ByÂ Anesa Kratovac:
There are many social issues in India that could be solved with a bit of exploration, innovative thinking and passion behind solving the issue at hand. Many individuals have taken it upon themselves to tackle everyday problems and have made great progress with determination to make lives of those around them better. It was precisely a few months ago that I heard of a man who revolutionized women’s gynaecological health in rural areas of India, without much formal education but with plenty of curious insight.
The story goes something like this: a married man was outraged to find that his wife was using unsterilized cloth as a sanitary napkin and asked her why she wasn’t buying disposable ones instead. She stated that it was the high cost and inaccessibility that deterred her, and that most women in their village had the same issue. In fact, it is estimated that approximately 68% of rural women in India cannot afford sanitary napkins.
The man is named Arunachalam Muruganantham, and he was outraged that his wife had to choose between buying family meals and affording a monthly batch of sanitary napkins. That’s when he became obsessed. He started studying the mechanics of a sanitary napkin and went so far as to even study discarded ones- to the point where his wife and family thought he was going crazy. But there was no stopping him. In order to understand if he could replicate a comfortable sanitary napkin at a low cost, Arunachalam started thinking about material he could use as a base for the product- which was wood fiber- and what he would have to do to produce sanitary napkins at a low cost for the women in the village. It took him plenty of experimentation before he perfected his product. What he did is what every successful social entrepreneur does: he made a prototype of his idea and tested it himself in order to get a sense of it and improve it. He was a very inspired innovator and he even wore his product with animal blood in order to understand how it feels. Now, that is human-centric design to the core!
What Arunachalam was able to accomplish is phenomenal. He took four years to study the mechanics in order to design a machine that would make sanitary napkins at a fraction of the cost of the machinery used in regular factories. Since then, he formalized his production into Jayaashree Industries, and his sanitary napkins have been sold all over rural India for the affordable price of 1 rupee a piece. The patent for his machinery has designed over 255 machines creating sanitary pads in 14 states in India. Here, Arunachalam explains his own story of triumph over what many would think would be improbable, given his lack of education and rural background.
Indeed, at present, there are approximately 312 million women in India who don’t have access to sanitary napkins- that is 9 out of 10 women. Arunachalam’s empathy and unrelenting desire to help his wife and other women led to a domino effect of an impact that is helping many women across India. Social Enterprises such as Akaar Innovations also currently work to produce low-cost sanitary napkins in rural India, and, at the same time, to lower the stigma of menstruation.
Similar to Arunachalam’s story, I often hear of everyday individuals thinking of simple ideas that led to revolutionary impact on their communities. India is truly a country full of innovative spirit and social entrepreneurship. Yet, it requires many more innovators to join the ranks of social entrepreneurs in order to deal with complex social problems that cannot be solved by institutions staffed by those that do not live with them or are not exposed to them on a daily basis.
Innovation in every field will bring prosperity and development to India, including its agricultural yield production (which is presently lowest in the world), as well as simple methods of fighting poverty sustainably. If India can succeed in putting a Mars rover in space on the first try- something that hasn’t been accomplished by any nation so far- it can surely produce state of the art technical, social and economic solutions for its own people. Only 50 years ago, many countries of the world were recovering from World War II, rebuilding their cities and economies. Today, the cities like Tokyo, and London have not only recovered but have grown to be one of the most prosperous and innovative cities in the world. India has had the same head-start since its independence, but its cities are crumbling under bad urban infrastructure and its rural areas are equally devastated by poverty and lack of progress. So, the question is, where does India go from here?
Let’s make India synonymous with innovation! Be part of the revolution.