There’s a very good reason why two guys in their early 20’s are out to change the landscape of rural India as it pertains to availability, accessibility, and affordability of female hygiene products: we witnessed a huge problem firsthand, and the opportunity to do something about it was something neither of us could ignore. While my Azadi co-founder and I were working at Vidya Foundation earlier in our careers, we were providing merit-based scholarships for middle school students in Hyderabad. During that experience, we discovered that there were reasons beyond financial constraints that kept girls from staying in school. When we dug deeper to identify and understand what these fundamental challenges were, we landed on a surprising discovery: even with financial support, girls were missing school when they were menstruating. The absence of access to female hygiene products was leading many of these girls to eventually drop out of school.
Why Azadi Matters
This drove us to tackle the underlying issue of women’s health and hygiene, which has a critical stake in the daily lives of girls and women – be it attending school and work, or maintaining good health. Azadi is focusing on empowering women to make menstruation a non-issue so that women can go about their daily activities irrespective of their periods. Azadi will manufacture and distribute pads while raising awareness and improving education around the importance sanitary pads and how they significantly improve female health and hygiene. There are over 300 million women and girls in rural India who are currently facing these challenges brought on by menstruation. Menstruation does not just affect this population in their functional activities, but also poses inhibitive social issues and stigmas. We want to empower women to take command over their lives by mitigating these challenges with our product.
The primary challenges Azadi currently faces are:
- Making a high quality (biodegradable) product that is affordable to our target market and cheaper than existing solutions.
- Identifying a distribution channel and corresponding partners/customers in rural India.
- Increasing awareness and education around female health and hygiene issues.
Top Game Changers
At a national level, recent shifts in India’s rural health sector have developed key macro-conditions that are favorable to our business. This trend spans from government initiatives to venture developments. While the government’s National Rural Health Mission is spending $400 million on making sanitary pads and seeking partners to manufacture them, NABARD and other governmental organizations are also actively supporting these initiatives. In addition, GOONJ has begun operations in the cloth pad business and is selling thousands of these a month.
Azadi is investigating both business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) channels to provide women in rural India with access to biodegradable sanitary pads. The B2B channel would entail possibly partnering with and selling to community-based organizations (CBOs), non-governmental organizations (NGOs), non-profit organizations, and corporations. The B2C channel entails identifying a network of women entrepreneurs who will sell sanitary pads to women in their designated sales territories.
Joining Impact Engine
From a business perspective, our ultimate goal is to apply Impact Engine key learnings and leverage the Impact Engine network to both garner necessary support and to also test our product with a set of consumers. Establishing our support system and finding the early adopters for our product is how we will successfully launch our pilot project in India by the end of Q1 in 2013. More specifically, we would like to master our business pitch (with confidence and precision!) by learning how to tell an effective and engaging story that primarily focuses on the “why” part in addition to the “what” part of the problem our business model addresses. In addition, we’d like to cultivate a great company culture. We’ve been fortunate to get a very talented team together, and are looking forward to everything we’ll be able to accomplish. Beyond this, it’s important to us that we build a supportive and collaborative network of friends, colleagues (our cohort is fantastic!), mentors, entrepreneurs, and investors. I’m excited for everything that the Impact Engine experience holds, as well as for the bright future of Azadi.
* This article is the seventh profile within an eight-part series, featuring the eight startup companies from Impact Engine’s inaugural cohort. Impact Engine is a 12-week accelerator program that supports for-profit businesses making the world a better place. *