Thanks to a very dear couple friend of mine, Vik and Steph, the boy and I got to catch a very inspiring film, Menstrual Man, over the weekend at the Arts House.
It tells the tale of the man behind the simple, cheap and easy to use machines to make sanitary napkins for rural women in India where menstruation is taboo, as a means to provide a source of jobs and income for empowering women.
Muruganatham, became concerned about his wife using cloth during her period and that served as his inspiration. For one, the cloth would get stained, and for another, the women would be too embarrassed to sun dry their cloths resulting in germs infestation and non-sterile menstrual cloths being used over and over again and resulting cases of womb infection.
A very sincere, dedicated and delightfully humourous man who sacrificed by having his wife and mother walking out on him, Muruganatham pressed on and realized the eventuality of having as many rural parts of India’s women using cheap and easily produced sanitary pads as possible. His dream meant that women could have more hygienic periods and be empowered by being given jobs working in the factories he set up for them to make a living producing the pads.
There were several candid lines from him in the movie that rolled out in simple and accidental poetry but which stuck and inspired. It is the illiterate man who is fortunate when he always sees himself as illiterate and will then never stop learning. As he spoke about education, he saw it as a curse because the educated are always so concerned about making a livelihood rather than making a change, hence wasting the education away. That was really poignant for me, like an epiphany.
As the unlikely hero for the women in rural India, he truly believed in empowering women with spending power as he said men and women have different spending habits. Men spend on clothes, cigarettes and alcohol but women are the ones who spend on feeding the children and getting the children to school so when you give them the spending power, you are creating a positive impact on the future of India. That was one wow moment for me and for a split second I started regretting not being a mother and still indulging in spending on a dress here and a charm necklace there every once in a while, guiltily. So much for women having better spending habits, sigh..
As he talked about scaling deep than scaling up for his business, I am reminded about the need to get to the heart of a social enterprise and how such businesses will always stand out uniquely from the large profit making corporations that are all about looting and plundering the earth for what it is worth, in order to generate as much profits as quickly and unscrupulously as possible. Which was also why his answer to whether the sanitary pads making machines were only ever meant for those at the bottom of the economic pyramid would always be yes and he never sold out to the large corporations or venture capitalists who called on him to.
For someone who collected animal blood in the inner lining sacs of soccer balls in order to carry around his waist each day and pump it periodically into his first test pads when no women wanted to help him test them out, this was someone who would never give up and sought all forms of action, no matter how radical or unbelievable, in order to solve the problem. Solve the 3 problem As of affordability, availability and awareness he did, and even went on to getting the women who had already converted to using the sanitary pads, to reach out and speak to those who hadn’t, as his unofficial ambassadors because they shared in his vision too.
I walked out of the theatre with reminders for myself with regards to The Dorsal Effect, thanks to this amazing man in India:
(1) scale deep, not up, that’s how you always focus on the beneficiaries you are doing this business in the first place for.
(2) Even if it reaches a point when you are running on empty and are not generating profits or growth, you still keep doing it because you are driven by the vision of a better world, not the profits you can generate nor the scalability of your business.
(3) Keep seeking other solutions to the social problem you are trying to nurse, no matter how radical it may eventually get.
(4) Remember you can never know it all, be humble, be in gratitude of the people who help you along the way and never ever ever stop learning.