Solution Overview

Solution Name

Hybrid Sanitary Napkin for Economic Change

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One-line solution summary.

Our Hybrid Sanitary Napkin helps women to achieve economic independence and social awareness creating informed global citizens who can lead others towards sustainability.

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Elevator pitch

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What is your solution?

After connecting with Dzaleka Refugee Camp in Malawi and hearing the challenges the female students faced to stay in school due to their menstrual cycles, we designed a hybrid sanitary napkin which is partly reusable and partly disposable. We engaged the end users of this product - the girls living at the refugee camp - as research partners in the design of this product. The design considers the water shortage and the lack of sanitary ways of disposing waste at the refugee camp. After three different iterations, we came up with a final design of a hybrid pad which requires significantly less water than reusable pads, while limiting the amount of disposable waste. Our hybrid pad is now currently USA Patent Pending (Application # 63147464). During the fall of 2021, 18 teen girls living at Dzaleka were trained in how to produce and sell the pad. By the end of January 2022, we expect to have 1,000 pads on the market at Dzaleka, which will provide a menstrual solution for 200 women. 

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What specific problem are you trying to solve?

Dzaleka, the largest refugee camp in Malawi, is home to around 40,000 refugees. We learned that one of the refugee girls’ biggest challenges is their limited access to reliable materials to use during menstruation. The girls often miss 4-5 days of school each month during their menstrual cycle. Therefore, they will miss 300 instructional days before they turn 18, which is equivalent to 1 ½ school years. These gaps will affect the girls’ performance on national exams and pull them away from their academic goals toward a domestic role, leaving the girls dependent and powerless. Currently, there are two other menstrual products available for women to use at the camp: reusable pads and disposable pads. However, neither of these products are viable solutions. The World Health Organization recommends 20L of water per day, but residents live on less than half. Due to the significant water shortage at the camp, water is a precious resource that the girls’ families cannot afford to sacrifice to wash reusable pads. Disposable pads are given to the girls as part of their refugee rations, but the pads are often exchanged to provide food for the family. In addition, disposable pads have a negative impact at the camp because there are few ways to safely dispose of waste. This project sets out to solve a lack of sanitary care that is keeping girls in Dzaleka from achieving their educational goals, and limiting their opportunity to be economically independent.

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Who does your solution serve? In what ways will the solution impact their lives?

Our target population is the girls of menstrual age from Dzaleka Refugee Camp in Malawi. Their biggest challenge is their limited access to menstrual materials. The girls’ way of coping with menstruation is often to miss 4-5 days of school each month during their menstrual cycle. By the time they turn 18 they will miss 300 instructional days or 1 ½  school years. Their absence from school affects the girls’ performance on national exams and pulls them away from their academic goals toward a domestic role. There are two menstrual products available for women to use at the camp: reusable pads and disposable pads, neither of which are aqueduct solutions. The reusable pads require a lot of water for washing which is not feasible due to the significant water shortage. Disposable pads are given to the girls as part of their refugee rations; however, they are often exchanged to provide food for the family. In addition, disposable pads have a negative impact at the camp because there are few ways to safely dispose of waste. Our part-reusable-part disposable design considers the restrictions of the camp and therefore requires significantly less water than reusable pads, while limiting the amount of disposable waste. Furthermore, implementing the pad into a larger initiative gives the opportunity for a source of income. The pad is now more than a means to keep girls in school; it is a route for women to learn a skill and earn a living.

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What steps have you taken to understand the needs of the population you want to serve?

In March of 2019, we went to Dzaleka refugee camp and interviewed teens about their living experiences. We learned about the struggles menstruating girls faced: insufficient materials which forced them to miss weeks of school, water shortage which made reusable pads impractical, disposable pads were sold for food and primitive sanitation structures impacted safe ways to dispose of pads. Upon returning back to the United States, she introduced this project to a group of high school girls, WISSP, who could not believe that it was 2019 and a feasible solution for menstruation was still an issue. To begin the journey on designing a solution to this problem, WISSP first researched information about the Dzaleka Refugee Camp and the culture of the area which put the problem in context. WISSP developed a 1.0 model that would work in their constraint-free environment. They tested the model themselves and recorded data which led them to their 2.0 design. To put their design in the environment in which it was intended for, WISSP engaged with Jesuit Refugee Services who connected them with a group of Dzaleka girls. The girls then tested WISSP’s design and provided feedback via zoom which led to a final, 3.0 design. Through further discussion, WISSP learned how patriarchal norms impact girls' opportunities to be economically independent. This led to the development of an economic infrastructure (training for sewing and selling the pads). Communication with the Dzaleka girls continues to further refine the model. 

