SHE28: Opportunities for farmers and girls, one pad at a time

Girls miss work and school because they lack affordable menstrual products. SHE28 trains local farmers and produces pads locally in Rwanda.

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I confirm that I am fully aware of the eligibility criteria, and based on its description, I am eligible to apply to the CSV Prize 2017.

  • Yes, I'm eligible

Preferred language

  • English

Organization name

Sustainable Health Enterprises

Year founded


Initiative stage

  • Scaling (the solution has passed the previous stages and is growing its impact on a regional or global scale)

Annual budget in 2017 (USD)

  • $500k - $1m

Number of beneficiaries impacted so far

  • 10,000 - 50,000

Organization type

  • Social enterprise

Secondary Focus Area

  • Water

Headquarters location: Country

  • Rwanda

Headquarters location: City


Location(s) of impact

Rwanda: Eastern Region, Western Region, Kigali


Facebook URL

Twitter URL

Problem: What problem is this initiative trying to address?

Women and girls, especially those who live in rural farming communities, are often unable to access or afford menstrual products, forcing them to rely on rags, leaves, and other unhygienic materials. Recent studies in Uganda found that girls without access to menstrual pads are 17% more likely to drop out of school, and girls who stay in school can miss up to 50 days per year. SHE estimates that the loss in work productivity and schooling has a “blood cost” of up to USD $115 million a year to the Rwandan GDP.

Solution Summary: What is the proposed solution? What do you see as its most promising aspects for creating shared value?

SHE28 is a social enterprise which manufactures and distributes affordable, eco-friendly menstrual pads to girls and women by sourcing local raw materials for our patented production process. Our model created a new agricultural industry in the upcycling of banana fiber that did not exist before and provides farmers with a 30% increase in income. We benefit local communities all along the value chain: training local co-ops that have a majority of female farmers, employing women at our production site, and selling go! pads to small shop owners for resale. We couple this with health education and advocacy, so that women and girls across Rwanda can advocate for their own health. We are ready to scale globally, making us the first locally produced menstrual hygiene product that is both low cost and able to be scaled to serve large rural networks. Girls and women experience an enhanced quality of live and a healthier future and farming communities gain additional sources of income.

Impact: What is the impact of the work to date? Specify both the social and the environmental impact of your work

Our impact begins with the 30% increase in income for the farmers who are able to upcycle the agro-waste from the banana tree to sell to us. We’ve created a new industry and have already trained and equipped 820 farmers. As we grow, we will be able to provide opportunities for thousands more farmers. Over 20,000 low-income and rural women and girls now have access to affordable menstrual pads, which means increased health, education, productivity, and income for them and their families. We have provided over 8,000 people with health education, creating a better school environment for newly-menstruating girls. Our absorbent core (made out of banana fiber) is chemical free and is the only one of its kind that can be mass produced while relying on local materials and very limited electricity and water. This is a significant environmental improvement upon traditional pads which need to be imported and are 90% plastic, taking up to 800 years to biodegrade.

Financial sustainability plan: How is this initiative financially supported? How will you ensure its financial sustainability long-term?

Current projections demonstrate that we will break even on the cost of goods by 2018 and on the entire cost of enterprise operations in Rwanda by 2020. We are committed to serving a low-income and rural consumer, meaning we will reach sustainability by gradually reducing our cost of goods through scale and increased productivity per shift. Labor costs represent approximately 60% of our costs of production, and we are upgrading our technology so that we will have a higher productivity rate per employee. We have been funded by venture philanthropists, including corporations, governments, individuals, and foundations. This breakdown applies to our US-based 501c3 but we do earn revenue in our Rwanda enterprise that is reinvested back into production costs: 1. 60% 2. 7% 3. 33% 4/5:0%

Unique value proposition: What makes your initiative innovative? How does your project differ from other organizations working in the same field?

We set ourselves apart through our sustainable model and a team that has the necessary business and technical expertise to scale. Most solutions to this problem give away pads for free, and are not scalable because they rely on philanthropic support. Other solutions import their pads and do not provide opportunities for farmers and production employees like SHE28. We have produced over 330,000 pads and are partnering with Johnson and Johnson to upgrade our technology.

Founding story: Share a story about the "Aha!" moment that sparked the beginning of this initiative.

Elizabeth Scharpf was working for the World Bank with local entrepreneurs when she noticed high rates of absenteeism among women. Women told her they weren't going to work when they had their periods because pads cost more than a day's wages. To Elizabeth, this was symbolic of many overlooked and ignored problems that affect women. With her business savvy and experience commercializing health products, she was uniquely situated to help. In 2008, Elizabeth went to Rwanda with a blender in her backpack in search of a material that could enable local production of menstrual pads. With initial funding from Echoing Green and Harvard Business School, Scharpf developed and patented a process to turn banana fiber into a fluffy, absorbent material and seal the banana fiber fluff into pads.

Where did you hear about the Nestlé Creating Shared Value Prize?

  • Upon recommendation from others


Join the conversation:

Photo of Mouhamadou Moustapha Seck

Thank you and I repeat myself thank you for this work that betrays a very noble message of love and even more for a country that deserves all the support of the world. Congratulations and that everything works out.

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