Arunachalam Muruganantham, popularly known as Menstruation Man or Pad Man, is one of India’s most well-known social entrepreneurs. Recognized as one of the 100 most influential people in the world by TIME Magazine in 2014, this man has an incredible story behind his entrepreneurial success.
His journey to the world of entrepreneurship began in 1998 when he came across a problem that has been in existence in India since time immemorial – menstruation cycle and the hardships faced by women due to it. He wasn’t aware of the intensity of the issue until he came to know about it from his wife. But, when he did realize that this was a grave issue that was left unaddressed for long, he decided to make it his business to solve this issue. Initially, his focus was to make something for his wife to help her and impress her at the same time. When he started, he had little idea about how his life would turn out to be in the few years to come. He would never have expected to almost get a divorce or to become the first man ever to wear a sanitary pad.
His journey started with a simple task – he purchased a roll of cotton wool, cut it into pieces similar in size to the pads sold in shops. He then wrapped a thin layer of cotton around it and presented it to his wife. His wife tried it and gave him an honest but utterly negative feedback. She told him that she would prefer using the rags she had been ever using rather than wearing the pad. However, he did not stop there. He analyzed the situation and realized that he had to figure out the right product to make a sanitary pad.
He tried using various different materials to make the pad to find out the right source. He tried the pads on his wife to find out if they worked. The only problem he faced now was that everytime he wanted to test his prototype, he had to wait for a month. He felt the need for volunteers who could test his pads. He approached some medical students at a university near his village. Some of them did test his pads but they were shy to give him a detailed feedback.
Left with no other choice, he decided to make a makeshift uterus using a football bladder and use goats’ blood to test the sanitary pads himself. His efforts, however, caused inconvenience to his family and he was ridiculed in the community. Soon, his wife left him to live with her mother. All these had not shaken him and he was still dedicated to finding the needed resources and creating a low-cost product for all the girls and women in India. His motive was now not just helping his wife.
His research made him learn that the percentage of girls and women in India who had access to proper menstrual hygiene products was roughly 10 to 20 percent. He was now focused towards helping rural women and girls in general who had no other option than to use unhygienic methods during their menstrual cycle.
It took him two years to find the right material for the product. He spent another four years in developing a way to process it. The result was amazing. He had successfully created India’s first low-cost machine for producing low-cost sanitary pads. His napkins were not only cheap but were of high-quality as well.
The cost for imported machines is over US$500,000. Arunachalam’s machine, on the other hand, costs just US$950. This had given an opportunity for women’s groups to buy his machine and produce their own sanitary pads for sale. This way his machine has created employment opportunities for women in rural India.
This is how a school dropout from Coimbatore had challenged an age-old taboo and stirred a revolution in the sanitary napkin industry with his cheap and affordable products. His industrial venture “Jayaashree Industries” markets his low-cost and easy-to-use machines to rural women in 27 states across India. He plans to expand his reach and export the machines to developing countries all over the world.
This inspiring story shows that there is no magical pathway to entrepreneurial success. It is, in fact, dedication, sacrifice and the willingness to keep going that can make you successful in life and business.