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How I’m tackling poverty with my social enterprise

amycatling ‎09-03-2017 10:00 AM
‎09-03-2017 10:00 AM

Starting a social enterprise needs a good idea – and a lot of patience. After an inspiring trip to Kenya Megan took on poverty, with periods. Yes, you read that right.  


ZanaA Megan.jpg

Name           Megan Mukuria
Business      ZanaAfrica – tackling periods and poverty.


In the early days of starting ZanaAfrica, my family told me to give the business 6 months. If it didn’t work out, I should give it up.


It took three years for it to start working out. Since first targeting to help 200 girls in one area, we now support girls across the whole of Kenya.


Starting up


In 1998 I was a Harvard student when I went to Kenya for the summer. Whilst there, I worked with girls who lived on the streets to help them transition to full-time education. I met an 8 year old girl who had never been to a formal school before. That afternoon she had an informal lesson with a colleague, and left knowing how to multiply numbers. I looked at her and thought that she should be the one going to Harvard, and realised how easily our roles could have been switched based on the opportunities we had.


When I went back the US to complete my final year at university, I was inspired to go back and make a real difference. I dropped my thesis and took up Swahili. Within a few years I was back working in Kenya. As a part of some research, I discovered the second most expensive outgoing for young girls was sanitary pads. I was shocked.

 

In Kenya a lot of girls can’t afford sanitary products, so when they get their period they stay at home, and often end up dropping out of school to avoid embarrassment. Talking about periods is a huge taboo, and with limited education in sexual health, young girls in poverty are more likely to start their adult life feeling disempowered and more likely to have an early pregnancy. These amazing girls needed to be encouraged and given some control back, and I decided that if no one else was talking about periods, I would.


Facing challenges


The initial team for ZanaAfrica was put together with some of the school finishers I had been helping for the last 5 years since I first arrived in Kenya. We started working together to figure out how we could make high quality and affordable sanitary pads, and whilst delivering these use it as an opportunity to educate girls and give free pads to those in extreme poverty.


Getting people on board to invest in the business was a huge challenge. I was going around talking about pads and people were looking at me like I had two heads. What did this have to do with ending poverty?


We thought the product innovation was going to be the hardest part – but it was a piece of cake compared to convincing people the business was worthwhile.


Getting heard


As an entrepreneur, you want to feel validated. You want people to get your idea. Not everyone will.


After a lot of rejections for funding, I learnt that it’s not about convincing everyone. The way you can make a real difference to your business is by focusing on convincing the right people. We managed to get some social enterprise funding and as soon as we had that, we knew someone within that organisation was ready to listen to us.


In the past decade we have kept growing the number of girls that we have been able to help, and have just launched a magazine to answer the questions girls have about puberty that is difficult to be educated on elsewhere. Through all of this activity we have also been able to partner with 14 community-based organizations across Kenya to support over 10,000 girls in living in deep poverty.


The next steps

period.jpegI want to keep adding zeros to the number of girls we help. As soon as you succeed at one level, you challenge yourself to reach the next.


Now that our brand is working, the next step is going global because the experience of being a woman is universal. We’re releasing a ‘PERIOD.’ Affirmation tee this International Women’s Day with our friends at Prinkshop to celebrate womanhood, break the period taboo and raise funds for our non-profit work. 30% of all sales will fund our programs in Kenya.

For anyone else wanting to start a social enterprise, you’re jumping into a huge unknown. But it can pay off, and be incredibly rewarding.

 

 

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