One social entrepreneur came to campus on Tuesday night to talk about her successful commercial and philanthropic business model based on something unexpected: tampons.
Following the philanthropic business models of Toms Shoes and Warby Parker, the company Cora is helping to redefine the feminine hygiene landscape across India and Kenya. Speaking to a small group of students in the Philomathean Society’s room in College Hall, the company’s co-founder Molly Hayward discussed her mission to ensure that girls in developing countries have a safe and effective way to manage their menstruation.
Founded in 2014, Cora provides 100 percent organic, biodegradable and hypoallergenic tampons to women in the United States while using the profit to help girls in India stay in school by purchasing sanitary pads for them. For every purchase of a month’s supply of Cora tampons, the company purchases an equivalent supply of sustainable pads from local partners in India.
Cora began with Hayward’s unexpected trip to Kenya with a volunteer organization that focused on girls’ education and women’s health. While volunteering at a local school there, Hayward noticed that some girls wouldn’t show up to class for several days at a time.
“When I asked one of the girls what was going on, she said ‘when we have our periods, we just stay home,’ and for me, this was a lightbulb moment,” Hayward said. “Here was this experience that I was sharing with a woman across the world, and my experience was so vastly different from hers. Her experience was actually impeding her education, which I would argue is the most critical endeavor for her.”
Immediately upon her return to the United States a couple of weeks later, Hayward took to Google to start researching ways to help the girls. During the process, Hayward came across several troubling aspects of the current feminine hygiene landscape, one of which was the fact that the majority of conventional tampon products, including Tampax, Playtex and Kotex, are primarily made with potentially harmful synthetic materials.
“The FDA doesn’t require manufacturers to disclose the ingredients in [the tampons], so as consumers, we’re literally inserting products into our bodies not knowing what’s in them,” Hayward said. “At that moment, it dawned on me that I could create a brand that provided better [menstruation] products for women here in my society while helping to provide [menstruation] products to girls in other societies.”
Rather than donating the company’s products to girls in developing countries, Cora has partnered up with Aakar Innovations — a social enterprise that produces “plant-based, sustainable and biodegradable” pads that are produced in small manufacturing units in rural villages and urban slums in India. This way, Cora helps support the local economy by using local resources and employing women who live there.
“It’s not a donation. We’re not importing a product from overseas that would undermine the [local] economy; we’re actually helping them to scale as a business by generating revenue for them as a customer,” Hayward explained.
The partnership is currently only based in India, but Cora is planning to expand to Kenya next year, according to Hayward.
As it stands today, Cora provides its organic tampons via subscriptions and target stores, but is on its way to expanding its product line.
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