How A Social Enterprise Serves When Policy Fails: A Look at Menstrual Equality in the USA
We started our company, Conscious Period, with the mission to make healthy period products available to all. We saw that women wanted tampons made only with pure, quality ingredients like 100% organic cotton – no synthetic fibers, bleaches or dyes. But we quickly realized that women are living all across our country who struggle to afford these products.
Government assistance programs like SNAP do not cover period products like tampons and pads, and 38 states tax them as non-necessary items, making them even more cost-prohibitive to women living below the poverty line. The average price for a box of tampons or pads is $6-8. Now, imagine you are a single mom with two teenage daughters and can barely make ends meet. You’re responsible for spending $24 every single month for supplies that are a health necessity!
Over 26.4 million women in the United States are unable to afford period products every month. There are also over 100,000 women in this country living in such extreme poverty that they are homeless.
For us to fulfill our promise to make healthy period products available to all, we knew we needed to use our business as a catalyst to provide these products to those who need it most. This is why we founded Conscious Period with a two-phase social enterprise model: (1) for every box of tampons sold, we donate pads to people living in homelessness in the US; (2) we will provide these same community members with employment opportunities to address one of the root causes of poverty: unemployment.
Social enterprise can meet needs in communities where policy fails, or in the time it takes legislation to catch up. Here are 3 tips for how other social entrepreneurs can work to successfully create change:
- Confirm that you’re serving your community in ways they need and want. It is important to us that we donate similar high-quality products as the ones we offer our customers so when we started our business, we imagined that for every box of tampons sold, we would donate a box of tampons. However, after speaking with shelters and service providers, we realized that people living in homelessness prefer pads: they can be worn for longer and are more sanitary to change without access to a restroom. Do your research to make sure that, however, you’re giving back, you’re doing so in a way that will benefit the recipient.
- Work in a way that makes your partners’ jobs easier; don’t be a burden. We partner with local service providers who can quickly get these products into the hands of those who need it most. But many of them are working with limited storage space so, rather than giving big bulk donations, we work with each partner to provide product on a timetable that works for them.
- Make your social mission authentic. Customers are savvy and can tell if a company is “doing good” just as a marketing stunt. Any social impact work you do should be genuine and should make sense in the context of your brand. A food company that donates a portion of proceeds to cancer research? That doesn’t necessarily make sense. But a food company that cuts down on waste by repurposing ingredients or donating excess product to food banks? That’s a cause a customer can rally around.
FROM THE EDITOR
At Conscious, we are inspired by stories that cause us to think differently and think big-picture, and so we set out to tell stories with the help of leaders and influencers within the social good community. You can read more stories like this when you join as a member.