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Which aspects of the Challenge does your solution most closely address?

Improving healthcare access and health outcomes; and reducing and ultimately eliminating health disparities (Health)

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Our solution's stage of development:

Growth: An organization with an established product, service, or business model rolled out in at least one community, which is poised for further growth
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Explain why you selected this stage of development for your solution—in other words, what have you accomplished to date?

After completing the design of the pad and testing it with the girls in Malawi, we applied for a provisional patent which is now currently USA Patent Pending (Application # 63147464). We also further connected with the refugee camp to expand our project by focusing on the economic infrastructure and sustainability aspect of our goals. During the fall of 2021, 18 teen girls living at Dzaleka were trained in how to produce and sell the pad. By the end of January 2022, we expect to have 1,000 pads on the market at Dzaleka, which will provide a menstrual solution for 200 women. The next phase of the project will be to train another cohort of teen girls, giving them the sewing and business training to also become business owners, and thereby provide a valuable menstrual solution for more girls living at Dzaleka. We have begun reducing the cost of the pads they produce by locally sourcing materials making the project sustainable and self-supporting. Furthermore, research has begun to seek out other low-resource communities where this model can be applied.

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Where our solution team is headquartered or located:

Pennington, NJ, USA
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Team Lead:

Francesca Pendus

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More About Your Solution

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=suwBh4BsegU

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Which of the following categories best describes your solution?

A new use of an existing technology (e.g. application to a new problem or in a new location)
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Describe the core technology that powers your solution.

Technology was used extensively in the development and production of the product. When the product was being developed, WISSP met teen girls living at the refugee camp on iPads that were connected to zoom to get feedback on the product as the teens tested it out in their low-resource environment. Shared Google documents were used to collect data, and a variety of other software (PowerPoint, adobe products) were used to document and draw various versions of the pad. Once the pad design was solidified, sewing machines, both manual (in Malawi) and electric (in USA), were used to produce the product. Video, photos, and iMovie were used to document the process of sewing the pad. The technology enabled us to develop clear instructions on how to make the product that could be communicated to refugees living at Dzaleka, Malawi. In addition, WISSP uses WhatApp to communicate regularly with the tailoring school at Dzaleka where the pads are being produced, Jesuit Refugee Services who are supporting the teens girls who are sewing and selling the product, and the business trainer who is helping the teen girls learn how to run a small business. Technology played a central role connecting the two sites WISSP (in USA) and Dzaleka (the refugee camp in Malawi) for all aspects of the product from development to production.

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Please select the technologies currently used in your solution:

  • Ancestral Technology & Practices
  • Audiovisual Media
  • Biomimicry
  • Crowd Sourced Service / Social Networks
  • Internet of Things
  • Manufacturing Technology
  • Materials Science
  • Software and Mobile Applications
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In which countries do you currently operate?

  • Malawi
  • United States
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How many people does your solution currently serve, and how many do you plan to serve in the next year? If you haven’t yet launched your solution, tell us how many people you plan to serve in the next year.

Current number of people being served: 18 sewers/sellers who are providing a menstrual solution for 200 displaced teens 


Number of people being served in the next year: we will provide a menstrual solution for 100% of the  menstruating teens at the camp (4,000 girls) which will require 30 trained sewers/sellers

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What are your impact goals for the next year, and how will you achieve them?

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Our goal is to reach out to corporations whose social responsibility goals have synergy with providing economic independence and menstrual solutions to displaced teens.  The model above communicates how donation dollars will impact the environment, girl empowerment, economic independence, and increased learning time. 

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How are you measuring your progress or planning to measure your progress toward your impact goals?

  • regular communication with our partners: Jesuit Refugee Services, teen girls living at Dzaleka, Dzaleka tailoring school
  • collecting data on the number of instructional(school) hours gained from using the hybrid sanitary napkin 
  • number of hybrid sanitary napkins produced 
  • number of trained sewers/sellers, the number of hours worked, income earned
  • reduction of disposable pads in the sanitation system 
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What barriers currently exist for you to accomplish your goals in the next year?

