Microentrepreneurs and Maxipads

29 July 2009 at 10:41 16 comments

By Alison Carlman, KF8, Kenya

Consider yourself warned: this blog talks about maxipads. There. I said it. Now please keep reading.

Perhaps you’ve heard of  the “Girl Effect” campaign.  The “Girl Effect” is a about investing in what Africans call the “girl child” and how that can affect a country’s development.  According to The Girl Effect, an extra year in primary school statistically boosts girls’ future wages by 10% to 20%, and every additional year a girl spends in secondary school lifts her income by 15% to 25%. And you better believe that the size of a country’s economy is, in no small part, determined by the educational attainment and skill sets of its girls. For Kenya alone, if the 1.6 million teenage girls who drop out of school each year instead finished their secondary education, their incremental earning power would lift Kenya’s GDP by $27 billion over their lifetimes.   Not to MENTION the impact it would have on the health and well-being of future families and children of these girls-turned-women.

But it’s not that easy just to “stay in school.” The girls I work with in Kisumu at K-MET’s Safe Space have dropped out of school, many because they became mothers during their teen years.

A Safe Space Member Working to Start a Tailoring Business

A Safe Space Member Working to Start a Tailoring Business

I’ve talked a little with these girls, and have learned some other things about why it is so difficult to stay in school.  I learned that something as simple as “sanitary towels” (or maxipads -there, I said it again-) can make the difference whether or not girls miss 4 days of school each month and get hopelessly behind in their studies.  These products are too expensive to purchase every month, and the alternative is to use unsafe materials (like chopped up pieces of mattresses or old newspapers) which cause infections, leading to more absenteeism.

Look – I realize that you didn’t check the Kiva blog to read about sanitary products. But aren’t you at least slightly incensed by the fact that the lack of these simple supplies keep girls and women from attending school, attending public meetings, or even operating their own businesses for 4 days every month?!

There have even been studies done in East Africa that reflect these statistics: a study in Rwanda by Sustainable Health Enterprises in Rwanda showed that even if girls are provided with scholarship money, “ if we don’t make sanitary pads available they will still miss school because they can’t afford to buy them, girls are missing school 4 days a month during their menses just because the pads are too expensive.”

K-MET, the Kiva Partner where I work, is taking on the challenge to find a sustainable solution to the problem.  Let’s face it; the world didn’t stop turning 50 years ago before they invented these expensive products that are harmful to our environment.   The K-MET team is working to “re-invent” (if you will) a sustainable sanitary towel that is environmentally friendly, can be re-used, and costs a fraction of the amount that the disposable ones do.

Susan, the tailoring tutor at Sisterhood for Change, shows samples that the girls have made

Susan, the tailoring tutor at Sisterhood for Change, shows samples that the girls have made

It’s a new project under the umbrella of K-MET’s Sisterhood for Change program, and it’s not yet funded by microfinance, but if it is successful, individual girls could be able to start their own businesses selling these products in their community with some help from Kiva lenders like you!

I think that this is the kind of entrepreneurial venture that makes us all excited in microfinance.  For me, I’m passionate about African women coming up with African solutions to African problems.  These women identified a need and came up with a product that is both financially and environmentally sustainable in the developing world.  And perhaps this is one of those areas where we in the developed world can learn from some African ingenuity.


Alison Carlman is in her 7th week as a Kiva Fellow in Kisumu, Kenya with K-MET.  She is passionate about women, art, community, and sustainable development, and K-MET is a great host MFI in that regard. Interested in K-MET’s unique approach to microfinance and development? Learn more about K-MET here or join the K-MET lending team here. You can even check for fundraising K-MET loans here.

Entry filed under: Africa, All, Kenya, KF8 (Kiva Fellows 8th Class), Kisumu Medical & Education Trust (K-MET). Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

When the Local Currency Falls, Microfinance Suffers Obama-rama in Ghana!


  • 1. Joyful  |  10 December 2009 at 20:19

    I’m so glad you wrote about this topic! I’ve been working (outside of Kiva) with a grassroots group in Kenya. This is an issue I’ve long thought of but haven’t discussed with the male leadership there. It is an issue I plan to address for the young girls going to school in the village near Kericho. I hope to start by making my own sanitary pads, taking some to the village and seeing if we can make them there. It may be a challenge due to the poverty but you have given me some ideas. Thanks again!

