What SHE is Doing for the Betterment of Women

February 1, 2013
By Jenny Li Fowler, Harvard Kennedy School Communications

Every year, millions of women in developing countries miss up to 50 days of work or school due to the unavailability of sanitary protection. This isn’t just a loss to the women, but it harms the economies and resources of entire communities.

Elizabeth Scharpf MBA & MPA/ID 2006, Founder and Chief Instigating Officer of Sustainable Health Enterprises (SHE), has a solution. SHE is using a market-based approach for a long-term sustainable answer.

“With our partners, MIT and North Carolina State, we’ve figured out how to make affordable maxi pads out of banana tree fiber,” says Scharpf. Through the she28 campaign, “we're in the midst replicating the pilot program in Rwanda to industrial scale now. We're also doing assessments on global expansion to South Asia and the Caribbean.”

“I'm so passionate about this subject because it potentially could affect half the world’s population and have significant impact on education, productivity, health – ultimately affecting communities and nations,” says Scharpf. “Something must be done, we can do something, and so we are!”

“In the future, we'd like to tackle other obstacles that are overlooked, often taboo,” adds Scharpf. “We believe that by addressing them, we'll increase the health and wealth and most importantly, dignity, of many.”

D.I.Y. Foreign-Aid Revolution
The New York Times Magazine — [Elizabeth] Scharpf began asking around, and everybody told her — in whispers — that, yes, of course menstruation was keeping women and girls from jobs.

Back at Harvard, where she was pursuing joint degrees at the business school and the Kennedy School, she began asking friends from Bangladesh, Nicaragua and other countries if they were aware of this problem.

Of course, they said.
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