The cup of hope - Daily Nation

The cup of hope

Saturday July 20 2013

By TRICIA WANJALA

“I was a professional dancer, touring with shows all over Europe, when I decided to go to university. Through my dancing I got to travel and meet new people, which I loved, and so I decided to study an international course that would give me an opportunity to do just that. I took a bachelor’s in business, language and Spanish culture, and after that, I worked in Spain for a year.

“My time in Spain confirmed my passion for working abroad and when I enrolled for my master’s degree in supply chain management, I dreamt about a corporate career in a Spanish-speaking country.

My study group in campus comprised Veronica D’Souza and Maxie Matthiessen – the other two founders of Ruby Cup. We were ‘leftists’. We would have long, red-wine nights where we discussed how we would make the world a better place through sustainable business.

“In December 2010, we brainstormed our thesis, and decided to focus on studying the menstrual cup business. We saw this product as a sustainable business that would solve societal and environmental problems. It also had the potential to become a profitable business with no dependency on charity and donors.

“As we started our research, we were shocked to discover that one billion women worldwide cannot afford sanitary pads. When I thought of how these women suffered needlessly, I was frustrated. Menstruation should never be a hindrance to live freely, and the fact that so many women struggle with such a basic need is wrong.

The only study we found to back up our research, and done by the African Population and Health Research Centre, came from the Korogocho slum of Nairobi. So we chose Kenya as the place where we would undertake our thesis project.

“Initially, we wanted to distribute an existing menstrual cup brand but the prices were too high so we decided to design our own. We got a Danish company called Coloplast on board in June 2011. Then we decided to open a company.

In the middle of all the business activity, we gave up on finishing our thesis; it did not make sense to sit with our heads in books when we could be on the ground helping women. In July 2011, we received our first grant, the Kickstarter, and in September 2011, we came to Kenya to do our product development. The first ruby cups arrived in Kenya in July 2012.

Great feedback

“Deciding to quit my thesis to jump into an unpredictable future was extremely exciting. I also felt relieved in a way, and free, because I had made a decision to choose my own life path and determine my destiny completely.

“I am lucky to have a very supportive family, but since Kenya was very foreign to them, they worried about my safety and whether I would succeed. In the beginning they kept on talking about things we would do “when I got back home.”

They did not accept the idea that this was a trip without a return ticket, with no fixed end date. We were opening a business and that could very well turn into a lifetime of work.

“The best feedback we’ve ever received is that the girls are so happy because they are no longer dependent on asking their fathers or boyfriends for money every month to buy pads, something that is often very shameful to ask for.

And also, that they feel free, because with the ruby cup, there are no smells or leakages so nobody will notice that they are having their period. The cup is made of medical grade antibacterial silicone and contains no harmful absorbency gels, additives or perfumes.

There is no risk of allergies, side effects or Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) either. You can re-use one ruby cup for 10 years, so it saves the environment the waste created by disposable products. The average woman uses 11, 000 pads or tampons in a lifetime.

“The majority of our grant support has been from SIDA (The Swedish Development Agency) and from the Segal Family Foundation in New York – a support that we really appreciate.

“In Kenya, our ruby cup is sold in pharmacies in collaboration with our distribution partner Harleys Ltd. They are also provided to schoolgirls from underprivileged backgrounds in collaboration with NGOs and organisations like the Red Cross.

The normal price is Sh1, 800 but currently, there is an introductory offer of Sh1, 250. When you calculate the 10 years of usage, it costs no more than Sh180 per year.

“The changes to women’s lives and all the great feedback we get from our users is the core drive for me to get up every morning. It motivates me to work constantly, even on days when I am exhausted.

“My advice to women out there who are contemplating a major career change is, “Do not be afraid!” Also do not expect to have a perfect plan when you start out, otherwise you will never get anywhere. Being an entrepreneur means constantly learning through trial and error. Reach out to people for advice and help. We’ve done that since the beginning and have always met willingness to help out everywhere we’ve gone.”

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