Making the World More Equal
Actively participating in science workshops and competitions, young Jaydeep Mandal found immense joy in developing prototypes and won several national and international awards for his innovations. After these successes and recognitions, he ultimately found his way to National Innovation Foundation (NIF) and began working on grassroot innovations. This was the beginning of his tryst with entrepreneurship.
In 2008, he started Renaissance Consulting with his friend Amit. Their objective was to provide enterprise building consultation to help commercialize grassroot innovations. While promising, the firm soon had to be wound up as Amit, having done his MBA from the US, had to take up a job to repay his education loans.
A driven Jaydeep, however, continued working on grassroot innovations, undeterred. During his stint with NIF, he had realised the dire need to provide rural women with means to improve menstrual hygiene. Partnering with a team from Sheffield University, he started working on a low-cost manufacturing unit for sanitary napkins. The story of Aakar Innovations began in 2014 with the creation of a small, low-cost compostable sanitary pads manufacturing unit that could easily be installed in a small room. Jaydeep and his team showcased this machine at the first Festival of Innovation held at Rashtrapati Bhavan in 2015. The applause from the august audience present there boosted his confidence. He knew he was on the right path.
“There is no alternative to hard work. Be ready to do any kind of work.”
Jaydeep soon found out that, all his positive intentions aside, people never willingly adapt to change, however big or small it may be. Considering that he was dealing with an issue widely regarded as ‘taboo’ despite it impacting lives of over 300 million menstruating women, opposition was inevitable. In the eyes of the villagers, he was committing a cardinal sin. Not only was he supplying sanitary pads to women but was also enabling women manufacture them!
He has had to draw on every bit of his willpower and patience to address the many challenges Aakar was facing, from need to convincing women, who had never even heard about a sanitary napkin, to use them, to losing investors because of issues relating to health and manufacturing guidelines. Having to compete against unethical firms making false claims added to his woes. But, this story has a happy ending; the good is finally triumphing.
Change is slowly happening. Women working for Aakar are able to earn about 30,000 per month; allowing them to make pukka houses and send their daughters to school. With more and more women joining in, the taboo associated with menstruation is being broken too. Talk about creating social change? This is how it’s done!