Menstruation in India, is hands down, still a taboo. While that’s a shocking reason as to why someone should limit themselves to contribute to the society, reports suggests that around 23% of girls drop out from school after they start menstruating. 70% of women in India say their family can’t afford to buy them sanitary napkins, making 88% of the women resort to shocking alternatives like unhygienic cloth, ashes and husk sand.
With an extraordinary vision to solve this pressing healthcare problem and at the same time save the environment, Saathi was introduced by Kristin Kagetsu, Amrita Saigal, Grace Kane and Zach Rose. We met Kristin at Maker Fest’16 and were surprised with the depth of the otherwise usual rant about hygiene lethargy in our country.
Kristin was born and brought up in New York City.
“My parents studied STEM in college and went on to have careers in healthcare. They inspired me to be interested in problem solving and learning to be resourceful.”
A curious kid, Kristin aspired to go to NASA and build Mars rovers.
“And then, I got involved in DLab at MIT where I learned about co-creation and appropriate technology. I visited India in 2012 and was working with Avani, an NGO in Uttarakhand on a project to create natural dye crayons. I went back to US and joined a big software/hardware company but something was missing. Something about India convinced me to come back and serve it better. I wanted to create an impact in people’s lives, I wanted to solve a real, pressing problem.”
Kristin met her co-founders – Amrita, Grace & Zach and was fascinated by the idea of Saathi.
“Product development and sustainability interested me. The idea of Saathi was born during Amrita and Zach’s senior design class at MIT. They were brainstorming on the idea of creating low-cost sanitary napkins for women in rural India. It was challenging and hence, it fascinated me.”
However, during the course of development, the concept was tweaked a bit, all for the better.
“We realised that low-cost sanitary pads doesn’t mean that we have addressed the entire lifecycle of the product, solving one problem was leading to other. So we came up with the idea of creating eco-friendly sanitary pads at affordable rates.”
With 88% of women in India who do not have access to sanitary pads, India still produces 9000 tons of sanitary waste every month. The pads in the industry use plastic and ‘super absorbents’ which end up doing more harm to the environment.
Only 12% of women in India have access to sanitary pads. And that’s a small very small number. Even then every month, 9000 tonnes of sanitary waste is produced. sanitary pad available right now, across all categories use the same basic ‘Super absorbent’ materials and chemicals in these pads make them the environment’s worst nightmare.
The team came up with several ideas while deciding what they wanted to make and one clicked.
“We realised that banana fibres are good absorbents and usually treated as waste by farmers. With our model, we also create an additional source of income for these farmers. We are also looking at engaging women in rural and urban sets with our idea”
Saathi sources banana fibres from a banana plantation belt near Ahmedabad.
“Saathi was everything that I was passionate about woven together in one – engineering, sustainable product development, empowering women, and expanding it as a social enterprise.”
Talking of her first yay moment with Saathi, Kristin says,
“It was amazing to see the first prototype that looked like commercial pads! We are now looking to launch the product on the market very soon (we are taking pre-orders now!) and set up a manufacturing plant.”