Reaching the last mile through our Door to Door model

Menstruation is a taboo topic in India, because of which women are unaware of various menstrual hygiene products available in the market. 80% of women in India currently do not use sanitary napkins due to lack of awareness, affordability and access to quality menstrual hygiene products. This not only has an adverse health impact leading to reproductive tract infections and tetanus but also leads to workplace and school absenteeism. There is an evident need for menstrual hygiene awareness and good quality products in rural India, but there is not enough being done about it. As an organization that works in the menstrual hygiene space, we have tried multiple models with lesser cost, higher margins, fixed salaries, free samples distribution, etc. and at every step made mistakes and learned a lot from them. After spending 2 years in rural Maharashtra, we have finally arrived at a model which would work best given our vision and goals to drive change in this sector.

 This blog post aims to shed light on our Door to Door model which is very different from the models that large-scale and small-scale companies follow, because it makes sure that our product has a better reach that other companies fail to achieve, creates awareness on menstrual hygiene and health in rural areas and provides employment opportunities to women in villages. Through this model, we reach the most interior parts of our country, especially those, where a topic like menstruation, is not openly talked about.Our Door to Door model focuses on developing effective partnerships and building strong distribution systems, thereby helping us grow our sales networks and creating last mile access. We are able to do this with the help of Sanginis, who play a vital role in our program. A Sangini is a friend and guide to women in villages. She is their confidant with whom they can discuss anything about menstruation, a familiar face, a woman who will patiently listen to all your concerns, queries and provide any information you need about periods. A Sangini is also a trained village woman for sales and goes Door to Door educating people about menstruation.

We first identify Senior Sanginis, who are experienced healthcare workers and partner with them to create awareness about periods and for sale of Active Ultra sanitary napkins at the last mile. The Senior Sanginis are then provided training by our team on everything they need to know about menstrual hygiene. These Senior Sanginis select Sanginis from different villages who are appointed to go Door to Door and create awareness about periods. 

The selection of the right Senior Sangini, keeping in mind the role she plays in the community, is extremely crucial.  Senior Sanginis are usually associated with local NGOs, ASHA workers, Health officers, village Sarpanch etc. The selection criterion of a Senior Sangini for the implementation of our program broadly depends on;

Once we have identified the right Senior Sanginis, the next step is their capacity building. We do so by conducting intensive training sessions and orient them about the prevalent issues and how to create a demand for the product. Senior Sanginis and Sanginis have a set of responsibilities as mentioned below:

We provide our product directly to the Senior Sanginis reducing intermediaries, due to which each of them earns a higher margin.  With good financial incentives and a strong motivation to help other women in their localities, Sanginis proudly and effectively sell our products. Besides the profits from sales, we also incentivize them to organise sessions for awareness creation.

To ensure that we are addressing the problem from all angles, we also conduct several other activities to increase access at the last mile and to educate people about the problems surrounding menstrual hygiene.

Awareness sessions in schools/colleges: One of the best ways to reach a maximum number of girls is by approaching local schools and colleges. MHM sessions are conducted in schools and colleges to create awareness about menstrual hygiene followed by a product demo at the end of every session.

Donation Campaigns: We run a campaign called ‘That Time of the month’ in collaboration with Milaap to raise funds for girls who cannot afford sanitary pads. This campaign sponsors girls in school with six month supply of sanitary pads. Once girls start using pads from the beginning of their periods, they slowly build a habit of how to maintain good hygiene during periods and eventually become loyal customers of the product.

Awareness drives in communities: There is a continuous need to engage with the women of the village even after conducting the above-mentioned activities. 4-5 months post the campaign and door to door sales, we organize for a community level awareness session for the women and girls of the village. We train the Sanginis to conduct these awareness sessions in the villages they are from and have visited.

Door to door Sales: Sanginis visit approximately 30 women per day, ask questions, collect relevant data and in case anyone faces any problems or wants to know more about menstruation, one can discuss it freely with the Sanginis. Sanginis are also trained to talk about hygiene practices to be followed during periods and menstrual products available in the market. The Sanginis also keep a stalk of the sanitary napkins with them, therefore anytime someone needs the pads, they can directly approach the Sanginis in their village and buy it from her. 

This model has been adopted by us to increase last mile access after extensive research. Our learning’s from it have been huge and we are constantly experimenting and modifying our model given the changing times and preferences of the consumers.

