Mimi Women helps to keep girls in school

Mimi Women makes sure that schoolgirls who cannot afford it, receive sanitary pads. Since its inception in 2013, 32,500 schoolgirls have been helped.

Mimi Women school girls
The team of Mimi Women are (from left) Ropfiwa Nemukula (head of social media), Tracy Vance (business development manager), Ramona Kasavan (chief executive officer), Phumzile Sithole (chief operating officer and creative director) and Nicole Heywood (head of stakeholder relations). Established in 2013, Mimi Women has donated 1 million sanitary pads to keep 32,500 girls in school. (Image supplied)

Melissa Javan

“The reason that some of you don’t come to school is because you don’t have sanitary pads. If you’re missing school it means you are not going to become what you want to be in the future, right? As a 29-year-old businesswoman, those things upset me,” Ramona Kasavan told the girls at a South African school.

She was speaking as Mimi Women distributed sanitary towels to the learners. The event has been uploaded to YouTube. “We hope to keep you in school. You’re going to have six months of sanitary pads,” Kasavan, Mimi Women CEO, told the girls.

Mimi Women is a social enterprise that will celebrate its fourth birthday in October this year. It is a female only-owned sanitary pads company that started in rural KwaZulu-Natal. Its aim is to keep girls in school where they can be safe from turning to illicit vices, because an educated girl is an empowered girl, says the Mimi site.

It costs only R180 to supply a schoolgirl with a year’s supply of sanitary towels, says the team. Donations come either from individuals or through companies that have partnered with Mimi Women in their corporate social investment units. Mimi Women makes sure that schoolgirls who cannot afford sanitary towels, get a supply of the critical items.

The company aimed to raise R10-million to build a manufacturing plant to produce affordable sanitary pads, reported Business Day Live.

Kasavan told the online news site: “Many of the successful women entrepreneurs we will be approaching already contribute large amounts of money through various charities to this end, but this activity is fragmented.

“This [campaign] will enable us to bypass the inevitable delays of waiting for development finance institutions for funding, who may spend months studying the project and would not have the same urgency that women would for this issue.”

The company currently imports the material for the pads, which are then assembled by a local producer.

Watch the Mimi Women activation at a local school:

Restoring self-esteem and dignity

The social enterprise, formerly known as Happy Days, is now Mimi Women; “mimi” is the Kiswahili word for “I am”.

Mimi Women is about embracing your womanhood and celebrating your uniqueness, it says on the group’s website. It’s about recognising that you are enough and that you have the right to exist powerfully in the world.

In less than three years, Mimi Women:

  • Distributed sanitary pads, reducing absenteeism of girls;
  • Promoted learning about the three Ps: pads, periods, pregnancy;
  • Received support from a host of JSE listed companies;
  • Built up sizable social capital and attracted significant media attention;
  • Worked to restore the self-esteem, self-confidence and dignity of South African girls;
  • Mentored young girls regarding sexual maturation, puberty and their rights;
  • With the support of SABMiller, saw the first graduates of its in-house entrepreneurship development programme, Pads and Cents, run one of the country’s few business incubators run by women for women.

Fun facts from the Mimi Women Twitter account:

Creating jobs and agents of change

Kasavan, founder of Mimi Women, said it was engaging with women in historically disadvantaged communities by bringing them in as direct sellers of the Mimi sanitary pad.

Previously a DJ on Highveld Stereo and East Coast Radio and an Eastern Mosaic presenter, Kasavan was shocked to discover the plight of millions of South African girls whose education and futures were endangered by the lack of an everyday commodity many girls took for granted – sanitary pads.

According to online entertainment portal Baydu.co.za, Mimi Women’s strategy included appointing female entrepreneurs from around the country as “area leaders” of five defined sectors, which, in turn, would be each headed by a female entrepreneur. The entrepreneur would distribute affordable, quality sanitary pads to schools and other businesses in her sector.

“In addition to an allocated geographical area to service, the franchisee will acquire a delivery scooter, five vending machines and an incinerator,” Kasavan said. “The vending machines, stocked with Mimi pads, will be strategically placed in schools or high-traffic communal areas.”

The vending machines would be serviced by three-wheeler tuk-tuks. The drivers would regularly stock the vending machines and would collect the sanitary waste from schools’ sanibins for the safe disposal of sanitary pads. The pads would then be burned using an eco-friendly incinerator.

“We have identified our target market as the 500 million women of the African continent, hence the adoption of Mimi, a Swahili name from East Africa,” said Kasavan.

Watch Ramona Kasavan give tips on how to write a business plan:

Empowering women

Women who sell its products in an initiative known as Empower Me, are known as “agents of change” by Mimi. Through it women can sell Mimi sanitary pads and earn commission.

“Women who fall under the Empower Me programme are currently active in their communities, selling Mimi pads,” said Nicole Heywood, Mimi Women stakeholder executive.

“These women are mostly from Gauteng and a few are from KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga and North West. We are hoping to expand more into other areas in terms of acquiring more women in other provinces, because we have done corporate social investment road shows in all nine provinces.”

Heywood said although the organisation had not been to all areas, it knew there was a need. Many women and young girls were desperate for sanitary pads and did not have access to them. Given this, the group wanted to grow its Empower Me business to empower those women and to help girls.

The MimiBizBox, which costs R799, comprises 600 pads. Each pack of six pads costs R10, which can then be resold for R15.

The packs include marketing information and access to an online portal. The idea is for women to recruit additional sales reps and establish their own network, which will be based on commission.

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