Risks to using sanitary pads for economic independence are: 1) geographical distance between partners; 2) selling an unknown product to people with limited income; 3) challenging gender norms. Dzaleka is 8,000 miles from Pennington, NJ, and a seven-hour time difference. Both factors impact communication with partners. The cost and time for shipping from the USA to Dzaleka was expensive and disruptive to progress. Therefore, we researched how to procure materials/tools locally, and restructure working hours. Until the WISSP pad was developed, women used rags for menstruation. They will need experience using the pad and hear from other women how the product adds value. It’s like they have been using a flip phone for years which works well enough; they question the value and importance of buying a smartphone. WISSP’s economic infrastructure challenges patriarchal norms as women are asked to sew and sell pads which requires them to leave their homes and go into the business world. We’ve seen hesitation from women to go to the market to sell the product they’ve made; they don't feel confident. Supporting these women is needed as they begin to defy their gender-defined roles.

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About Your Team

How many people work on your solution team?

50 part time

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How long have you been working on your solution?

since spring 2019; 33 months

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How are you and your team well-positioned to deliver this solution?

WISSP has a deeply rooted relationship with Dzaleka through six different projects, one of which being the hybrid sanitary napkin. This exposure to various aspects of life at the camp provides valuable and insightful information and a connection to more on the ground partners. While we are a group of high school students, we can tap into other expertise within our school community. We have sought out consulting advice from adult professionals working in marketing, web design, and product development. Furthermore, we have the intention to travel to Dzaleka in June 2022 to see how the project model has been implemented to meet their needs on the ground in Dzaleka. The skills and perspectives of our team fit well with the end-user as this product is designed for women by women.

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What organizations do you currently partner with, if any? How are you working with them?

We are currently partnered with JRS, Jesuit Refugee Services. They help us ensure that we are being culturally respectful and working within the laws and regulations at the camp. We are also partnering with the Dzaleka Tailoring School for training and the procurement of local materials.

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Your Business Model & Resources

Do you qualify for and would you like to be considered for The HP Girls Save the World Prize? If you select Yes, explain how you are qualified for the prize in the additional question that appears.

Yes
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If you selected Yes, explain how you are qualified for this prize. How will your team use The HP Girls Save the World Prize to advance your solution?

The WISSP team is made up of girls ages 14 to 18. WISSP aims to facilitate women in developing skills to achieve economic independence and social awareness creating informed global citizens who can lead others towards sustainability. We will use the prize money to take the model to scale by expanding the WISSP economic infrastructure to other communities. 


See this 8-minute video for a more in-depth explanation of we will take our project to the next level:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=suwBh4BsegU



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Do you qualify for and would you like to be considered for The Pozen Social Innovation Prize? If you select Yes, explain how you are qualified for the prize in the additional question that appears.

Yes
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If you selected Yes, explain how you are qualified for this prize. How will your team use The Pozen Social Innovation Prize to advance your solution?

WISSP designed this product for women by women to improve the quality of life for women and girls and respond to the community's economic and environmental needs. 

Dzaleka, the largest refugee camp in Malawi, is home to around 40,000 refugees. Through connecting with girls living in Dzaleka, we learned that one of their biggest challenges is their limited access to reliable materials to use during menstruation. The girls’ way of coping with menstruation is often to miss 4-5 days of school each month during their menstrual cycle. This means they will miss 300 instructional days before they turn 18, which is equivalent to 1 ½  school years. The gaps in their learning will be significant–––not only will they affect the girls’ performance on national exams, they will pull them away from their academic goals and toward a domestic role which will leave the girls dependent and powerless. 

Currently, there are two other menstrual products available for women to use at the camp: reusable pads and disposable pads. However, neither of these products are viable solutions. The reusable pads require water for washing, but residents live on less than half of the 20L of water per day that the World Health Organization recommends. Due to the significant water shortage at the camp, water is a precious resource that the girls’ families cannot afford to sacrifice to wash menstrual pads. Disposable pads are given to the girls as part of their refugee rations. But instead of using them, the pads are often exchanged to provide food for the family. In addition, disposable pads have a negative impact at the camp because there are few ways to safely dispose of waste. A lack of sanitary care is keeping girls in Dzaleka from achieving their educational goals, and limiting their opportunity to be economically independent. This project sets out to solve this problem.

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Solution Team

  • Francesca Pendus Team Lead, WISSP (The Pennington School)
 
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