Venturing into women’s hygiene area for a man is unheard of; especially if they haven’t even seen an actual sanitary pad before. Little did the founders know that they were delving into the area of menstrual hygiene which is more or less considered a taboo.
When the founders started off, both had never even seen a sanitary pad before (except in TV commercials). The original idea was to create a social venture that promotes rural livelihoods through micro-enterprise models via commercializing of grassroots innovations but soon realized that menstrual hygiene was a completely neglected area and therefore, they decided to focus on this.
Aakar is a Mumbai based company transforming lives by distributing high-quality, compostable, sanitary pads to girls & women in rural India.
India currently has over 300 million women without access to sanitary pads. Three out of ten girls drop out of school after menstruation due to lack of hygienic methods and cultural taboos. These circumstances are similar throughout countries in Africa and Asia as well.
Aakar Innovations empowers communities, especially women, with effective and hygienic menstrual protection, while creating livelihood opportunities for them in an environmentally sustainable manner. It is the only company in India, which does a fully compostable sanitary pad that is affordable to even the lower income segment. The startup also ensures that the pads it manufactures adhere to the BIS guideline.
Over 12 production units now exist throughout villages in India. As that number quickly rises and is due to meet 50 within the next few months, 600 rural women will now have sustainable sources of income while equipping and improving the lives of 1,50,000 women & girls.
The functioning of Aakar Innovations
To reach the rural masses, each of these units is strategically placed in the most remote parts of India, usually inaccessible by common vehicular routes. Otherwise known as a mini-factory, 10 women are directly employed in their production unit to make pads, while another 10 are trained to become village entrepreneurs (change agents) in their own communities. These women then go on to conduct regular health talks to be the last mile distributor of sanitary napkins within their own communities by using their existing social circles.
Most companies are not able to distribute sanitary napkins in rural areas without bearing high transportation costs. As such, many of these rural areas are often left out in the distribution network. This is where they value add; they collaborate with local grassroots organizations in these underprivileged areas to set up the production units. This creates extra income aside from farming, and adds a distribution point that is significantly more appealing than man-operated stores. Given the quality of these napkins, women no longer experience discomfort that occurs when using the traditional methods, and allows them to participate fully in their daily physical tasks.
Since their inception in 2011, Founder – Jaydeep Mandal and co-founder Sombodhi Ghosh‘s Aakar innovations has won the Indian Innovation Growth programme organized by FICCI.