  • […] so that they can maintain or improve their clinics and services. And they have these wonderfully innovative programs to help women and improve reproductive […]

  • 3. Nancy Polumbus  |  6 August 2009 at 10:15

    Alison-I am so in awe of what you and Joel are doing in Africa! But your current internship with Kiva is the most incredible ministry! So very many needs and so little help to accomplish it. Many are praying for you…so keep your spirits up as you are making a difference! And you are educating us in America at the same time.
    Nancy Polumbus

  • 4. milena08  |  4 August 2009 at 12:58

    Great post, Alison. I’m so glad that you’re drawing attention to the issue.

    ~Milena (KF8)

  • 5. charmaine  |  4 August 2009 at 04:15

    I am working with kivafriends.org on the 2010 kiva calendar and am hoping you have photos of borrowers with photo releases. If so, can you please email me and let me know. I would love to pass this along to the other working on the calendar so we can plan on the countries we will have access too.

    Thank you
    Charmaine pettersen

  • […] Laura, Alison, Joel and Cameron are Kiva Fellows spread out over the East African Region. To read more about […]

  • 7. Thomas  |  1 August 2009 at 11:49

    Great post, Alison! The first step to any solution is to be able to talk about the problem. You had the courage to do so. I appreciate that more than I am able to say. Maybe someone on the other side of our little world has an idea or even an approach for a solution to the problem. Even funding, if ever needed, should be possible, given the fundraising power of Kiva. Maybe they should launch a “special projects” page in addition to the “normal” lending.
    However – keep up the good work and enjoy your stay! I find the whole Kiva-fellows-blogs really cool!
    🙂 Thomas

  • 8. Vicki  |  30 July 2009 at 18:44

    Alison – thank you for educating me regarding the problem of missed days at school and/or work for the women in Kenya when they are having their period. It is not something I would have considered without seeing it in print. I appreciate you informing people on your blog about one of the hardships that these girls go through on a monthly basis.

  • 9. zevlowe  |  30 July 2009 at 15:52

    Thanks for this post, Alison. I’m tremendously encouraged by the fact that they’re talking about this problem and finding ways to address it. Menstruation can be such a taboo subject, I could easily imagine girls missing school and being very quiet about why, and things just never getting to the point where the issue can be raised and dealt with. Brava!

  • 10. Amy Gilford  |  30 July 2009 at 15:01

    This is extremely informative and dovetails a similar story on SRN News that I heard within the last week. This would make a great Girl Scout project here in the US, wouldn’t it? Not sure how I could encourage them to bump up the cookie sales to help buy sanitary napkins for women in Kenya but it ought to be worth a try! I am going to post your article on my FB page, too. I’ll let you know if I make any progress with the GS.

  • 11. Nilima, KF8 Bolivia  |  30 July 2009 at 13:00

    Now that you’ve breached a taboo subject, menstrual cups (plastic) are a brand-new invention that my old development economics professor did an experiment with in Nepal; they’re reusable, inexpensive, and easy to clean.

    Though this particular study found no correlation between school days and access to sanitary protection, it’s definitely a challenge we should be aware of.


    Nice post Allison!

  • 12. Brett Dobbs  |  30 July 2009 at 12:35

    Alison – great post and couldn’t agree with you more about “African women coming up with African solutions to African problems.”

  • 13. Nancy Tuller  |  30 July 2009 at 11:05

    Love it, love it ,love it! Thank you for saying it. The simplest things can present the biggest challenges to rising above poverty. It’s a simple fact. Madasi–thank you.

  • 14. Katina  |  29 July 2009 at 16:52

    Wow… how unbelievably unfair and frustrating. I’m so glad to see the work these women are doing to create a more equitable situation for themselves. I’m sure it doesn’t help that the topic is taboo – if you have to add disclaimers in order to keep people reading, I would imagine that it’s not easy for people to talk about there, either. Can’t wait to hear more about your work and the people you meet!

  • 15. Kristy  |  29 July 2009 at 11:59

    Fascinating post. Thank you for sharing. Best of luck to K-MET for their innovative solution!

  • 16. Unilove  |  29 July 2009 at 11:21

    They say that necessity is the mother of all invention, and you write: “These women identified a need and came up with a product that is both financially and environmentally sustainable in the developing world.” Even more impressive is the ‘environmentally sustainable’ part, too!

    K-MET and The Girl Effect are doing a great job, as are Kiva and the Kiva Fellows, such as yourself…

    Even better, you used your courage to broach an awkward topic and the point is so profound, so important to have out there: kudos to you and K-MET!


Get Involved!

Learn more about this blog and about Kiva Fellows

Visit Kiva.org

Apply to be a Kiva Fellow

Enter your email address to receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 1,348 other followers


Drawing from the Field

Kiva Blog Policy

%d bloggers like this: