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The women are leading the nations with the development of sustainable sanitary pad is made from banana fibre.

Although sub-Saharan Africa has not been famous for its status as a leader in female inclusion within the economic sector, African women are surprisingly beating the odds and defying the obstacles in the field of entrepreneurship in the region.

Somewhere outside Kigali, Rwanda’s capital city, there’s a production facility with a largely female workforce producing sanitary pads made of banana fibres-waste products from banana plants that are cut down when they are harvested. The pads are ecofriendly, devoid of chemicals and non-biodegradable super-absorbent polymers.

Sanitary Pads for banana fibres

The facility is established by the Sustainable Health Enterprise (SHE), a social venture founded by Elizabeth Scharpf in 2008 to produce affordable sanitary pads for women, but to do so via a business approach.

Scharpf’s journey to establishing SHE began in 2005 when as an intern for the World Bank, in Mozambique, she discovered that young girls missed school, and women missed work because they could not afford sanitary pads; a pack of sanitary pads cost more than their daily earning. At the time, Scharpf did nothing and continued to take a mental note of the situation, but when she realised it was a global issue, she decided to act.

She had the option of solving the problem in two ways; short term or long term. Short term would be via charity, which would entail free provision and distribution of sanitary pads. And long term would be to provide something sustainable that will address the socioeconomic and health problems that exist in developing countries.

Sanitary Pads for banana fibres in Rwanda

Scharpf chose long term. She wanted to make sanitary pads available and affordable for women but she wanted to create jobs for them in the process. She did some research, contacted and sought advice from scientists, engineers, agriculturalists and headed to Rwanda from the United States.

“I headed to Rwanda with two engineering students, a tape recorder, and a hand-held blender. We tested out all different natural fibres and discovered and patented a process to transform banana fibre into absorbent material” she wrote for Global Citizen.

Scharpf then set up a production site in Ngoma, eastern Rwanda where the company’s go! padsare produced. But this was only a part of SHE’s objective; soon, the company lobbied the government to reduce its 18 percent tax on a pack of sanitary pad and organized a campaign to distribute its locally made, eco-friendly and affordable pads to schools.

Sanitary Pads for banana fibres Sanitary Pads for banana fibres

SHE also partnered with the ministry of education, Rwanda, and recruits graduates from a technical vocation school to work in the production facility, many of whom struggled to get a job. As at late 2016, SHE had provided over 600 jobs and income opportunities and sold over 100,000 pads.

Read Also: Top 5 Fastest Growing Economies In Africa 2018

In setting up the company, Scharpf said she chose Rwanda for a number of reasons including its population size, banana production rate, ease of doing business and women-friendly policies. Still, the company struggles with production cost and is running at a loss spending a huge chunk of its capital in paying salaries.

According to John Uwayezu, managing director of SHE, the company will break even if they can increase production by tenfold in the next two months with the current amount of employees. Uwayezu hopes that by the end of the year, daily production output would be 30,000.

For Scharpf, her ultimate goal is to create a successful scalable business model that can be adapted and replicated in other countries across Africa and the world.

Updated Article from : Venture Africa

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Afro Success Stories

African Entrepreneurs creating Jobs and Employment in Their Communities – Olasupo Abideen




african entrepreneurs

Olasupo Abideen ” My greatest achievement is being a 25yr old employer who employs 35 people and has trained 475 Others” as one of african entrepreneurs.

Meet Olasupo

I am a 25year old one of Nigerian african entrepreneurs, founder/CEO of OPAB Gas with over 6 years of transnational experience leading and working with diverse teams to facilitate youth empowerment, development projects and youth involvement in policy. I am a UNESCO ESD Young Leader, a WEF Global Shaper and a Fellow, Young Africa Leadership Initiative.

Since receiving the $5000 Seed Capital in December 2018, my Company has created employment for thirty-five (35) University undergraduates (through our Work Student and Student Ambassadorship Program), opened ‘four (4) new Gas stores’, and trained ‘four hundred and seventy-five (475) unemployed youth and corps members‘ (through our #Gasprenuer Initiative). As a means of giving back to the community, we have also helped ‘five (5) kids’ return to school through our #StreetToSchool programme for our Community.

