A Viable Business Model For Accessible Menstrual Hygiene

Sustainable Health Enterprises, Kigali, Rwanda, 2011

Sustainable Health Enterprises (SHE) is a startup social enterprise based in Rwanda.


Many women and girls in Rwanda have to miss work or school each month due to lack of access to affordable, sanitary menstrual hygiene products. The founder of Sustainable Health Enterprises (SHE) envisioned offering locally-produced sanitary pads made from locally-sourced banana fibers at a lower price than the imported sanitary pads on the market in Rwanda. When I joined SHE as a Global Health Corps Fellow, SHE was in the early stages of testing their business model.


To help move the founder’s vision into an operationalized reality, I led a variety of social design research efforts. I spoke with a group of school girls to learn more about their menstrual hygiene preferences. I also visited banana farmers across rural Rwanda to learn more about their banana cultivation practices. SHE’s original business model assumed that banana fibers could be sourced for free from farmers, but I soon learned that farmers used their banana pseudo-stems (the source of banana fibers) for fertilizer and cattle feed and would expect compensation. Additionally, I conducted market research and learned that SHE had several unaccounted for local competitors.


I transformed my findings into a proposed update to SHE’s business plan, offering options for ways that SHE could fairly compensate banana farmers yet still offer sanitary pads at an affordable price point. For example, the byproduct of banana fiber extraction could be used as fertilizer and exchanged with banana farmers.

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