health

Of all the water that exists on our planet, around 97% is salt water. Of the 3% or so of fresh water available, almost half of it remains frozen in glaciers, ice caps, or deep underground aquifers. Yes – just around 1.5% is available for our use, making every drop count. Further, with continuing population growth and industrial growth, demand continues to escalate in a supply-constrained domain.

Improving the Lives in Rural India by Technology-enabled Solutions

Sangini - Affordable Sanitary Pads for Rural Girls & Women

Name / Headline:

Sangini – Affordable Sanitary Pads

The Problem:

  1. In the 21st Century India, it is hard for us to imagine the plight of millions of young girls and women in rural India and their struggles to obtain something as basic as their monthly need for a safe and hygienic menstrual sanitary pad. Of the 335 million Indian women residing in rural India, only 36% use sanitary napkins for their personal hygiene needs. About 70% of the families find the sanitary pads currently available in the market not within their budgetary means, thereby resorting to using old rags, plastic, ash or sand for meeting their basic health need. The market has not been catering to needs of this segment since the limited paying capacity affords little or no profits for the manufacturer. This is not only hugely detrimental to the health of these young women, but it also ends up impairing their access to school education. It is not merely about affordability; it also has to do with awareness and availability. Generations of rural women in India are shy of talking about menstruation and have silently borne the affliction over generations. It is therefore almost normal for them to have unsafe and unhygienic menstrual rags. And given their position within families, it is difficult for them to speak out on something they have always been told to avoid making public. Hence our stress on the 3As – Awareness, Availability, Affordability. Even amongst rural India, women in rural Bihar have the lowest usage rates of sanitary napkins.

The Solution:

Given the enormity of the challenge, WHEELS, social impact partner, NOBA GSR – a non-profit arm of the famed Bihar-based Netarhat High-School’s Old Boys Association – got together to shape a societal response to this endemic problem afflicting the young women residing in rural Bihar and Jharkhand to begin with. A group of committed leaders carried out extensive nationwide research of all to-date efforts and then developed an innovative solution model consisting of a simple dispenser machine, securing sourcing of quality pads at affordable rates with ease of delivery & replenishment. With the solution model developed, the alumni then got together to ensure that a volunteer from each target village can help select the right location & support installation of the sanitary pad dispenser. While the selected manufacturer provides a supply of good quality sanitary napkins to the vending machines, NOBA GSR takes the responsibility of distribution, marketing and other logistics.

To scale to the first phase goal of 200 villages by end of 2022, a robust model of four distinct layers has been built – NOBA GSR Sangini central team, Delivery Centers, Local Hubs, and the end-point village communities or schools. Whilst NOBA GSR Sangini maintains the overall responsibility, primarily for generation of funds, vendors management, marketing, generating awareness and volunteers’ inductions, the other layers have been primarily assigned the responsibility of flawless execution and long-term maintenance. Delivery Centers are the first point where all the dispensers, incinerators and sanitary pads are delivered. These are then sent to Local Hubs for the smooth installations at every identified village where the Village-Prabharis (i.e., heads) are well trained. Village-Prabharis’ responsibility is to keep an eye on equipment, refil the pads, take out the collected coins and deposit to the NOBA GSR bank account that triggers further supply of pads to their villages. Dispensers are also capable of triggering an auto-notifications to Village-Prabharis (through SMS) for the low-stock. The pads are currently made available at a nominal price of just Rs 1-2 per pad whereas the competing products in the market cost roughly Rs10 per pad. Overall model is fast approaching self-sustainability, with a planned innovation contest to further bring down the unit costs from current Rs 1.81. At this point in time, the cost per pad to NOBA GSR is RS 1.81 per pad and therefore leaves a gap of about 81 paisa per pad to be covered through fund-raising from other sources.

While NOBA-GSR is confident to hit its target of 200 villages this year, it is still just a drop in bucket against the massive unmet needs of 46 million girls & women across rural India. That type of scale needs equally big ecosystem of resources & capabilities – something that Pan-IIT global alumni community of 400,000+ well-endowed members offer. Hence, in order to expand the geographical footprint of this initiative and also to make this effort financially self-sustainable, NOBA & WGF recently entered into a formal partnership. This MOU is meant to enable two impact entities to collaborate towards development of a robust solution & business model to help accelerate the shared vision. We expect this partnership to quickly scale up the initiative already taken by NOBA GSR and ensure that it becomes financially self-sustainable. Already several strategic steps in motion – planning of an innovation contest at IIT-Bombay to reduce cost and improve functionality of the dispenser, partnership with complementary efforts of other entities like Seral Design (founded by young IIT-Bombay alum Suhani Mohan to address Sanitary pads issue), resurrecting previous WGF-sponsored ‘Kanya’ initiative, and engagement of several district collectors committing to roll-outs in all schools of their districts.

WGF leaders providing oversight:

Ratan Agarwal, Raj Shah, Uma Vatsa (WHEELS Partner, NOBA GSR)

Impact

Since launch in January 2022, as of 1st week of Sep 2022, NOBA GSR is pleased to share that 112 villages have already gone live with dispensers and incinerators, impacting approx. 11,000 rural women, capable of providing relief in their 6.6 lakhs days every year by providing 13.2 lakhs pads every year. Effort is well on the way to achieve the goal of about 200 villages by the end of this year. In our next wave we are planning to reach 5 other states that are at the bottom of the list for the usage of safe menstrual means.

Call to Action:

There are several areas that you/ your organization can do to help rural Indian girls & women to get access to their personal hygiene needs. 

◊ Sponsor villages in your hometowns – just $1000 can bring dispensers to five villages.

◊ Help leverage your employer’s CSR funds and corporate-giving / matching programs.

◊ Refer to other non-profit or for-profit entities that can help us scale faster.

◊ Join our team of committed volunteers to further innovate, optimize and scale through your expertise and network.

◊ Connect us with a responsible person on the ground (alumni or otherwise) in a target village so as to manage logistics and ongoing oversight.

No contribution and support are small. Every bit counts. We are looking to all of your support to help us address the currently massive unmet need over the next few years, and not waste another decade.

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