our packaged quantities allow them to change the used pad at least 3 times a day which is more healthy.
The primary beneficiaries of this product are school going girls from low income backgrounds whose pursue of education has been affected by this challenge.
Other non school going women from low income backgrounds such as women in prison, refugee camps, public hospitals, are also primary beneficiaries of this product. Generally, female Ugandans from high income earning backgrounds will too benefit from the low cost of this product as they will be able to make some saving.
The issue of menstruation
Menstruation is one thing which almost every woman has to deal with. Every month.
Many Ugandan women still use scrap cloth from old saris and towels, the traditional method for managing menstruation for thousands of years.
On average, a single woman generates 125kg of sanitary waste during her menstruating years when she uses disposable sanitary products.
A UNESCO report estimates that one in ten girls in Sub-Saharan Africa misses school during their menstrual cycle. By some estimates, this equals as much as twenty percent of a given school year.
Many girls drop out of school altogether once they begin menstruating. Young women miss twenty percent of school days in a given year due to a lack of facilities or a lack of information or a lack of sanitary products.
In june 2017, EcoSmart Pads told their story during UNFPA’s Up Accelerate challenge and the judges were touched. They won a $10,000 to move our idea from inception to prototype development.
Don’t you think Eco Smart Pads is going to change this status quo?
How Ensibuuko is building Life Changing ICT-Mobile solutions for the under-served Rural Poor
Almost four years ago when youth unemployment was at its peak and everyone was clamoring for a steady job, Gerald Otim decided to walk into the world of self employment. Having had a humble beginning, he was no stranger to starting small and therefore he ventured into the building a solution that would improve financial service delivery in rural communities.
In 2014, Gerald a Fin-Tech Entrepreneur and a graduate of Development Economics at Makerere University together with David Opio, co-founded Ensibuuko, a Ugandan ICT startup that is modernizing the way financial cooperatives (popularly known as SACCOS – Savings and Credit Cooperatives) manage data and deliver financial services.
“We are providing modern electronic banking infrastructure to financial services entities unique to the developing world. Our main service is a cloud-based banking software platform for micro-finances and SACCOS. The platform automates business processes, customer and transactional data, and provides standard accounting and reporting functionality for Ensibuuko’s customers.” Gerald explains.
Ensibuuko’s software is a cloud-based MOBIS Micro-Finance Software first designed at the Kampala based ICT hub, Outbox and is creating a solution that allows for web services even in rural areas with poor telecom infrastructure thereby contributing significantly to the efforts for financial inclusion in Uganda and across Africa.
The Start Up’s software is also integrated to the mobile phone network allowing users to access their account via mobile phone — they can check the balance, make deposits and withdraw. This improves access and quality of service delivery.
“Our solution is integrated with Mobile Money thus people in hard-to-reach places can be part of the easy access of the service. We are now using partnerships with mobile Network Operators to deliver a dedicated internet bundle that enables institutions access the solution on cloud even on weak networks for just 30,000 shillings a month ($8).” Gerald notes.
The platform therefore exists to equalize financial services in Uganda as is the case in many other African countries where banks are urban based. People in rural communities will be served mainly by a cooperative institution.
According to Ensibuuko, there are major issues in the financial services sector in the developing world: Banks are concentrated in major towns, Services are expensive and loans have interest rates of not less than 24%. It is part of the general problem of poor and expensive financial services infrastructure in all of the developing world. Instead of working with banks, most people will prefer a non-bank financial institution mostly in the nature of a Cooperative financial institution such as a Savings and Credit Cooperative (SACCOS) or Credit Union.
“These institutions usually have no access to modern infrastructure and they rely a lot on human resources for their operations as they continue rudimentary means to manage financial information and make decisions.” Gerald notes.
To date, Ensibuuko’s business volume is 151 SACCOS reached in 2 years. Of these, 14 are newly signed, 35 are active on the Mobis platform and 102 are on their current pipeline in Uganda. There are over 14 other institutions in 3 other African markets that are currently in business with Ensibuuko through its recently established franchises in Zambia and Tanzania. Ensibuuko has raised 1 Million USD in funding (500,000 of which came through a recent Equity investment deal) and maybe the first ever ICT startup with Ugandan only founders to raise this much funding within its first two years of existence.
Inefficiency, human error, fraudulent tendencies have become typical of these institutions and is undermining their role in delivering financial services to the under-served. In Uganda there are over 6000 registered SACCOS serving 18 million people. It is estimated that there are over 300,000 of such institutions in Africa. By using technology to strengthen financial institutions, Ensibuuko has the potential to significantly disrupt the rural financial services sector not just in Uganda but across Africa.
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