After winning $1 million in a global entrepreneurship challenge, a team of Kenyan students is taking up a new task: To establish a company to produce biodegradable sanitary pads to solve period-related problems.
The five third-year communications students of St Paul’s University in Limuru, in Kiambu County, beat more than 10,000 others from across the world to bag the prestigious annual Hult Prize. The award recognizes innovative social enterprises that address the “world’s most pressing issues”. With their new enterprise called Eco-Bana, Lennox Omondi, Keylie Muthoni, Brian Ndung’u, Shiltone Dullah, and Emmanuel Tony, all aged 20 to 23, say their product can end period poverty and plastic sanitary pad pollution, and reduce youth unemployment.
Their company will make biodegradable sanitary pads from banana fiber, which is often discarded as waste. The raw material reduces their costs, allowing them to avail their product in the market at affordable prices, Mr. Omondi, the organization’s chief executive, said their main goal is to ensure as many girls as possible can afford sanitary pads. Their product will also solve the decades-long problem of pollution caused by polyvinyl chloride – the plastic used to make most pads that are 90 percent plastic.
“Many leaders often say charity is not enough. That’s why we thought of making affordable sanitary towels so they don’t have to rely on charity,” he said.
Mr. Omondi has been a champion of menstrual health since graduating from high school.
“I first thought of making re-usable pads, but then I felt that would be too demeaning to a person’s dignity and water is also scarce in Kenya,” he said. “Then it struck me that cheap biodegradable pads could solve two serious problems — period poverty and pollution.”
Period poverty, the inability to afford menstrual products, is a widespread challenge in the region. Unicef estimates that about 65 percent of women in Kenya and 85 percent in Tanzania cannot afford hygienic sanitary products.
In Uganda, about a quarter of girls, aged 12 – 18, drop out of school once they begin menstruating, also a consequence of period poverty. In Rwanda, 18 percent of women and girls are estimated to miss school and work because of periods.
Ms. Muthoni, who is the company’s chief operations officer, had to drop out of school for some time because her family couldn’t afford sanitary towels. With $1 million in winnings, Eco-Bana is set to be the world’s first manufacturer of biodegradable pads. They will retail at nearly half the average price ordinary pads cost in the market, with equivalent comfort and quality.
Mr. Dullah, Eco-Bana’s chief financial officer, said they have a well-defined plan on how to use the money to build a multi-million-dollar social enterprise that employs more than 2,000 people, in the next two years.
Their first step is to construct a manufacturing plant, which he says will either be in the counties of Kisii or Meru, the country’s leading producers of bananas.
They also plan to start an environmental campaign to sensitize people to the benefits of shifting to biodegradable sanitary products.
*The views of the above article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Africa Speaks 4 Africa or its editorial team.