One of the promising startups promoting the change in perception about menstruation is Pad2Go. Run and led by Jesselina and Shubhangi, Pad2Go currently offers sanitary napkin vending machines installed in ladies’ washrooms in different places such as banks, malls, schools and so on. Plus, they haven’t limited themselves to Kathmandu, reaching 5 provinces of Nepal already.
After a few emails and calls, blincventures.com team finally got to sit and talk with the young, educated and vocal team of Pad2Go. Here is what they had to share.
1. What’s the story behind Pad2go? How did it all start?
In 2018, both of us graduated from India and wanted to make our time while on a break between graduating and actually finding a job productive. We weren’t sure what we were going to do. Honestly, we hadn’t even worked on the menstrual health sector so we were clueless. Plus, we didn’t have either social work or business background. Nevertheless, we wanted to work on menstrual health. We knew the challenges that it brought in women’s daily lives, at least in Kathmandu. So, we wanted to bring forth ideas that are innovative and helpful in that sector. We also wanted to promote a concept that is acceptable, productive and can be used in both rural and urban areas.
We started with the vending machines making us the first company to do so. With the first-mover advantage, we have been able to install 90 machines across 5 provinces of Nepal. Likewise, we got to learn so much about menstrual health and business along the way. Pad2go was something we started as an initiative to help women and not as a fully-fledged business but now we’re proud to say that we’ve been operating as a sustainable social enterprise that has been able to reach 5 provinces of Nepal.
2. You mentioned something about the three-fold approach used in Pad2go. Can you elaborate on that?
So, we’re basically working to promote menstrual health by following the three-fold approach in Pad2go. First is access to sanitary products. We have been doing this through our sanitary napkin vending machines. Plus, we have collaborated with companies such as Whisper and Safety which provide us pads at cheaper rates than outside.
Second is access to sanitary facilities. 10% of our profits from the machines and 100% from the sanitary napkins go towards building sanitary facilities. So this year we have planned to build toilets in Bajura and will be coming up with different projects in the upcoming years.
The third is awareness about menstrual health. When we go to schools to put up the machines, we also organize a session where we talk about menstrual health thoroughly including social taboos with the students. We also try to encourage boys to join the session to make them aware of menstruation. This is because we feel that they have never been given a chance to understand and that results in teasing.
3. What is the legal status of Pad2go? How many people are there in your team?
Pad2go was registered as a business in September 2018. It’s just the two of us running Pad2go. We have been doing everything by ourselves right from business development, marketing, accounts to everything in between. We took five volunteers in July 2019 with whom we organized an event called “Period Party”. Now we’re planning to hire because we want to grow.
4. Can you tell us more about what actually happens at Period Party?
The general idea is to make people aware and talk about periods. We think that as people living in Kathmandu, we’re so privileged and all of us know about basic things such as menstruation but that’s just a myth. A lot of people do not realize that some of the commonly accepted concepts about periods are just social taboos. So, the purpose of Period party was to make people aware of this.
The first party had people talking about menstrual health using different modes like art, music, poetry. We invited people from different fields who have talked about periods through their particular form and expressions. Since it had a good turnout and impact, we’re planning to do a period party every 3 months.
5. Some social organizations are so focused on the impact that they tend to fall short on the business aspect and make fewer profits than they could. Did you face something like this?
Let us tell you a backstory to this. So, 4-5 months after we started Pad2go, we participated in this competition called AGUASAN in Switzerland. Luckily, this year they had focused on businesses working in health and sanitation and we were the only ones from Asia that got selected and even won the pitching competition. In 5 days, were taught different aspects of a business and even made our first Business Model Canvas which previously we had no clue about. Then in Singapore, we bagged the second position in a competition for Businesswomen across Asia competition and also won a prestigious online course from INSEAD. So, even though we didn’t have a business background, we were able to learn so much about business and scalability through these competitions.
6. What were the challenges and opportunities while starting up?
One of the major challenges was getting our business registered. Even before running the business, it was such a hassle to get our business legally recognized. The other challenge was in terms of how people perceived us. As young women talking about social taboos in Nepal with no prior experience in the health sector, we weren’t taken seriously by people as there were questions about accountability.
