Rebecca, not long ago, you stood on the Falling Walls stage in Berlin with your pitch Breaking the Wall of Period Poverty. Through connections made during your time in Berlin, you started working on a joint project with Joy Sambo from Sendai, Japan – we’d love to hear more!

Yes, exactly! Just a few months ago, I was pitching our project MUSA Social Venture in Berlin: We only had a rough prototype of a banana fibre-based sanitary pad in our hands but lots of enthusiasm. Now, we have a working prototype and met Joy and her fellow researchers at Hokkaido University, who have years-long research experience in the field of health, water, sanitation and hygiene, and are looking forward to starting our collaboration.

What is your joint project about?

Through the help of Joy and the research group she belongs to, we are joining forces to support our respective research and activities. Thanks to the help of a civil society organisation called Dziko Langa, we will be testing our innovative sanitary pads in their field study site near Lusaka, Zambia. This will allow us to validate our design throughout the entire lifecycle of the product. In turn, they will be conducting a 360-degree analysis of the impact of our innovation on the life of the community members. A sanitary pad may seem just an ordinary object, but it can actually revolutionise one’s life.

We are excited about taking this product out there, once per implementation and conducting our first trials, and hope to get feedback and continue to improve and make the best product that meets the needs of the schoolgirls and the communities they live in. As we launch this venture, we hope to solve menstrual challenges faced in Zambia, by producing a more sustainable and better product, which is easy to use, dispose of, and requires less water. With this project, we will be able to also provide menstrual education and a business opportunity for the community members.

What have been the highlights of this new collaboration?

We are just at the beginning, so the best is yet to come. It was great to realise we are on the same page when it comes to the desire to take a further step in research: If your research findings tell you there is an issue to be addressed, try to address it! For MUSA, it has been a wonderful opportunity to engage with a group of skilled and dedicated researchers, willing to make their capacities and knowledge available for the good of society at large. We are optimistic about the results of the project and we hope to solve the problems faced in the most innovative and sustainable ways possible.

What are the greatest challenges you have faced?

Good coordination will be essential, and it will be especially challenging considering that we are going to be a very widespread team, between Japan, Italy, and Zambia, and that many of us are distant from the proposed intervention site. But we are motivated and so far have found successful coordination strategies. Raising funds is also an ongoing challenge: We are looking for funding opportunities! Nonetheless, the central issue of our project is overcoming stigma and being able to provide a solution that is socially, environmentally and economically sustainable.

What is planned for the future?

MUSA Social Venture is currently conducting prototype trials in Italy, parallel to the project in Zambia. Once we start, we want to offer and contribute to empowering girls and their communities, by improving their menstrual experiences and introducing a self-sustaining business model that provides a vital public service. In the future, we expect MUSA mini-factories to reach multiple locations and become not just production centres, but hubs of healthcare services, especially focused on female physiology, to foster the well-being of inclusive, healthy, and fair communities. We would like MUSA to become a successful case study of how research and innovation can join hands with purpose-oriented businesses to provide solutions to the grand challenges we are facing.