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Empowerment through Feminine Hygiene
Eco Femme gets women to switch from disposable to washable or eco-friendly products, helping underprivileged women get access to cloth-pads
 
Eco Femme, Auroville Village Action Group. AVAG, cloth-pads, self-help groups, SHGsEco Femme is the effort of a small team of volunteers who live and work at Auroville, the international community in Puducherry, to start rural social enterprises that empower marginalised Indian women and connect women globally. In 2010, the founding team, comprising Kathy Walkling, Jessamijn Miedema, Anita Budhraja and Anbu Sironmani, was motivated help the Auroville Village Action Group (AVAG), an NGO in Villipuram district (Tamil Nadu). 
 
The idea was to create livelihood opportunities for AVAG’s self-help groups (SHGs) by making washable cloth-pads and selling them to women for use during their menstrual periods. The pads are designed to be affordable (for women with limited means), durable and reusable. The challenge was to encourage women to break free of media-driven preference for disposable products and get them think about eco-friendly alternatives like cloth-pads—not merely in India but around the world.  Laura O’ Connell of Eco Femme discusses the business model as follows: “As the wheels turned, an operational model became clear: women tailors would stitch high-quality cloth-pads and they would be sold to stores and individuals around the world at a profitable price; international sales would include an additional Rs80, which would allow Eco Femme to ‘gift’ a pad to an adolescent girl through a menstrual health education programme (gifted pads would be grouped together to make a kit of four). In this way, as our international sales would grow, so would our impact on the ground in Tamil Nadu, through the Pad for Pad Programme, and eventually to other states. Additionally, we would provide washable cloth pads at a subsidised rate to women who cannot afford the premium rate. These subsidised pads are available on request or when requested by NGOs working with women and girls.”
 
Over time, the team moved from being a donor-funded organisation to a self-sustaining one. Eco Femme hopes to find a way to simultaneously create livelihood opportunities for women members of AVAG’s SHGs and to financially support AVAG’s work with rural individuals and communities. According to Eco Femme’s website, AVAG remains the umbrella organisation under which it works; AVAG also hosts it in their office and helps organise the production of washable cloth-pads. AVAG help Eco Femme’s menstrual education seminars with its women’s SHGs and spread awareness about hygiene.
 
The group is not worried about obtaining ongoing funding; Laura points out, “We believe that current work on menstrual hygiene in India (and around the world) has opened a potent space for reflection on the very nature of development work and what it means to be a sustainable business.” Eco Femme hopes to fill this space by being a locally inspired and guided initiative that allows women and girls to live healthily and with dignity. 
 
In January 2014, Eco Femme entered into a relationship with Dasra, an organisation that proactively brings philanthropists and social entrepreneurs together to enhance their ability to foster change. This relationship has given it the much needed business development support.
 
Finally, Laura confides happily, “In this way, we are a hybrid organisation with both for-profit and not-for-profit areas of work. The profits from one fund the work of the other.” 
 
The parting message for women readers from Eco Femme is “if well washed, sun-dried and stored in a clean place, cloth-pads are perfectly viable and healthy for MHM (menstrual hygiene management).” Those who are environment conscious, should remember that disposable sanitary napkins are not eco-friendly.
 

 

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COMMENTS

Narendra Doshi

2 years ago

A potenial leapfrogger idea for implementation, especially in India. This small healthy step can substanially reduce medica costs and even deaths.

Book Review of ‘The Aspirational Investor’
Glowingly recommended by two Nobel Laureates, it falls short
 
I have read many books on investing but have not come across one with such glowing recommendations. Praise for The Aspirational Investor by Ashvin B Chhabra comes from five extraordinary people. One is Dr Harry Markowitz known for his pioneering work on modern portfolio theory who won the Nobel Prize in 1990. Jim Simons, one of the top traders in the world, is a mathematician who applied himself to studying pattern recognition and now runs Renaissance Technologies which manages $25 billion. He says that this book is an “original programme to guide an individual.” Glowing endorsements also come from Eric Maskin, Nobel winner in 2007, as well as Burton Malkiel and Charles 
D Ellis, two seminal writers on investing. What is so great about this book? 
 
Chhabra brings some fresh thinking to financial planning. He advocates that investors should create a three-tier portfolio. The first, called essential portfolio, will help you protect your current lifestyle and  should be invested in safe products. The second, labelled important, should be to help meet long-term goals such as retirement. This should be invested in market-linked products. The third portfolio is aspirational portfolio where you should put high-risk products. This is fine in theory. How does one implement it? Chhabra outlines seven steps for this purpose.
 
Step1: Outline Your Goals: Categorise your goals as essential, important and aspirational. A young couple, at an early stage in their financial life, might have goals that include savings for college, owning a home and starting a business; while a wealthy retired couple may have only two goals: maintaining their lifestyle and leaving a legacy.
 
Step2: Goals into Cash Flows: Put numbers to your goals. Quantify the total amount needed today for virtually any goal using one easy formula: amount needed divided by the number of years. If you do this every year, you eliminate the complications of inflation-adjusted cost.
 
Step3: Create Your Wealth Allocation Snapshot: Next, put together everything you own and everything you owe. “This is the step where you will organise your assets and liabilities across the personal risk, market risk, and aspirational risk buckets” and place them in appropriate buckets. 
 
Step4: Assess Your Risk Allocation: Chhabra now wants you to do the right risk allocation across your safety, market, and aspirational portfolios. Can you? As Albert Einstein had said, “everything should be made as simple as possible but not simpler.” Sure enough, Chhabra’s approach breaks down at this stage. He writes, “Alas, there are no exact answers, but there are good guidelines. Your optimal allocation depends on a variety of objective considerations and should strike a balance between factors such as your age and earning potential, your total current wealth, and the ratio of your assets to the amount you need to sustain your lifestyle. Subjective factors such as your goals and your ability to bear losses are also key factors.” 
 
Chhabra goes on to say, “A thorough analysis of your optimal risk allocation must take into account both your financial ability and your psychological ability to bear losses. If you have no ability or desire to take on risk—or, conversely, you have a high tolerance and ability to take on risk—then either a conservative or an aggressive risk allocation may be warranted, defined by the degree to which you allocate assets on a relative basis to your safety portfolio or your aspirational portfolio.” Can anyone do this by oneself? No.
 
Step5: Implement Asset Allocation and Portfolio Diversification: Just as the goals of each risk bucket are different, so, too, are the securities that you will hold within them, as well as the way each portfolio is constructed. Once again, hard for individuals to do it.
 
Step6: Analyse & Stress Test: Chhabra asks his readers to put their portfolio through the following tests: market meltdown test, loss of employment test, sustainability test, aspirational goals test, etc. This, too, is impossible for an individual to handle.
 
Step7: Review and Rebalance: If you are able to take the six steps, you would then have to take the last step which is an annual exercise to keep your finances on track. 
 
Given how much the book is hyped up on the jacket and the recommendations the author has obtained, all this is a bit of a let-down. Perhaps financial planners may have some use of this book. 

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COMMENTS

Nilesh KAMERKAR

1 year ago

Another excellent review Mr. Basu.

It appears more will go into reading of this book than you can get out of it

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