Nevertheless, we were appreciated by a lot of people. We participated in MenstruAction, an international level consultation on menstrual health, where we showcased our product and talked to people about our purpose. Many were surprised to know that such a machine is in Nepal and, luckily, our machine had just arrived so the timing was perfect. Additionally, the first organization to purchase our product was CARE Nepal which gave us a good start as we had a strong reference. Then, a lot of people were posting about our machines in their social media. Even Routine of Nepal Bandha shared our post which is a big deal given their huge number of following. So, we didn’t have to invest a lot in marketing to make our work seen which is so important for social enterprise.
7. Have you thought about menstrual cups since waste management is such a big issue right now?
Well, yes as the environment is one of our major priorities but the thing is “the global poor live in a world of zero alternatives”. We’re often questioning if environmental sustainability comes before menstrual health or say human rights? Investing in menstrual cups comes with a lot of costs. Firstly, there still is a taboo associated with menstrual cups in the Nepali society and not a lot of people are open about using it. Plus, there are already so many people working to promote it so, we’ll adopt this alternative when it becomes feasible and affordable for everyone. Secondly, we know that we are making an impact through our current product so we will not be replacing it with something that isn’t accessible for everyone.
8. Apart from international competitions, have you guys participated in competitions held in Nepal?
No. We were able to get funding and mentorship from the international competitions that we participated in. So, we didn’t feel the need to secure more funding and as for now, we have become a sustainable business already in profits. But in the near future, we are looking to explore national/domestic funding opportunities.
9. So you’re saying the business is already profitable in a year’s time? What was the initial investment like? Also, what’s the secret success ingredient?
Yes! We are in profits. As for investment, we took a small loan from our parents for the machine procurement and we’ve already cleared that loan.
One of our success factors was that we had a first-mover advantage. We were the first to bring this kind of machine in Nepal and didn’t have a lot of competition. Moreover, when competitions did start to come up, we could stand out because we weren’t just profit motivated, we had a social impact. So, imagine buying a pad that not only solves your problem but also helps someone in disadvantaged areas get access to sanitation.
10. Any demotivating event that happened at work?
We wouldn’t say they were demotivating but that they pushed us to work even harder to spread the awareness. So, this one time we met a lady whom we wanted to sell our machine to but she had a different perspective about it which we were fine with because that’s where your persuasion skills come into play. Regardless, this prospective client wasn’t willing to understand our purpose at all with the machines rather she wanted us to build a machine that made sanitary napkins. Funny thing was that she was ready to invest in a new machine that would cost around 8 lakhs and not on an immediate solution that only costs 25 thousand. This was actually disappointing rather than demotivating coming from a female who had a background in social work.
11. What keeps you going?
Here’s one of the stories that saddened us but also pushed us to make an impact. We got to visit Banke, Nepalgunj while on Hariyo Ban Project. We got talking to a few girls about what they did if they got periods at their schools and their answer shocked us. Having inaccessibility to immediate solutions, they used the banners posted on the school’s walls to substitute for sanitary napkins. While dirt and dust are harmful, these banners give out toxins that severely affect our health. So, this and other similar experiences motivated us to work even harder to reach out to a bigger number for greater impact.
When you menstruate, you are considered untouchable for 4-5 days every month and what’s more frustrating is that people have accepted this idea. They have gotten so used to this that they do not think anything contrary to it. Moreover, classes on menstruation only include the biological aspects and do not touch the cultural and societal taboos that come with it. We want both girls and boys to know about this and not face what we faced while growing up. Boys specifically because no matter how modern Nepal becomes, it’ll still be a patriarchal society where males take the major decisions. So, we want this growing generation to be aware of it.
12. What are your plans with Pad2go 5 years along the line?
We want to put up the vending machines all over Nepal. We’re in the process of publishing a small booklet that shows the relationship between menstruation and where the society is now headed towards. We actually found an interesting linkage through our work.
We also want to come up with new products which we already have in mind right now. Then, we want to take Pad2go international, at least in South Asia because when we met people in international competitions, we understood that menstrual hygiene is facing problems in those countries too. We think that Nepal is backward in terms of development and that its neighboring countries are so much ahead of us but the reality is completely different.
For more information about this company, connect with them on Facebook here or write to them at email@example.com
Interviewed and Article by Yangzum Lama.