Empowering women in Mumbai, one period at a time.
Meet a student who turned her big idea into reality – and learn how you can, too.
Mumbai, India —In a small building at the end of a freeway in Mumbai, 15 women sit at long tables wearing bright pink jackets and hair nets. They shuffle through tufts of white cotton and other materials. What are they creating? Menstrual pads.
Nearby, another group of women bundles the pads into orange parcels, adorned with a small bird, known locally as the “Myna.” Afterward, the women load the parcels into bags and prepare to take them door to door through nearby slums, navigating the winding alleys. These saleswomen know they won’t receive a warm reception in every home: In India, even speaking about menstruation is considered a taboo.
“It’s not just a company. It’s a movement,” explains CGI University (CGI U) alumna Suhani Jalota. She founded the Myna Mahila Foundation to empower women in the slums of Mumbai to raise their voices and advocate for their own health through the production and distribution of affordable sanitary pads.
In just three years, they say they’ve already grown to reach 10,000 women every month, providing sanitary products and education. Speaking about one woman, Suhani says, “Haseena was illiterate and embarrassed to speak about herself. Now she teaches more than 2,000 women every month about menstrual hygiene.”
A successful social entrepreneur and changemaker at just 24 years old, Suhani is part of a growing network of young leaders who are bright, tenacious, and committed to working together to solve major challenges in their communities and beyond. She’s a part of the CGI U community, which inspires, develops, and mentors the next generation of leaders and social entrepreneurs.
Inspired by Suhani’s story, here are three pieces of advice for young leaders who want to create change in their own communities.
Photo courtesy of Myna Mahila Foundation
1. Don’t be afraid to take on the biggest challenges.
Across India, hundreds of millions of girls and women do not have access to basic menstrual hygiene practices. This stems from a taboo that treats women and girls as “impure” or “dirty” during menstruation. As a result of this stigma, women are often unable or unwilling to access sanitary pads and other resources. Many resort to using unsafe materials during their periods such as rags.
It’s easy to see how the scale of this problem might be daunting, especially for a young entrepreneur. Yet, at 20 years old, Suhani decided she would do something about it. “If we feel hopeless in the face of massive challenges, we can get lost and not know what to do,” she says. “Be optimistic and be determined. We should constantly be dreaming and constructing an image of the world we want to create.”
2. To keep learning, try your ideas and see if they work.
As a student at Duke University, a member of the CGI University Network, Suhani knew she wanted to fight poverty and improve public health in India, but she didn’t know how. Guided by a sense of purpose, she set out to identify problems and solutions.
Reflecting back on this time, Suhani estimates that she pursued six different start-up ideas before she eventually created the Myna Mahila Foundation. With each of her ideas, Suhani sought advice, input, and support from peers and leaders.
While working on an idea to use technology to connect low-skilled youth with jobs, Suhani discovered the CGI U community. For Suhani, the experience provided an array of resources beyond her college campus, including inspiration, skills, community, and a forum where she could workshop some of her ideas.
She sums up her advice for aspiring social entrepreneurs to: “Try your ideas and see if they work. If they don’t work, you’ve learned something for the next idea.”
3. We all do better when we work together.
When asked about all that she has accomplished, Suhani is quick to share credit. “What I have learned – and all that I have achieved – I owe to the women I met in Indian slums and their stories and their realities,” she says. “When someone is successful, the whole community of people who have supported them is successful.”
“When someone is successful, the whole community of people who have supported them is successful.”Suhani Jalota
This spirit of community and collaboration is reflected in the network that Suhani has helped build among the women at the Myna Mahila Foundation. One employee, Sunita, says of her colleagues: “The women have supported me through thick and thin. Myna is a safe place and it is my happy place.”
You can also see this mindset reflected through the commitment that Suhani has shown to her peers and other aspiring leaders. During a three-day CGI U event at the University of Chicago in 2018, she took time to share advice and guidance with hundreds of leaders who hope to make a difference in the world by expanding girls’ access to education around the world.
President Clinton has often said: “Today’s generation of young people holds more power than any generation before it to make a positive impact in the world.” This is what we see at CGI U: young people – like Suhani – who are not afraid to address society’s greatest challenges right now.
Photos from the field
Photo courtesy of Myna Mahila Foundation