The Call to Make a Difference
During his childhood in rural Uganda, Richard Bbaale watched his sister miss school starting when she hit puberty. The issue: his sister had started her menstrual cycle but could not access sanitary pads. Millions of women in rural Africa use leaves or rags, or just stay home, because the products we buy in American drugstores are simply not available. While at university, Richard learned that dried banana stem fibers have superior capacity to absorb blood. Connecting the dots, he recognized a business opportunity to transform the circumstances of African women.
Richard founded a group through his university to tackle the difficulties Ugandan women faced in menstruation management. In 2010, this group registered under the name BanaPads. This social enterprise manufactures and distributes affordable, eco-friendly sanitary pads to keep girls in school and create local jobs. Richard adopted the “business in a bag” model for saleswomen, known as BanaPads Champions. Women purchase a bag with dozens of sanitary pads and sell them at schools and in villages, using a portion of their revenue to buy another bag. Richard knew that his enterprise was meeting social needs, but he had a hard time explaining how it could meet its own needs. He struggled to make payroll.
Partners for the Journey
Richard Bbaale heard of the GSBI at the Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship and applied to it in 2012. He believed in his vision, but wanted it to pay for itself. He did the preparatory work online from Uganda, and came to the Santa Clara campus for two weeks in August. He learned the nuts and bolts of growing a small business (logistics, unit economics, operations, a growth strategy) but more importantly, he learned how to pitch his vision. He credits the GSBI with helping him improve the management of his enterprise and leverage that into funding for expansion.
Richard returned to Uganda and made immediate changes to his business, and reached out to development agencies and investors. BanaPads partnered with local organizations to conduct education, and demand began to exceed supply. He identified an opportunity to expand into Tanzania. Funders came to share in his vision, awarding grants and making investments.
A Pro-Woman Social Enterprise
To help BanaPads grow, Richard requested follow-up support from the Center.
- In 2014, 3 Global Social Benefit Fellows spent 9 months working with BanaPads, including 7 weeks in Uganda. They shadowed Richard and his staff, carefully observing their daily work. They documented community outreach, the recruitment and screening of new Champions, their training, and enterprise operations. They created a series of manuals, available on our webpage.
- The Fellows completed the manuals in time for Richard to include them with his August application package to the Africa Awards for Entrepreneurship (AAE), the premiere Africa-focused awards program honoring entrepreneurial leaders from around the continent. When Richard made the cut to become a finalist, he wrote, “Had it not been for you, Team BanaPads – Ty, Carol and Kaci – we wouldn’t have gone this far. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you, Thank you.”
- In November 2014, Richard won African Social Entrepreneur of the Year. Afterwards he wrote, “BanaPads is only as good as like-minded people at GSBI make it.”
- In January 2015, The Arthur B. Schultz Foundation made a grant to help BanaPads expand in Tanzania. Richard has requested another two teams of fellows in 2015 to help plan a marketing campaign, deploy a mobile app, and create a short documentary film.
BanaPads is changing the paradigm of health and employment for East African women. The Center is proud to be its partner.