INSPIRED IMPACT is an ongoing blog series that gives voice to social entrepreneurs and leaders of mission-driven organizations who are making an impact in their communities, industries, and around the world.
WHAT DO YOU DO?
Our mission is to bring simplicity, dignity, and equality to women’s health. We manufacture and distribute simple, affordable, quality products carefully designed to meet the unique needs of women in low-resource and underserved settings, targeting the continuum of reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health.
WHY DO YOU DO IT?
Women’s health and gender equality are urgent needs recognized under the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, with maternal and child health being the foundation of health and well-being for society. Over the past decade, I have built a sustainable social enterprise to fight the largest loss of human life that our species experiences every year – the loss of more than five million women and babies in pregnancy, childbirth and the first month of life. Infection is a leading cause of death for mothers and newborns as health facilities in low-resource settings struggle to maintain a sterile birthing environment. While childbirth is a most vulnerable time, women face significant challenges and silent issues along the entire reproductive life cycle (menstruation, pregnancy, postpartum, breastfeeding, infancy): in India, only 5% of women use sanitary pads (77% use old cloth); globally, less than 40% of infants are breastfed exclusively up to six months; and, humanitarian settings account for 60% of maternal deaths, 53% of child deaths, and 45% of newborn deaths. There is no shortage of technology to help women and children survive – what is missing is “integrated innovation” across life stages and spheres of influence to truly help them thrive. Philanthropic, unsustainable models working in silos dominate the space. Meanwhile, simple, effective technology is not reaching those who need it most. Furthermore, until women of all ages understand the importance of health and hygiene, and seek and demand it across life stages, we miss huge opportunity for sustainable, intergenerational impact.
WHAT IMPACT ARE YOU MAKING?
We aim to improve the survival, health and well-being of the world’s most vulnerable women, babies and girls by increasing ACCESS to essential commodities; ADHERENCE to best practices and global standards of care; and ADVOCACY that elevates women’s health to be a core topic in the world. ayzh has managed to crack open the complex Indian health market as a small social enterprise. To date, we’ve impacted more than one million women, babies, and girls through the sale and distribution of ayzh products, and related education and training in partnership with more than 300 health institutions and non-profit partners. We have replicated our manufacturing and distribution model in three states in southern India, and established our first global operations unit in Kenya. We have also partnered with leading research organizations such as the Duke Evidence Lab to conduct novel research to advance maternal and newborn health.
WHAT (OR WHO) INSPIRES YOU TO MAKE THIS IMPACT?
As a young girl growing up in India, I witnessed many women and families suffering from health and financial hardship, and have always wanted to find ways to end that suffering. Today, as a female social entrepreneur, my work is inspired by the need to elevate women’s health to be a core topic in the world – illuminate real struggles and silent issues; celebrate health, happiness and success; and amplify voices and dreams of underserved women worldwide. Every day, I am inspired by the women we serve – from mothers giving birth in rural villages to the women we employ to package and assemble our products. Every woman who is struggling today to find her voice and stand up for her rights, inspires me to keep dreaming and innovating. Despite much progress around the world, these are especially tough times for women – but, every day I wake up, I rise to keep taking progress forward, from reducing maternal and infant mortality to breaking taboos around menstruation and empowering women to take control of their own health and lives.
WHAT’S YOUR BIG DREAM FOR THE ORGANIZATION AND THE IMPACT YOU WANT TO MAKE?
My dream is to build millions of more women-led businesses like ayzh. I plan to use my experience and global networks to create a fund that supports women entrepreneurs, especially mothers and pregnant women, that have big dreams of their own. When it comes to “women’s empowerment” and “international development” there is a lot of money, time and talent bound up in bureaucracy and politics, albeit with good intentions. Too often, I see “impact money” floating around in space and not actually touching lives on the ground. While continuing to replicate the ayzh model globally towards our goal of impacting one billion women, babies and girls by 2030, I also want to become an influencer and changemaker in the impact investing world, bridging my experience on the ground as an entrepreneur to helping women-led businesses access the resources needed get to launch and grow sustainable enterprises that help their families and communities thrive.
