Among the several interventions made in India to promote menstrual hygiene and women empowerment, the initiative of Jaydeep Mandal and his Aakar Innovations stands out from the rest.
Darkness and despair pervade the lives of many adolescent girls and women in India for a week every 28 days when the menstrual cycle begins. Girls can't go to a school where there are no toilet facilities while women may be deprived of going to work even as they need to attend to household chores. Among the several governmental, voluntary, and private sector interventions to alleviate the sufferings of disadvantaged girls and women in India who can't afford disposable sanitary napkins, the effort of Aakar Innovations, a hybrid social enterprise, is indeed noteworthy.
Aakar has achieved the unique distinction of developing the world’s first certified compostable sanitary napkin in India and sold under the brand name Anandi (meaning happiness).
Jaydeep Mandal, Founder and Managing Director of Aakar Innovations, came across Arunachalam Muruganathan, an 8th standard dropout while studying for engineering and working for Honey Bee Network to document innovations across the country. Mr. Muruganathan had developed a manual machine to make sanitary napkins which were listed in the National Innovation Foundation (NIF) database. However, Muruganathan was not interested in further R&D or commercialisation of the product, Jaydeep recalls.
“I realized that multinationals were not reaching out to rural areas where people were using cloth pads which were quite unhygienic. Nobody had made sanitary pads to meet the BIS standards nor its requirements of absorbency, retention, leakage proof. It took one and a half years to develop a sanitary pad that looks like a sanitary pad. Later on semi-automatic and automatic machines were developed,” Jaydeep Mandal said.
However, it was his month-long stint for the Agha Khan Foundation in Afghanistan that made him realize the necessity for the safe disposal of sanitary pads.
“In 2013, we came up with the world's first certified compostable sanitary napkin. Biodegradable is anything that decays naturally but there is no timeline set for this category. It can happen in five weeks or five years and there is no certification. When something is defined as compostable, the product has to disintegrate within 90 to 180 days without harming the environment, ecosystem, or environment,” Jaydeep added.
Available on Amazon
Now the social enterprise has been scaled up and sanitary pad-making machines have been installed in India, Africa, European countries, and Nepal where they follow a micro-enterprises model. Here the material is supplied to women and ensured they are making the right product and selling it to the communities. Aakar Social Ventures creates awareness among girls about the importance of menstrual hygiene.
“ Anandi sanitary pads are available on Amazon. ForeEvery box sold on Amazon, we are giving free pads to girls in villages and also creating awareness on menstrual hygiene. We also teach men and boys the importance of menstrual hygiene. The sanitary pads are made in village production units, owned and operated by women. It is free of chemicals and de-compostable.”
Jaydeep says that since his childhood days he always dreamt to be an entrepreneur and worked with various organisations. "While doing my engineering in West Bengal University of Technology, Calcutta, I had decided not to take up any job and start something on his own after studies." He also did his MBA in Innovation and Entrepreneurship from Indus World School of Business, Delhi, and also underwent a Global Innovation Program certificate from GSB-Stanford University-USA.
Having rich experience in social enterprise in the field of menstrual hygiene, rural innovation, and micro-enterprise development he is also a consultant to many governments and non-governmental organisations such as the World Bank, United Nations Organisation (UNO), UKAID, USAID, and International NGOs like Aga Khan Foundation.
Among the awards and recognitions, he has received include those given by Prime Minister of India, President of India, Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), United Nations (UN), GSC, NASSCOM, MIT, Stanford University-USA, University of Texas-USA, SOCAP, TIE-USA & INDIA, USAID, SOCAP-USA, JIII-Japan, IUSSTF, Lockheed Martin, SIFE(now Enactus), IIMs, Indian School of Business (ISB )and Miss World Organisation.