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This Woman Cracked How To Make Snacks Junkfree. Now It’s An Open Secret.

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By Ahana Gautam

My brother and I were raised by a single mother in Bharatpur. It’s a small city in Rajasthan – the state with the lowest female literacy rate in India. from a young age, I realised that the world was not a fair place. Families were very okay with mediocre education for their daughters. But in my mom’s eyes, my brother and I were always equal.

One day, while I was preparing for the IIT exam, my mom’s friend came over.

“Why are you encouraging her?” she asked my mom. “Your dream has already come true – your son is at IIT. How will you find a groom for her??

But my mom didn’t let that get in my way.

She never allowed such words to apply to me. She encouraged me to chase my dreams.

But this was not the norm – most girls did not hear the same thing.

Ahana Gautam
Ahana Gautam and her mother. Photo: Ahana.

From Bharatpur To Harvard: Lessons Of A Lifetime

I attended IIT Bombay and later went to Harvard Business School for my MBA. To be honest, until then, I was very externally driven – getting brands on my CV, IIT, Procter & Gamble, Harvard. But my time at Harvard changed me. It taught me to see the privileges I have and that a seat at Harvard comes with a responsibility: I needed to make a positive difference in the world.

I found my purpose and I became fearless.

I discovered early on that I have a passion for consumer goods. That’s why I worked at Procter & Gamble and also General Mills. It gave me incredible exposure to the whole industry – supply chain, finance, marketing, everything!

By the time I went to the US, I knew I wanted to come back to India to start a brand from scratch. I realised that India is a supply-constrained market. We have decades-old brands that are not innovating, and also a growing middle-class who are looking for innovative products. But even with that knowledge about the Indian market, I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do.

I got clarity about that during my time at Harvard. We used to have two classes back-to-back, and I always took two cups of coffee and two croissants to class. One day I complained to my classmate, Marquis, who always sat next to me. “I don’t know what’s going on,” I said. “I keep gaining weight even though I go to the gym.” Marquis just rolled his eyes and said: “Have you noticed what you’re eating for breakfast every day? Bread & butter!”

Ahana Gautam
Photo: Ahana

That’s when I started learning about food and nutrition. I became very interested in it! At the same time, I was talking to my sister-in-law in India. She was complaining that she was unable to find tasty and healthy snacks for my niece. That was the next a-ha moment for me.

How is it possible that mothers still don’t have access to healthy and tasty packaged food for their children? I wanted to change that!

When I returned to India people said, “Oh, you couldn’t get a visa?” or “She’s probably getting married.”

It’s hard for them to understand that a single woman would move continents because of professional reasons.

There was a time when such things would affect me, but now I have thick skin. I’ve become so secure as a woman and so secure about what I want in life.

Ahana Gautam
Open Secret was founded in 2019. Photo: Ahana

From Bread & Butter To Open Secret

Open Secret was founded in 2019. To register a company, you need to list 2 people as directors. And so I did – me and my mom. She’s always been my shield, the strongest woman I’ve ever known.

But in March this year, I lost her. She was in the hospital and because of COVID, I couldn’t see her. I couldn’t even say goodbye. Yet, I was the one who cremated her. That’s how my mother empowered me – that even then I would take up my rightful and equal role in the world.

After that, I had two choices: take a break to process the grief or use the pain as fuel to create a tribute to my mother. I chose the latter. The very next day I was back at work. Open Secret closed its series A funding in July.

This brand is a love letter from a daughter to her single mother. A mother who showed her daughter that nothing in this world is impossible. Who championed health, nutrition and to reach your full potential and beyond.

This post is the first article in the collaboration between and Youth Ki Awaaz. is a community-led professional network for women. join the waitlist at

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        An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

        Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

        Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

        The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

        Read more about his campaign.

        Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

        Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

        Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

        Read more about her campaign.

        MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

        With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

        Read more about her campaign. 

        A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

        As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

        Find out more about the campaign here.

        A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

        She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

        Read more about the campaign here.

        A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

        The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

        Read more about the campaign here.

        A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

        As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

        Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

        Find out more about her campaign here.

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        A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

        A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

        Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

        A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
        biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

        Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
        campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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