Via Salon's Broadsheet, this good news story, and good on so many fronts.
Many girls and women here think they have it bad that time of the month when they're feeling boated, cranky, sleepless, crampy and find themselves checking the backs of their skirts every few minutes. (As for their partners who think they are suffering through this too, my heart bleeds.)
But give me a break. Aside from the fact that the feds charge GST for tampons and other such products, menstruating is no great hardship. I mean, walk into any drugstore and you'll see entire aisles devoted to mini this and maxi that.
In my time I have even bought black pads made for thong panties.
Nowadays you can even skip the whole deal with certain pills.
What's more, period talk is common. Who hasn't heard a co-working kvetching about her PMS? There's no shame in it. And even commercials are pretty blatant nowadays, going way beyond animated cotton doves with wings floating around a girl's head.
Case in point:
So anyway, in some places, women don't have it so (relatively) easy.
Elizabeth Scharpf (MBA 2007) has been named the first Harvard Business School Social Entrepreneurship Fellow for her work in launching Sustainable Health Enterprises (SHE). SHE is a platform for starting businesses that use innovative, market-based approaches to tackle socio-economic and public health problems in developing countries. Scharpf started SHE in late 2007 based on the belief that charitable efforts alone are not enough to address the breadth and complexity of socio-economic and health problems that exist in developing countries.
The HBS Social Entrepreneurship Fellowship program is designed to support the efforts of recent HBS graduates who are launching social enterprises - nonprofit, for-profit, or hybrid organizations - with a central focus on the creation of social value. This pilot program provides seed funding support to one recent graduate each year through a $25,000 fellowship.
The first SHE venture addresses the widespread phenomenon of girls and women missing school or work when they are menstruating because they lack access to affordable sanitary pads. Currently working in Rwanda, SHE is developing a sanitary pad sourced from local materials to be sold for 30 percent less than currently available brands. Local Rwandan women will manufacture and market these pads and gradually become owners of the business through microfinance loans.
"In interviews with more than 500 women and girls in Rwanda, we found that half of the girls interviewed are missing school due to menstruation, primarily because sanitary pads are too expensive," said Scharpf. "Lack of access to pads affects not only the prospects of girls and women, it also has significant macro-economic consequences for countries - in fact, we estimate a $115 million loss in GDP per year in Rwanda alone.
"SHE expects that this rate is comparable in other resource-poor countries and we plan to undertake similar efforts in those countries," Scharpf continued. "It is an honor to be Harvard Business School's first Social Entrepreneurship Fellow. These resources will help SHE succeed during this critical phase of our pilot roll-out."
So, not only do Rwandan women and girls get cheaper pads, they get jobs, businesses and educations. This means that they're less likely to start having children at young ages, which reduces the stress on the planet.
It's a win-win-win.
As for Scharpf, she makes money in an ethical way, giving back to where she takes from.
And Harvard? Well, as an MBA myself (Concordia 1985), I have to say that, if social entrepreneurship was on the curricula of B-schools long ago, we would not be in the economic and environmental mess we are now in.