Crowdfunding Campaign Raises Thousands for Menstruation Products and Education in Rwanda
Johnson & Johnson’s CaringCrowd® platform helps non-profits working on health projects.
Around the world, education is key to empowering young girls. And yet, when a schoolgirl in a country like Rwanda has nothing but rags, bark and mud to use when she has her period, it’s no surprise she would rather stay home than risk embarrassment and possibly ridicule from classmates.
At least 18 percent of Rwandan women and girls miss out on school or work because of menstruation, and in many other countries that figure is much higher. Part of the problem is that sanitary pads are either unavailable or too expensive.
But Sustainable Health Enterprises (SHE) is pioneering a nifty solution that supports local communities in Rwanda through its SHE28 campaign: with special machines, women-led cooperatives extract fibers from tree trunks left over after bananas are harvested and use them to manufacture affordable pads.
Called Go!, these eco-friendly pads are cheaper than imported pads. The initiative has created new jobs and is accompanied by an education campaign that tackles persistent taboos and stigma around menstruation.
But there’s just one problem: “We’re operating at a loss,” says Connie Lewin, SHE’s strategy director. Although a pack of 10 Go! pads costs $1.50 to make, it’s being sold at a more affordable 75 cents. “We know that our venture has the ingredients to become sustainable and be replicated in other countries, but to do this, we need more extractor machines to increase our output. The more we can make, the more we can bring our price down.”
That’s when CaringCrowd®, Johnson & Johnson’s crowdfunding platform to raise money for non-profits working on community health projects, entered the picture. When Lewin learned about CaringCrowd®, she posted a project on the platform to raise the funds to buy three more fiber extractor machines. By November last year, SHE had raised the $16,500 needed to buy the machines – plus $2,000 more. Soon, production of the pads will be expanded tenfold to 10,000 units a month.
The SHE project is one of 55 projects so far funded via CaringCrowd a crowdfunding platform with an independent advisory panel to review submitted projects. Projects on the platform address issues ranging from disease prevention, to nutrition and basic health care supplies, to mental health treatment, to health training. They span the globe – from Africa to Asia, South America, the United States and beyond.
Thanks to the generosity of the crowd, more than $375,000 has been raised for these diverse projects and Johnson & Johnson has contributed an additional $150,000 in matching funds. Now disabled children from India will get prosthetic limbs, Kenyan mothers and daughters will receive potentially life-saving health education, American veterans will receive counselling, Colombian children will get clean water and food, and a new safe haven for Congolese victims of sexual violence will be furnished. And the list goes on.
CaringCrowd® was born out of a “shazam moment” – the spark that ignited when two Johnson & Johnson employees were scratching their heads over how new technology could be used to improve the health of those in need.
While working in Lima, Peru, Derek Fetzer, CaringCrowd® director, was moved by the plight of a modest yet determined woman he met there, who spent her days, without pay, climbing steep hills in shantytowns to give patients their medications. Who was going to help her get essential medicines to the people who urgently needed them, he wondered?
Women working with tree trunk fiber
After the Lima experience, Fetzer realized that while large-scale public health programs are essential, “we can’t always wait around for them – or for the big deals that may or may not come through. We need other small-scale initiatives that empower people with knowledge on the ground to make a real difference, to go that last mile,” he said.
Soon afterwards, Fetzer and his colleague John Brennick, CaringCrowd® co-founder, found a way to leverage crowdfunding for global health. CaringCrowd® was born in September 2015 and in two short years, the initiative, which won the People’s Choice Award at SXSW Interactive Innovation Awards in Austin this year, has grown exponentially.
Connie Lewin, SHE Strategy Director
“What’s important to us,” says Fetzer, “is the idea of funding specific, tangible projects. Many people want to know where their money goes.” With CaringCrowd®, each project has defined objectives. Once potential projects have been subjected to review by a panel of independent experts, the project owners – individuals who may work for or volunteer with the non-profit – post them on the platform for free.
The project owners’ organizations must be 501(c)(3) non-profits registered in the United States. Projects have up to 90 days on the platform to reach their goal, otherwise the pledges are cancelled. This “all or nothing” system assures donors that their funds will only be used if the project has what it needs to succeed. Together, these features and others have helped roughly two-thirds of the projects on the site succeed, a remarkable rate for the field of crowdfunding.
For Lewin, the CaringCrowd® experience was hugely positive and SHE plans to post another project soon. “It allowed us as an organization to share our story and highlight a health area that is typically overlooked. Also, the platform was easy to use and gave us a lot of exposure,” she says. Many of the people who supported and shared their project across social media were not previously connected to it or knew little about the issue. And because projects stay on the platform for a limited time, “a sense of urgency is created, which galvanizes support,” adds Lewin.
CaringCrowd® is an ideal option for lean non-profits mindful of their development budgets, or for volunteers who want to help an organization in their spare time. And the stamp of legitimacy they get from being reviewed by the panel of experts can attract the attention of new donors. Several project owners have successfully ramped up their initiatives once they’ve been up on CaringCrowd® as they build credibility, social networks and campaigning expertise.
“The passion and dedication of the project owners has been truly inspiring,” said Brennick. “It is great to see the impact that organizations like SHE are making around the world, and we look forward to growing the platform to support many more in the years to come.”