Sustainable Sanitary Pad
Millennium Promise Uganda & Columbia University
Sustainable Sanitary Pad
Young girls in developing nations need all the help they can get in dealing with their natural cycle and its impact on school attendance. This product joins other notable efforts as part of the solution.
Sustainable Sanitary Pad
In rural Uganda as in many other challenged countries, drop out rates for girls in school reaches 40%, in great part due to the lack of access to affordable and effective sanitary products. This product address the issues of cost by being designed in a way that uses local available materials, skills, hygiene, and comfort by offering a hybrid design, a reusable and washable waterproof envelop, which can be stuffed with disposable toilet paper or reusable washable cloth, giving the girls options to customize it according to their water availability and income.2. The Brief: Summarize the problem you set out to solve. What was the context for the project, and what was the challenge posed to you? Who is the at-risk population, and what behavior do you seek to change in this population?
This product is my response to local needs I witnessed while doing my Columbia Master’s internship with Millennium Promise in rural Uganda. My work was to support two local coffee, and arts and crafts cooperatives to make better products for local and export markets. However, by being at the village and constantly working with young girls and adult women, I identified this devastating issue and felt a deep responsibility as a woman and as a designer to do something about it.
With that idea in mind, I started thinking about a solution that was easy to implement and replicate, then, I took as reference the same shape and design benefits of a disposable sanitary pad and replaced them with materials that were locally available. First, I took materials that where handy such as an umbrella for the waterproof layer, and mosquito net for the top permeable layer. Then, after creating and seeing the potential of the first hand-made prototype, I went ahead and bought waterproof fabric used for uniforms, and mesh fabric, and made 60 samples with the craft cooperative members. Then, tested with girls at the village school.
Each girl was given one pad, live instructions in local the language of how to use the pad, and a questionnaire to capture their feedback at the end of a two-month trial. Once we received the results, the success of the product was overwhelming, and their main suggestion to make this product better was to make it colorful, black wasn’t appealing
Continuation of question 2 (run out of characters)
Immediately, I created a second round of prototypes, this time in a rich blue for the waterproof base with colorful trim, to create a more youthful and fashionable product. The acceptance was instantaneous, and with that feedback and more refined prototypes on hand, I approached a Social enterprise in Kampala named Living Goods. This organization specializes in distribution of health-related products and agreed to purchase the pads once they are fully developed and tested by the Uganda business bureau.
Now with a new product opportunity for development, the craft cooperative can diversify its income by tapping into a whole new local market, bringing new revenue streams that can offer more steady jobs, while addressing the need for affordable and hygienic pads. These pads go beyond hygiene, by increasing school attendance rates of local girls and therefore improving their opportunities to succeed in life.
The point of view I brought to the project is the designer point of view: one that is trained to see challenges and transform them into opportunities. The skills to put pieces together physically, to address and issue in the most resourceful way possible, and come out with a suitable solution for the user (in this case the schools girls and women of an extremely challenged area).4. The Process: Describe the rigor that informed your project. (Research, ethnography, subject matter experts, materials exploration, technology, iteration, testing, etc., as applicable.) What stakeholder interests did you consider? (Audience, business, organization, labor, manufacturing, distribution, etc., as applicable)
The rigor of the research and methodology is the one that you find in a place where little electricity or technology are available and a lot of work relies on basic communication and craft skills. All my work was hand-made prototypes to show samples and try to open the issue for discussion, bringing the user on board for solution development, incorporating their feedback into the design, and giving them the tools to improve it.
This project is still in the feasibility stage and the cooperative is working on training the members on how to properly assemble the pads, while crafting a business plan to gather the working capital to setup a small manufacturing facility. At the same time, they are working with the Uganda business bureau to get the certification to expand their sales from their village to other districts through the partnership with Living Goods.
A hygienic, affordable, usable solution for menstruation is a fundamental woman’s need. A sanitary pad can be a small intervention but can go a long way to improving access to education and local jobs. This project not only addresses well-being but also expands women’s opportunities to be available for education or work. This project is a simple but meaningful solution that can inspire people in challenged communities to propel with their own work their lives to a better future.6. How can you be sure that the values you are advancing are desired by the community you are working with?
As mentioned previously, the local communities this project targets were involved at the inception and design levels of the project.7. How will your project remain economically and operationally sustainable in the long term?
The project will remain sustainable in the long-term because it is creating a business where there is both a demand for the product and a need for work.