Explain your project in details:
From Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, Strength India designs data-driven solutions to problems women face every day, and our innovative approach creates socio-economic opportunities for some of the most oppressed women in the world. Our founders (from California and Varanasi) worked with over 350 women together throughout several years in Uttar Pradesh--India’s most populous, least educated, most oppressive state for women—before deciding to start their own preventative programming. Their vision to create high-impact programs protecting girls from some of the most gravely dangerous situations in the world is the driving force behind Strength India’s launch. Active Spaces uses a mentorship platform to engage girls from violent backgrounds in the development of SEL skills through empowering after-school activities. Implemented according to the guidelines set by CASEL, leading American SEL research body, programs like Active Spaces demonstrate statistical reductions in self-destructive and aggressive behavior, along with simultaneous improvements in social engagement, interpersonal skills, and academic performance. Since 2015 Active Spaces have impacted the lives of nearly 100 girls between the ages of 3 and 20, who have demonstrated marked improvements in key elements of SEL development: Self-Awareness, Self-Management, Positive Decision Making, Forming Healthy Relationships, and Feeling and Showing Empathy for others. Strength India’s newest venture, (em)PowerPads, is the first woman owned, operated, and distributed menstrual hygiene company in India. We are filling a massive gap in India’s menstrual hygiene market by providing high quality sanitary pads to common women at a price point they can afford. Our unique products feature enough pads per package for the entire duration of the period, in multiple sizes to suit the needs of each day’s flow. This innovation is executed through a localized distribution system wherein networks of Indian women deliver door-to-door, developing long-term relationships with our customer base.
Impact of your enterprise on sustainable development
Strength India sees SDG’s 5 and 8 as synonymous objectives—we are driven by a passionate commitment to Gender Equality as a key to progress in Decent Work and Economic Growth. Every member of Strength India is a woman (from the board to the ground staff), and we focus exclusively on issues and industries where female leadership truly matters—an approach we consider powerful. Our favorite example to underscore this point is that our young, three-woman core team has nearly 40 years of experience menstruating—how's that for an unfair advantage in the menstrual hygiene market? To reinforce the value of our experience, Strength India has undertaken a groundbreaking survey (in partnership with QuestionPro) measuring barriers common women face when attempting to use commercial menstrual hygiene products. Since we launched the survey less than one month ago (after spending nearly 8 months writing, coding, and translating it into Hindi), our team has gathered nearly 400 responses. Preliminary data indicates that our instincts (and hypotheses formed through participant-observation research in India over the course of three years) are overwhelmingly correct. At Strength India, we also see every problem as systematic and intersectional, so we work with women in multiple contexts throughout various stages of their lives. Strength India enters the picture as early as possible through our Active Spaces program, which we implement in partnership with best-practice local organizations to nurture girls through critical academic years. Our girls are then much more prepared to attend college, bolster the capacity of the labor market, identify safe employment conditions, and demand that they are compensated fairly for their work than the many girls from similar backgrounds who have no experience engaging SEL skills. Through (em)PowerPads, starting with our survey, we create fair, egalitarian, multi-leveled employment infrastructure for women while addressing a major health crisis: menstrual hygiene.
Sustainability and future plans
As an American 501c3, Strength India has raised $50,000 in donations since 2015. We are currently implementing a grant strategy to effectively reduce our need to rely on unstable funding. Furthermore, in December 2016 we successfully registered a Section 8 Company in India (closest entity to 501c3). We are exploring CSR opportunities with several local and national companies, including Taj Hotels. Strength India is deciding where and how to form the correct for-profit entity to enable investment and growth for (em)PowerPads. In this way, the (em)PowerPads survey accomplishes two objectives. Primarily, Strength India is gathering cutting-edge data about under-documented populations of women in India. However, it’s also an on-the-ground development strategy for distribution, which Strength India sees as the greatest barrier to regular use of commercial menstrual hygiene products outside of India’s 5 major cities. The reality is, it’s hard to reach people in places like Uttar Pradesh: informal housing, inaccurate birth/age reports, low rates of online connectivity, and a great deal of urban migration make women especially difficult to measure (and market). Not only does our survey data tell Strength India a great deal about the populations we have spent the past 3 years working with through Active Spaces, but it enables us to test the capacities of innovative distribution network resources as we launch (em)PowerPads. Strength India will initiate a 100k seed round in October 2017, consisting of grants (>50%), donations, and capital investment (if necessary). With this funding, Strength India will be able to hire 4 women to manage Active Spaces throughout Varanasi and develop a psychological resource plan for 70 at-risk girls and their families. We will also launch (em)PowerPads throughout Uttar Pradesh by the end of 2018, which will result in at least 10 women’s jobs and a target monthly customer base of 25,000 women.
Your profile as an entrepreneur
Tara (28) has been an entrepreneur her whole life; thanks to her father, she has been selling things since she could talk. She and her brother ran a pumpkin stand every October for 12 years in her childhood, and she sold 328 boxes of Girl Scout cookies door-to-door at the age of 11. Tara continued to innovate throughout adulthood, establishing an 8-person housing co-operative during her senior year of college, before going to India for what was supposed to be a 3-month research project through her Social Entrepreneurship degree at UC Santa Cruz. Deelply moved by the impact of intersectional abuse upon the young women she grew to love, Tara never left. She partnered with local woman Kiran Pal (27), who has also been a life-time fighter for women’s rights and equality (and a shrewd financier). Fighting the stigma of her village, which declared that she should not bother attending school, Kiran defied expectations and earned a Master’s degree in Commerce with a second Bachelor’s in Education (while also becoming a professional tour guide and endeavoring into politically active hobbies). Throughout her education, Kiran’s father afforded her a few daily rupees to take public transit. Kiran opted to save her money instead, riding her bicycle through 7 kilometers of dusty broken road in each direction. Kiran and Tara joined forces in Varanasi, deciding to split off from jobs with an NGO to begin their own preventative programming. Having worked with over 350 women together, most of whom lived in deplorable conditions in government “shelter” homes, Tara and Kiran decided to unite their unique perspectives and develop a company to create better options for women. Nearly 3 years later, Tara and Kiran are creating socio-economic space for women in Varanasi in completely unique ways—we see the impact of our innovative approach