Four in every five girls in the East African region struggle to get health education and sanitary towels. In Kenya, access to adequate facilities and appropriate tools for menstrual hygiene management remains a challenge to many women and girls especially those in informal settlements, marginalised regions and the streets.
In a culture of silence around menstruation and the need to build awareness on the importance of good menstrual, hygiene in enabling women and girl reach their full potential, Megan White Mukuria, Founder of ZanaAfrica, a social impact organization supporting girls and women in Kenya with sexual and reproductive health education, challenged the status quo.
Having lived in Kenya for almost 20 years and working with street children, Megan championed a National Sanitary Public campaign, when she realised sanitary pads for women and girls was a major problem. Her activism garnered support from female MPs, Ministry of Education and other stakeholders who pushed hard to have sanitary pads included in the national budget. Today, the government allocates Ksh 470 Million to the distribution of free sanitary towels across the country.
Sanitary pads are a basic need for women and girls and despite government initiatives them, there was a gap in the market. Women cared about value for money as they wanted quality products that worked best for their needs. This informed Megan’s venture in providing the Kenyan market with affordable sanitary pads, under the brand name Nia pads.
“We developed our own intellectual property and launched a pad called in Nia in 2013. In 2016, we started commercial scaling. We grew a lot in the informal settlement, as we tried to understand how the market operates. Last year we started selling commercially. We look forward to signing a national distribution agreement, to grow to at least 200,000 customers more, because the more people see the product out there the more they want to buy,” she said.
For Megan, there was more to providing sanitary towels to women and girls in Kenya. The issue of market access entwined with health education saw her tap into e-commerce to meet her customers need wherever they are. Mzizzi.com, an eCommerce platform that allowed her to set up a free online store to sell her goods through her own website enabling her to build her own brand became her preferred choice. The platform also provided her with built-in instant payments and international and countrywide delivery services
Leveraging on the market access provided by Mzizzi Megan partnered with a number reproductive health organizations including Mums village; an online community that seeks to provide a safe space for mothers to seek out advice, support and inspire each other, Ask NIVI; a conversational platform that lets users ask questions and get connected to the best health services around among others to create a sticker on the Nia pads where women and girls can seek help on reproductive health.
Her desire to have Nia products within a walking distance for every woman started coming to life, thanks to Mzizzi’s core principles on business growth and brand recognition which have created a huge online demand for Nia products and contributed immensely to the brand’s online presence. Mzizzi’s ability to connect buyers to sellers directly was the game-changer in her business. When one visits Mzizzi.com and clicks on the Nia products, they are redirected to a niayangu.me, an online shop where they can purchase a range of Nia Sanitary pads. A 4 pack Nia sanitary pads made of organic cotton retails at Ksh 35 only while an 8 pack and a 10 pack sell at Ksh 65 and Ksh 75 respectively.
“We believe in dignity through choice. And wherever women are buying their products we want to be there. It is my job to offer a range of quality products selection to satisfy the online demand that Mzizzi has helped us create. They have created incredible value to our online shop on their platform, as they helped us create a website cost-effectively.
“The fact that customers can purchase directly from us is a real differentiator from Jumia. We have been able to bring our brand to life online in a way we never did before. On Niayangu.me women can now have our products speak to them, and that was a key differentiator for us. We needed a better online presence, and they did a good job at it,” she said.
Providing quality and affordable sanitary towels in the Kenyan market has been Megan’s life ambition, but being an SME in Kenya comes with its cup of challenges. She noted that lots of SMEs are getting broke when they are highly successful. The more successful one gets, the more credit risk the more capital they need, but accessing that to credit is a big challenge to SMEs. Although most SMEs in Kenya do not like the idea of partnering with each other to increase their market reach and lack a collective voice to push for change, she believes that if they can team up together and think of partnership, then they can collectively rise and both their retail and online presence will increase.
Through institutional accounts partnerships, Megan is looking to make the most of Mzizzi’s tech muscle to explore another income revenue stream. With the help of Mzizzi, her brand can work more directly with Non-Government Organizations, Community Based NGOs, Corporate Social Responsibility Programs and other institutions and recognize the value for their money when they order Nia products and become their go-to sanitary pads provider.
The future is set for Nia Brand as Megan harbours dreams to see it grow into something that can gain public trust and solve all problems relating to reproductive health women and girls.
“I can sit here as Megan in Nairobi, knowing a girl in Bomet getting sanitary pads, can also get healthcare education or has a hotline to call and the resources on our package are the real differentiators. I want to get 2 million customers across two to three countries across. We are also looking to establish additional product lines for Nia brand. In future I want to create a regional manufacturing hub and then go globally,” she noted.
She aspires to create a format to document national distributions of pads across the country. In so doing, all interested parties can work together to push the government to fulfil on its promises to schools, and with some coordination solve a long term problem. The idea is to have a system that can work with community-based organizations, and entrusted people in it into changing the social norms to help girls and women achieve their purposes in life.