We currently have a presence in 80 villages across Maharashtra and work with over 100 Sanginis in these villages. In a recent survey conducted we found that 100% Sangins that we collaborate with, take pride in spreading awareness about menstrual hygiene apart from the additional income they earn because it ensures better health of the women in their village. Our ultimate aim as a women’s health start-up is to ensure that 23% girls go back to schools, the health burden of 70% of women who suffer from reproductive tract infections is reduced and every woman has a healthy period!

“How we exported our first sanitary pad making machine to Bangladesh!”

Access to menstrual hygiene is a basic human right and the fight to provide this basic necessity to every woman is something we are working towards at Saral Designs. Availability of sanitary napkins is a huge problem in our country, especially since most good quality pads produced, are either imported or very expensive. In my experience of working in this field for 2.5 years, I have observed that the commercial manufacturing machines that make high-quality pads are high-speed, expensive (10 crore – 40 crore) and require huge marketing budgets for selling nearly 20 million pads every month. These machines which are imported from countries like China, Italy, Germany are meant for bulk manufacturing, making it difficult for small-scale businesses to sell such huge quantity of pads.

In India, most machines developed are manually operated and are unable to produce ultra thin pads. Being a part of India’s first hardware start-up that has designed a one of kind automatic sanitary napkin making machine, our aim is to create access at the last mile and set-up machines in different locations, enabling local manufacturing and distribution.

Swachh 2.0 Manufacturing Unit

To put to test this decentralization model of ours, we recently exported our first machine- Swacch 2.0 to a local entrepreneur in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Ariful Forquan identified the need of female garment workers in nearby factories which causes several women to miss work or use unhygienic materials during their periods like husk, newspapers, ragged cloth etc. As a factory owner himself,  he faced a lot of problem due to the regular absenteeism of female workers. When he delved deeper into the matter, he found out that the problem is prevalent mainly due to lack of access and availability of high-quality menstrual hygiene products in the local markets. After extensive research and meetings with many manufacturers, Ariful realized that with manually operated machines, the product quality is poor and the model cannot be scaled, while the high speed lines require very high investments to start off. The hunt for a solution to this problem, led Ariful Forquan and his business partner Dr.Kalam to meet with Saral Design’s Founders Suhani Mohan & Kartik Mehta.

saral designs team sanitary napkin machine
Ariful with Saral Designs Team

Once the deal was finalized, we vowed to provide our new Production partners with an end to end training on running a sanitary pad making business. Our operations head put together a 3-week training program for Ariful and his team where each member from Saral Designs conducted detailed sessions depending on their field of expertise. It provided a holistic experience of running a business.The training involved interactive sessions on the following topics:

  • Technical know-how: In-depth understanding of the machine, how to operate, maintain it and explanation of all manuals related.
  • Pad construction: Making and Composition of sanitary pads, quality check and control, Raw material performance.
  • Sales and distribution: Support with partnerships and proposal writing, introduction to training modules etc.
  • Design and marketing: Packaging and designing of pads, content generation for social media, marketing techniques on different platforms.
Dispatching raw materials and the machine to Dhaka.

Once Ariful and his team left, we crated the machine and prepared for its departure to Dhaka.  The task of transporting a 300 kg machine across the sea, was executed effortlessly .

However, our job was not finished here! We still had a to install the machine in Dhaka and ensure it was up and running smoothly. To help our partners understand the expected timeline to set-up a Swacch machine, we broke down the process right from finalizing the deal to beginning production into steps as shown below:

On reaching Dhaka, we immediately got to work and within two days assembled the entire machine. We started production of sanitary pads from the third day and everything else fell perfectly into place! We stayed there for 7 more days to support them with any unforeseen issue that might arise pertaining to the machine.  We left Dhaka with a feeling of accomplishment and self-assurance for having successfully completed the job at hand.

sanitary napkin making machine
Vijay installing the machine in Dhaka, Bangladesh

The set-up of our machine in Bangladesh has instilled confidence in the entire team of Saral Designs. It has reassured us that our decentralization model when implemented across the countries in need of it, will create last mile access, provide job opportunities and empower women. There is a clear and evident need for better menstrual hygiene products especially in developing countries but due to lack of access to such quality pads, the demand is not adequately met. We at Saral Designs are here to ensure this gap disappears and that every woman lives her life with dignity and confidence.

Sanitary napkin making machine
Inauguration of Sokhi Production Unit set up in collaboration with Saral Designs