My Humble Beginnings

I watched my mother walk long distances to gather firewood and buy coal to cook for my family in my growing up years in my village in south-west Nigeria, where I was raised. It wasn’t peculiar to my mother; this was commonplace for all families. We all knew it wasn’t safe. We knew that if it made them this uncomfortable, there was no way it was safe, but we didn’t know there were alternatives. After all, this is how our grandparents and their parents before them lived.

It bothered me to see my mother’s red eyes, and the wet eyes of other women in our rural community bothered me a lot. Even though I did not know until recently that cooking with firewood is equivalent to smoking 400 cigarettes per hour, and is one of the three causes of mortality among women and children, I knew there had to be something I could do, but I couldn’t figure it out; or better put, I did not have enough education nor access to information to figure it out.


My Business Idea

The Idea to start my business came from a need that I identified and solving that problem meant a business opportunity. As a student of chemistry at the University of Ilorin, I was exposed – through volunteering – to MDGs (and subsequently SDGs), and I took a keen interest in clean, renewable energy, that could be used instead of orthodox fuelling options, and one of them was Liquefied Petroleum Gas.

After a long time of advocacy for SDGs, as an undergraduate, my SDGs advocacy and youth development organization, Brain Builders International, signed an agreement with the Kwara State University’s Community Development and Entrepreneurship Centre to train young Nigerians african entrepreneurs on the Sustainable Development Goals, their benefits, and ways toward actualisation.

I noticed that every time I took the 55min trip to Kwara State University to facilitate these training sessions, I would encounter students carrying gas cylinders: either going to fill Gas in Ilorin or coming back from Ilorin after filling Gas. I later learnt that the only cooking gas supplier in the community at that time was exploiting the students by using a manual scale that could be manipulated and also selling at a rip-off price.


Solving the Problem

In 2017, I took a soft loan from a friend, added some of my own moneyand after conducting intense market research, filing necessary papers, and satisfying ethical and professional standards, we opened our first OPAB Gas station. The services we offered hinged on three things; convenience, safety, and trust. Students could now focus on academics, as we did not only sell gas at the standard rate, but we also offered pick-up and delivery services. We used safe measures alongside a digital scale to address the issue of trust. Within three months we had broken even.

The TEF Intervention

In 2018, I applied for the Tony Elumelu Foundation Entrepreneurship Programme but was only selected for the GIZ list to be one of the 210 beneficiaries of the training and $5000 funding. The training provided by the foundation on business planning, financial intelligence, scalability, among others could only be likened to a mini MBA.

Immediately after the training myself and my team we started discussing how to dominate the market in which we operate and capture new markets.

With the seed capital, we were able to expand our business.


Our Growth and Milestones as one of african entrepreneurs

  • Expansion: We have expanded the business to 6 stations in two townships to target the student populations and made over $25,000 since receiving the seed capital from the foundation.
  • Employment: Staff strength – 2 (in 2017), 35 people (2019).
  • Gas on Wheels: We now own delivery vans and offers delivery services
  • Digitization: We now take orders on the business’ website in both cities where we operate.
  • Introduced Customer Loyalty service
    • Health safety card – to educate users about safety measures.
    • Customer reward: Points reward system.
    • Holiday Promos
  • we also have a few impact initiatives that we run.
  • OPAB Gas has trained 450 Youth Corps members, unemployed youth in Kwara State on the economic merits of the Gas economy and the many opportunities that abound in the sector.
  • In line with the UN SDGs, OPAB student work experience – an internship programme where we train students. During this internship, they work on Sundays for a stipend. They then receive N10,000 for every 1000kg of gas sold.
  • OPAB gas student ambassador scheme – delivery service.


The Future

The vision for OPAB Gas has always been to solve energy availability and ease of use for everyone across Nigeria so we are constantly working on ways to reach out to more Nigerians.

Our OPAB telemetry solution will allow people to monitor and manage their gas usage, notify them when it is almost finished, connect them to the nearest gas stations and pay for gas with existing mobile money applications.



Contact Details


Instagram: @opabgas_

Phone call/WhatsApp: 07068775529.

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