WHAT RESOURCES DO YOU NEED TO MAKE THOSE DREAMS COME TRUE?
ayzh is aiming to raise $3-5 million to scale ayzh globally over the next 5-10 years. I am also seeking board members and to raise $500,000 by the end of 2018 to launch of the Happy Woman Foundation to catalyze the next wave of changes that enable underrepresented women to achieve their entrepreneurial dreams, and wield public influence at a grand scale to create a stronger, happier, and healthier tomorrow for generations to come.
WHAT IS (OR HAS BEEN) YOUR BIGGEST CHALLENGE?
Entrepreneurship is a demanding, intense line of work, especially when it comes to finding mission-aligned investment to grow and scale. When I first got started as an engineer turned entrepreneur, few thought my business, ayzh, could survive in the complex Indian health market, let alone thrive as a replicable model. Persevering against such odds, ayzh became the first sustainable social business working in the maternal and newborn health space. However, as a female, Indian, Muslim entrepreneur and mother, my greatest challenge and conundrum is finding the resources needed to scale ayzh to its reach full potential (i.e. my big vision of impacting one billion women, babies and girls by 2030). I’ve found that my business is either “too small” or “too big” for most investors. This is separate from the reality that 70% of current women-owned, small and medium-size businesses in the developing world can’t access the financing they need. Furthermore, the investment world does not often recognize or have compassion or consideration for the needs of working mothers. The balance between being a full-time entrepreneur and mother of three children is a constant challenge. Despite these seemingly insurmountable challenges, I am still driven to take ayzh to the next level, following examples of women leadership to help overcome challenges, while taking advantage of opportunities to cross-pollinate with other fields, cultures, and changemakers to spark new inspiration, collaboration, and innovation.
WHAT WORDS OF ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR OTHER LEADERS LOOKING TO MAKE AN IMPACT?
1. Find role models and follow examples of women leadership. Entrepreneurship is a demanding, intense line of work, which often does not often recognize or have compassion or consideration for the needs of working mothers.
2. Seek the power of intersection. Take advantage of opportunities to cross-pollinate with other fields, disciplines, and cultures to generate and share extraordinary and impactful new ideas. These connections are not only professionally stimulating, but can be personally healing and uplifting.
3. Do not be pressured or feel guilty about your personal life. Being a mother and wife along with having a professional life is challenging, but shouldering the roles of both mother and wife, will give you as much inspiration in return to do your best in your professional life. All it requires is meticulous planning and hard work to maintain these relationships but if structured right it can give you the strength, energy and emotional support you need for your professional career.
4. Don’t shy away from being a woman. Embrace your femininity, and draw the positive male energy from around you. You need a good balance of both.
5. Ask for help. It’s ok to be vulnerable, no one can give you what you want unless you ask for it.
HOW CAN OTHERS SUPPORT YOU OR YOUR CAUSE?
Join our “Go With Confidence” campaign that supports global menstrual health and hygiene. For every six-month supply of ayzh sanitary pads you purchase for yourself or a woman or girl in your life, ayzh will donate the same exact supply of high quality pads plus menstrual and reproductive health education to a school girl in need. We are specifically seeking corporate sponsors to promote this campaign in their workplace. Women and men alike can also listen to and share my TED Talk, which highlights how my design of a $3 Clean Birth Kit in a Purse led me to designing and integrating vital products addressing critical times throughout a woman’s life to foster long-term reproductive health and intergenerational well-being.
Orapin Marketing + Public Relations is an award-winning communications agency that generates awareness, engagement, and, ultimately, support for mission-driven organizations. We amplify their voice and reach so they can increase their impact. If you would like to be featured on INSPIRED IMPACT, reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.