Public Release: 

Kenya NGO breaking down health and social development barriers with sanitary pad innovation

Kenyan-based ZanaAfrica receives global accolades

Grand Challenges Canada

Kenyan social enterprise ZanaAfrica Group is recognized as a leading innovator in global health, education and development with the receipt of the highly selective "Phase II Grand Challenges Exploration" grant, a partnership between Grand Challenges Canada (which is funded by the Government of Canada) and The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

This second round of funding supports ZanaAfrica's systemic approach to revolutionize female health and empowerment -- creating an affordable, accessible, locally manufactured sanitary pad from low-cost materials, thus producing sustainable economic benefits throughout the supply chain. This approach has given ZanaAfrica a spot as one of six organizations out of the 270 initial Grand Challenges Exploration projects to receive Phase II funding to date.

The Problem

"Menstruation is the most important factor affecting school drop-out among girl [and is a key barrier] to achieving Millennium Development Goals" - UNDP & UNICEF, 2007

Sanitary pads and related health education is a pervasive global health concern which directly impedes the productivity of females worldwide.

Girls miss up to six weeks of school per year due to menstruation

Women lose key hours of work per month

Common sanitary pad substitutes are unhygienic and often result in chronic untreated infections increasing susceptibility to STDs/ HIV, along with pregnancy complications

Unfortunately, Menstrual Hygiene Management often falls between silos of programs such as Water Sanitation and Health, global health, and education. ZanaAfrica along with funding partners Grand Challenges Canada and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation are at the forefront of working to change this, combining sustainable product innovation with policy work.

ZanaAfrica's Innovative Solution

For decades the disposable sanitary pad industry has relied exclusively on expensive softwood pine fiber for the absorbent fluff in pads, which is primarily sourced in North America and Scandanavia, and consumes nearly half of raw material costs. The Grand Challenges Exploration Phase II funding supports further research and development to process alternative fibers for use in the large-scale production of sanitary pads with wings.

ZanaAfrica's technological leap enables a dramatic cost reduction while maintaining high quality. Their solution offers a radically affordable pad through a market-based approach to support both a woman-to-woman sales model as well as direct sales to non-profits or governments to provide pads for free to schoolgirls. Other social enterprises making sanitary pads tend towards a semi-automated process difficult to scale.

Interim innovative financing to support girls includes the new female-focused crowdfunding platform For only $15/year, individuals can support a girl in Kenya with an annual supply of pads, underpants, and health education. Donations are tax-deductible and 100% go to Kenya. ZanaAfrica's goal is to raise support for 10,000 girls by January 2014, which is the beginning of a new school year in Kenya.

"We are thrilled to continue to innovate through Grand Challenges Explorations to unlock girls' and women's productivity through affordable pads and health education," says founder and CEO Megan White Mukuria, a Harvard graduate and 13-year resident of Kenya. "As we continue R&D, we look forward to locally producing and test a branded pad in Kenya in the coming months so that girls and women can retain their dignity and thrive as focused students, productive workers, and informed mothers," adds Mukuria.

"Canada is committed to saving and improving the lives of women and children," says Peter A. Singer, Chief Executive Officer of Grand Challenges Canada. "With such promising early results, we are proud to support the scaling of this bold idea so that the benefits of empowering women and girls can achieve widespread effect."

To date, ZanaAfrica has supported 10,000 girls with annual supplies of sanitary pads, underpants, and health education. Said the Kibera-based mother of one beneficiary, "My daughter did not like studying, but since [getting support from ZanaAfrica] she wakes up at 4:00am, studies until 5:30am, and then goes to school. ZanaAfrica is meeting the needs of our girls and reducing the pressure in areas parents sometime struggle with such as teaching children about life and sex."


About ZANAAFRICA and Partners

ZanaAfrica, a hybrid social enterprise with headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya, invests in women and girls to break the cycle of poverty across generations. By making affordable sanitary pads, delivering health education, and informing policy, ZanaAfrica creates new opportunities for women and girls to thrive. ZanaAfrica's mobile app, The Nia Network, launched in 2013 in partnership with Kenya's Ministry of Education and Ministry of Information, documents 2012 distribution of pads and underpants to over 260,000 girls by 18 stakeholders.

ZanaAfrica won the Wharton Africa Business Forum Business Plan Competition in 2009 for its plan to manufacture pads, which was heralded as "game-changing for Africa". Founder and CEO, Megan White Mukuria, a social entrepreneur and thought leader, launched the National Sanitary Towels Campaign in 2006 and founded its Coordinating Committee in 2008, which have both been instrumental in supporting girl-centered policy. Megan was listed in Fast Company's "League of Extraordinary Women" in 2012 and was a 2011 PopTech Social Innovation Fellow. Last month, ZanaAfrica was among the awardees of the HANSHEP Health Enterprise Fund, implemented by the USAID-funded SHOPS project led by Abt Associates. Other partners include Chase Bank (Kenya) Foundation and the Eleos Foundation.

Grand Challenges Canada

Grand Challenges Canada is dedicated to supporting Bold Ideas with Big Impact in global health. It is funded by the Government of Canada and funds innovators in low-and middle-income countries and Canada. The bold ideas integrate science and technology, social and business innovation (called Integrated Innovation). Grand Challenges Canada works to catalyze scale, sustainability and impact and has a determined focus on results, and saving and improving lives.

Grand Challenges Explorations

Grand Challenges Explorations is a US$100 million initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Launched in 2008, more than 850 projects in more than 50 countries have received Grand Challenges Explorations grants. The grant program is open to anyone from any discipline and from any organization. The initiative uses an agile, accelerated grant-making process with a two-page online application and no preliminary data required. Initial grants of US$100,000 are awarded two times a year. Successful projects have the opportunity to receive a follow-on grant of up to US$1 million.

For more information:

ZanaAfrica: Facebook: /ZanaAfricaPage, Twitter: @ZanaAfrica

Grand Challenges Canada,, +1(647) 627-0195

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation,, +1 (206) 709-3400

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