This article talks about menstruation – a topic not many men will associate with. But this article cries for attention as it is no longer about women but indeed is about all of us on planet.

Who has heard of the word “AFRI pads”?

AFRIpads is a trademark of recyclable sanitary pads made by AFRIpads Ltd, based in Uganda. Established by a Canadian couple Paul and Sophia Grivalds in 2010, this company has been featured in lots of media from the Guardian, Huffington Post, to Forbes.


Mission and Value of AFRIpads:

AFRIpads Ltd. was founded in order to bring back deprived access to education by cretaing and selling affordable and washable – therefore recyclable – sanitary pads. Whilst some people may still struggle from crumps and pain during the period, menstruation is not as big a problem in Japan as dropping out of school altogether. As we see them in Japan, sanitary pads are easily accessible and affordable in supermarket, convenience stores and pharmacies.
In some parts of Africa, certain number of women are either

  • unable to walk to where it is sold because it’s geographically just too far,
  • unable to afford and/or prioritise other expenses, and
  • unaware of the word sanitary pads.

Because of these reasons, girls in school usually have to skip school for about a week.

This is what’s called ‘Week of Shame’ where students in puberty would laugh at girls who obviously are always absent for ‘that’ reason.
This ‘Week of Shame’ is also equivalent to a week without education. Girls who have to stay home because of absence of sanitary pads are unable to catch up with materials taught during the week, and this translates into loss of 20% of the entire education contents taught in school every year. UNICEF highlights 1 in 10 girls either skip class or drop out of school. But if we look at Uganda alone, this figure changes to 6 in 7 girls who actually drop out of school. If only we can fill this one week gap with something – something that we women in Japan take for granted – and this is where AFRIpads comes in.

1(photo credit: AFRIpads<>)

A year before the registration of AFRIpads Ltd. as a company, a Dutch angel invesor Bert Bolkenstein has injected seed capital funding for a pilot project in making sanitary pads in Uganda. Partnered with the B-Corp certified company Lunapads in Canada, AFRIpads Ltd. was able to gain permission to copy Lunapads’ trademarked products to bring further access to these women and girls. AFRIpads started to supply AFRIpads Menstruation Kit for $15 per year to individuals and NGOs.

The operation of AFRIpads Ltd. takes the form of venture philanthropy rather than social impact investment, in that they are supported by another company entity AFRIpads B.V. in the Netherlands that provide hands-on and financial support. AFRIpads B.V. consists of professionals who advise and help the operational process of AFRIpads Ltd. in Uganda, and they own 70% of the share, whereas the co-founder Paul and Sophia Grinvalds own the remainder.

In 2013, however, AFRIpads have also taken the approach of social impact investment. Opes Impact Fund provided equity investment worth of 200,000 euro to achieve a goal of reaching AFRIpads to 500,000 women.


Social and financial outcome & impact:
AFRIpads Ltd. makes sanitary pads at two workshops in rural Uganda where there’s no electricity. In total, there are 150 people who are working in AFRIpads Ltd. using the treadle-powered sewing machines, cutting the patterns, overseeing the quality control process, and so on. Currently there are 750,000 girls and women who have access to AFRIpads through international NGOs such as Save the Children and retail shops in Uganda, Malawi, and Kenya.

2(photo credit: OPES Impact Fund<>)

If those 6 women out of 7 who drop out of school can choose to go to school, this fact translates into potential income of $10 billion. If one person gains one more additional year of education, this increases his/her income by 10 to 20%.

As of 2015, AFRIpads Ltd. raised $500,000, and as of today, they have created full-time, formal sector employment for over 150 people, of 90% is women. In Eastern African countries, the notion of menstruation is not openly discussed, yet the fact that 90% of 150 people employed is women indicates that AFRIpads Ltd. does push women empowerment.
If a woman develops into an educated mother, her child will develop into a matured adult with discipline. Education for women prospers the family, and this contributes to greater social development.
Investing in a company with social mission like AFRIpads is indeed an investment with social impact – social impact investment.

NB: The figure is based on the research conducted in April, 2017, as of which, AFRIpads does not publish its annual report.