“AFRIpads partners with hundreds of non-profit and humanitarian organizations working across Africa, many of which have a mandate to support the Menstrual Health Management (MHM) needs of their female beneficiaries. As such, our various reusable menstrual kits are purchased by these organizations and distributed at no cost to women and girls around Sub Saharan Africa in a range of development and relief contexts.” -Sarah Sullivan, AFRIpads Marketing and Communications Lead
AFRIpads was founded in 2009 by Sophia and Paul Grinvalds after recognizing that there were hardly any affordable, high quality, reusable and locally manufactured menstrual products available on the Sub-Saharan market. The first AFRIpad was made in rural Uganda in a place called Masaka and almost a decade later they are still manufacturing their product in a factory in the same village.
As part of our commitment at Pacific Roots Magazine to focus on and increase coverage of women’s health issues and initiatives around the world, we were glad to have the opportunity to gain more insight about AFRIpads essential work via an interview with AFRIpads spokseperson Sarah Sullivan.
Interview with Sarah Sullivan of AFRIpads
What was the inspiration behind the founding of AFRIpads?
Sarah: In 2008, our co-founders Sophia and Paul were volunteering in rural Uganda in a community development project. They had been in this village for nearly half a year when they learned that some girls attending the project’s primary school would stay home during their monthly periods. The girls would claim they had malaria or some other illness, when in reality they couldn’t afford or access the menstrual products they needed to feel safe and protected during the school day. At the same time, Sophia and Paul were introduced to a Canadian reusable sanitary pad called Lunapads. They saw the opportunity to take what is a niche product in North America, typically appealing to women for environmental reasons, and transfer the concept to the Ugandan context to create a durable and more cost-effective alternative to single-use sanitary pads. With the help of a local tailor in the village, Hamidah, they embarked on a six month pilot project to locally manufacture reusable sanitary pads out of cloth. Sophia traced the fabric, Paul cut the cloth and Hamidah sewed the pads. AFRIpads was born!
What are the thoughts at the AFRIpads team about the synergy of business development and female insight and empowerment?
Sarah: AFRIpads was founded on the belief that a woman’s monthly menstrual cycle should not hold them back from reaching their full potential. Our mission is to empower women and girls not just with our product but also through education and employment. And our business model is more than a reusable sanitary pad, we also provide an MHM education curriculum, a data collection toolkit and of our 200 plus employees, 90% are female.
Our founder Sophia felt that women in Uganda deserved product options beyond the two extremes of disposable pads or improvise. The status quo was ‘all or nothing’ and the ‘cost’ was women’s dignity, comfort and ability to fully engage in daily activities. One of our early learnings was to not underestimate the power of simple. Innovation is often a loaded word – assumed or perceived as equating with ‘high-tech’, but in the case of AFRIpads we are demonstrating that a very simple product innovation is having a transformative impact on the lives of millions of girls and women. This goes beyond the women and girls who use our product to include the women we have empowered through employment in our manufacturing. As a company of nearly 200 employees, our team is 90% female and this reflects the importance our team puts on empowering women and how women are at the center of what we do and the products and services we continue to design.
Where do you see AFRIpads in the dynamic and expanding global network of brands for sustainable and eco-friendly feminine products?
Sarah: It has been great to watch the market for eco-friendly menstrual products grow and develop. One of the things we are most proud of at AFRIpads is that during this period of exponential growth, we have stayed true to our mission of maintaining meaningful employment in rural Uganda. Our locally manufactured product has now reached over 3.5 million women and girls around the world.
What is your brands favourite social media platform & in general what does your brand utilise social media for?
Sarah: We love to engage with our followers on social media. This year in particular, we have found Facebook to be a particularly good tool for us to share images and videos on the progress and experience of building a factory in rural Uganda. Our new factory, which opened in January, exemplifies our commitment to rural manufacturing and using business as a tool for social good, which is at the core of our business model. It was great to be able to use social media to share this news with our partners and supporters and help them feel a deeper connection to why we do this work!
What is it like working at AFRIpads?
Sarah: Here at AFRIpads, we refer to each other as a family and I think that is the best way to explain the working environment. As a social business, our targets are holistic, meaning we don’t just look at revenue – we also measure our success on the social impact we are having around the world.
Visit AFRIpads online at https://www.afripads.com/
Feature & Interview by Annika Lundkvist at Pacific Roots Magazine Editorial Desk