One4Her: Solidarity Not Charity
A super-interesting conversation took place on Facebook the other day after the fabulous folks over at A Girl’s Guide to Taking Over the World shared our One4Her mini poster. There were over 750 likes (thank you!), 190 shares (thank you even more!) and 35 thoughtful comments.
The comments raised important questions about how One4Her works, why we chose that model, what products it provides and why, and what the differences are between charity and social enterprise, so we thought that we'd take the opportunity to clarify and go a bit deeper about it.
How does One4Her work?
A customer purchases an eligible Lunapads product, and we take part of the proceeds from the sale and use them to purchase AFRIpads, which are then distributed to girls in need in East Africa along with education about health and hygiene.
Why did we choose that model?
Since 2002, Lunapads has been providing numerous NGOs and other groups and individuals with Pads4Girls Kits on a donation basis (paid for by ourselves, the NGO or group in question, and/or our customers). As a result, we've helped thousands of girls stay in school.
Our relationship with AFRIpads has always been different: in 2008 they started a padmaking business based on Lunapads in Uganda. AFRIpads is not a charity: they employ local labour (mostly women) and source materials locally whenever possible to produce their products which are then purchased by individuals or NGOs. The AFRIpads model allows more girls to receive more pads, women to have jobs and the economy to grow in Uganda. It’s way more efficient and less expensive than making and sending pads from Canada (reducing carbon emissions to boot!), with a far bigger upside.
When we traveled to Uganda in January 2012 and met the AFRIpads team for the first time, we had a brainwave: how about adopting a Buy-One-Give-One (BOGO) model as a team?
One4Her makes it possible to provide AFRIpads with a steady stream of orders, helping them to grow their business, reach more customers and keep more girls in school all month. Another benefit is that everyone who purchases a One4Her Lunapads product is making a difference supporting education for girls and employment for women in the developing world in a very personal, highly impactful way. One4Her creates awareness about the importance of educating girls in the developing world and makes it easy to make a difference while making a better choice for you as well.
Why pads and not menstrual cups?
We love menstrual cups and recognize that they can be a great solution where conditions are suitable. To learn more about menstrual cups in the developing world, check out the Ruby Cup, an exciting social enterprise that provides women with subsidized menstrual cups in Kenya. For the purposes of One4Her, though, we are sticking to pads - here's why:
- Ensuring proper education about use and care of menstrual cups is more complex than in the case of washable pads.
- Our target group of recipients is young girls (as young as 10 or 11 years old), who can be overwhelmed or intimidated by cups: pads are simply easier for more of them to use, making it more likely that they will in fact adopt and maintain the practice.
- Depending on the region, there may be cultural issues that make it more difficult to promote internal products, as well as FGM (female genital mutilation), which makes cups physically painful to use.
- Lunapads is only a distributor for the DivaCup (ie we do not own the company), and as such is not able to make these types of decisions.
At a very basic level, charity provides people in need with goods and services to improve their lives: donors give money, recipients get goods or services. This can be a great solution when the recipients have no other means of managing the situation.
Social enterprise, on the other hand, takes a "help people help themselves" approach that seeks to empower local communities to create their own means of providing the required good or services, wrapped around an economic model. "Donors" thus become builders, salespeople or entrepreneurs, and "recipients" become their customers, choosing and purchasing what they need.
The end result is effectively the same: people getting what they need, however in the case of social enterprise it's self-sustaining because outside donors no longer need to be tapped again and again. Goods can be produced using indigenous materials, and people are able to lift themselves out of poverty with pride in the fact that they now have a livelihood.
There has been a lot of debate in recent years about the integrity and effectiveness of numerous aid (ie: product dumping) and business-sponsored development initiatives. Critics point out that ill-conceived projects may not be meeting a genuine need, can wipe out existing local industries already making, for example, clothing or shoes, or that the proposed solutions are just band-aids that do not offer a sustainable long-term solution.
Once we realized that Pads4Girls was going to be a long-term part of our business practice, we became students of development and the emerging social enterprise movement. On our trip to Uganda earlier this year, we visited Living Goods and Solar Sister, leading social enterprises, to learn firsthand about their models and impact. We feel that One4Her is in line with current best practices for the following reasons
- It meets a genuine, well-documented need (lack of access to hygiene products)
- It has immense social benefit (supporting education for girls)
- The solution (product) is not readily available in local marketplaces at an affordable price
- It creates employment, making it sustainable and empowering