Empowering women

While volunteering at a girls’ school in Nairobi Barclay Paul Okari noticed that many girls were taking time off school unnecessarily. He set out to provide a solution

SafiPadsIn 2011 Barclay Paul Okari, a 22-year-old Kenyan entrepreneur, decided to volunteer as a teacher at a Girls’ High School in Narok while still pursuing an undergraduate degree in Finance at the University of Nairobi. While there Okari learned that a significant number of the students usually skipped school during their monthly periods. Most of the girls, who were from poor families, could not afford the usual sanitary pads, so many of them opted to stay at home each month.

Okari decided to do something about it. Mobilising a US$1500 loan from his parents, he developed Safi Pads, a new kind of affordable, washable sanitary towel for the girls. Today Okari’s company, Impact Africa Industries, which manufactures the sanitary pads, has sold hundreds of thousands of these pads to poor girls in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. Impact Africa now employs 34 people, including 23 women. Mfonobong Nsehe caught up with him recently for a brief chat.

Tell me the story of how Safi Pads came to be
I didn’t exactly plan to start manufacturing sanitary pads for girls. But in 2011 I took a volunteering job at a girl’s school in rural Kenya to improve my job prospects in the future. When I got there, I came to learn that so many girls were regularly missing school because they were on their periods and could not afford the usual sanitary pads that were available in the market. I realised that there was an opportunity to come up with an affordable, reusable brand of sanitary towels. I registered Impact Africa Industries and Safi Pads and began learning about sanitary pads and the market. I raised Ksh100,000 from my parents and started manufacturing. I chose to grow the company organically by bootstrapping all the income that we made. The company is still internally funded. We now sell Safi Pads across East Africa.

Safi Pads are reusable. How?
I developed the technology of an absorbent patch made from cotton which is very comfortable for the ladies to use and can be washed. Because the pads are washable after use it helps women to go on with their daily activities normally and helps save their hard-earned money.

Where do you manufacture the pads?
Our manufacturing facility is in Kitale in western Kenya. I have a team of 34 members. 23 are full-time employees, while 11 are part-time. I have 22 women in the team.

How do you market the product in East Africa?
We have established selling points in various informal settlements across Kenya, as well as in Tanzania and Uganda. We do below-the-line marketing for our products because it reaches our target audience more directly and costs less compared to other marketing forms as we try to keep our overheads low. Kenya remains our biggest market but all the countries we are in have significant potential for growth.

What’s the price differential between Safi Pads and the conventional sanitary towels?
The Safi Sanitary pads are almost half the cost of the conventional sanitary towels. The fact that they are also re-usable makes them even more affordable since they have a longer utility to the consumer.

Where do you see Impact Africa in the next 5-10 years?
In the next 5-10 years I want Impact Africa Industries to be an easily recognisable African brand that would have made a tremendous social impact across several communities in the continent. I also see us being a very profitable enterprise, with a possible listing on the stock exchange.