While most of us aspire to make a difference in others life, only a few are able to achieve this feat. Fortunately, a group of MIT graduates were able to realise their this dream when they founded Saathi to provide affordable and bio-degradable sanitary protection to women in rural India from waste Banana tree fiber.
Recent data has revealed that even today 88 percent of menstruating women in India are being forced to make use of homemade alternatives such as newspapers, rags, ash and wood shavings etc. due to lack of access to modern sanitary products and menstrual awareness.
According to Saathi, each year, many Indian rural girls and women end up missing out up to 50 days of school and work respectively due to their monthly menstrual cycles. In fact, many of them are even forced to drop out of school entirely once they attain puberty. Apparently, not only are the women suffering from the lack of menstrual awareness, even the nation ends up losing close to US $15 billion in productivity when working women are forced to stay at home during their periods.
Based out of Ahmedabad, Saathi Pads was conceived by four MIT graduates Amrita Saigal, Grace Kane, Zachary Rose and Kristin Kagetsu as a part of one of their college projects. The inspiration behind the name was that they wanted the Saathi pads to act as a companion to women who use them during their duration of their periods.
Saathi, which means ‘companion’ in the Hindi language, has won laurels such as the MIT DLab Scale-Ups Fellows for 2015 and the 3M-CII Young Innovators Challenge Social Track winner title, but the real journey for the startup began in 2014 when it won the Harvard Business School’s New Venture Competition in the Social Enterprise Track. This particular win forced the founding team to push themselves hard and bring the concept to life, and help women. However, the team had to redesign the alpha prototype manufacturing model that they had developed at MIT.
The startup is aiming not only to provide 100% biodegradable pads to women all over India, but also produce income-generating opportunities for groups of women and for farmers.
Although the Saathi Pads are fully biodegradable in a period of six-months, the team is still continuously working for ways to up-cycle the product. One of the options in the pipeline includes using it as a supplemental product with cow dung for bio-gas creation, and then using it in bio-loos.
The MIT graduates initially did face a few problems coming up with a core material for the biodegradable pads, but they finally landed up on using banana fiber as firstly, it is easily available in the states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, and secondly, since the bark of a banana tree is almost entirely waste, they thought this could be a great use of the material and additionally a great way to provide additional income opportunity to farmers.
The startup is currently focusing on the launch of its #onemillionpads program, under which they aim to distribute a million pads to women in the states of Jharkhand and Rajasthan. They have even joined hands with Ekal Vidayalaya, a Delhi-based NGO to help them in educating rural women on menstrual health for the duration of the program.
All above images via – facebook.com/SaathiPads