‘Emerging winner of Chivas Venture 2018 was unprecedented’

Bamisaye (third right) with the judges at the grand finale in Lagos

A Masters Degree holder in Counseling Psychology from the University of Ilorin, Kwara State, Bamisaye Folasade has over seven years experience improving psychosocial wellbeing of girls and women at the grassroots level. A monitoring and evaluation specialist with Hygeia Foundation (Now Prime Health Response Initiative), she’s the initiator of Young Women Arise Initiative, which aims to empower girls and women to make right and informed decision about the Sexual and Reproductive Health and Right (SRHR).

Through this initiative, she has trained over 4000 girls and young women at the grassroots level on SRHR and family planning, using her annual event, Ablaze Ladies Camp, which provides participants with the needed skills to make informed decision. She’s the coordinator of My Period Kit and a co-founder of GreenPads, both innovations that aims to increase access to menstrual hygiene.

Just recently, Bamisaye emerged the winner of the Chivas Venture global 2018 for Nigeria, for her work with MY periodKit. She will now join 26 all-star social entrepreneurs from across the globe, and go head-to-head for a place in the final five and the chance to pitch their business in front of thousands of international tech addicts, investors, entrepreneurs and media.

This year, Chivas Regal, one of the world’s leading Scotch whiskies, has joined forces with Europe’s leading tech festival, TNW Conference, to host the fourth annual Chivas Venture Global Final in Amsterdam on May 24, 2018. The collaboration with tech industry heavyweights The Next Web builds on the first three years of the Chivas Venture, and provides an even stronger global platform for the startups to share their world-changing ideas.

In this interview with CHUKS MWANNE, she spoke on her latest achievement and plans for the grand finale.

How do you feel emerging the best from Nigeria for the Chivas Venture 2018?
Emerging as the winner of The Chivas Venture 2018 was unprecedented. Till now, it still feels like a dream to me. Not because I’m unworthy or my venture pitch doesn’t deserve it, but because I competed alongside other great young entrepreneurs with amazing business ideas that were equally as impressive Coupled with the seasoned Judges, strong enough to put everyone on the toes.

What would you say worked for you during the contest?
For me, I believe that the novelty of the venture, the cascading or traction of the impact did it for me.

How are you preparing for the grand finale holding in Amsterdam?
Already, Chivas is doing a great job in preparing me for the finale. Personally, I’m also spending time to improve on my presentation slides and skills, conducting more research to increase my knowledge on the area of impact. It’s indeed an honour and a great privilege at the same time to be representing my country on a global platform; it’s a huge responsibility for me because representing Nigeria at international level means I must ensure the country comes first. I must represent the country just as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Amin J Mohammed, Asa and other great women will do and are doing.

You were selected for your work with My PeriodKit, what the idea behind that initiative?
The idea is to increase access of girls and women of reproductive age to menstrual hygiene supplies. By assembling all the items needed in a specially designed kit and for each kit sold, a girl in need gets a free sanitary pad. MY periodKit is a social enterprise that tackles the menace of menstrual hygiene amongst girls and women, especially in rural settlements.

Of all other ventures, why this particular one?
Why not this particular one? The continuation of healthy human race starts from healthy menstrual cycles, so, for the Global Goals to be achieved, the reproductive health of girls and women must be prioritised. It’s no longer women rights, but human rights; no female chooses to bleed every month but it’s the nature’s way of defining a female. It saddens to known that across Africa, millions of girls and women are held back every month as a result of lack of access to menstrual hygiene supplies. This has a huge impact on the education and economic development of Africa, considering its population and the role they play in these sectors. For a nation to truly develop, the girls and women must not be left behind.

Could you share your experience so far with the project?
The experience has been life changing; it’s been more of learning process, learning from best practises and sharing success stories. It’s been a very interesting experience so far and broadening my knowledge; what started as just using part of my savings to give out free sanitary pads to young girls from poor backgrounds, has changed to producing sanitary pads. I have learned so many lessons along the way, but the advice that has been the most prominent is ‘Even when standing in front of a closed door, never stop knocking, if you truly desire an open door.’

In June 2017, I was among the 101 young Nigerians selected as Mandela Washington Fellows (MWF); I was posted to Kansas State University, Manhattan for the Academic studies. While in Manhattan, I researched on their policy on reproductive health and discovered that they still tax sanitary pads, so, I decided this must stop. I did some advocacy and researched on how this policy could be changed; I met the Mayor (Usha Reddi), who agreed to team up with me and we both did a lot of advocacy to major stakeholders both in the health sector and non-health sectors. When the opportunity came to meet with the policy makers in Kansas State and former governor John Carlin, I challenged them on the need to stop taxing sanitary pads and immediately, a legislative advocacy and procedure to address it was initiated.

Your sanitary pads are made from biodegradable products from banana stems, could you please tell us about this?
The sanitary pads are made from organic materials that are 100% biodegradable, the raw materials are 100% locally sourced.

What’s the impact of the initiative so far?
So far, it has helped to increase access to affordable and highly absorbent sanitary pads. The girls and women in the piloted communities using the sanitary pads have also reported reduction in various infections; the young schoolgirls have also reported spending more time in class during their menstrual periods. It has also provided additional source of income to banana and plantain farmers; the narrative is gradually changing for the better.

What are your challenges and how do you cope?
The major challenge has been funding. In order to scale up the quantity of production per day, a lot of financial investments need to go into procurement of machineries that are not locally made and need to be imported. In view of this, our production has been 70% manual and 30% mechanised, which has resulted to under production.

This project is both a business and campaign, what’s your overall target?
The overall target is to ensure girls and women everywhere irrespective of their socio-economic background are no longer held behind every month as a result of a biological process.

In case you win a huge share of the Chivas Regal’s $1m fund, what do you intend to do with the money?
The primary aim is to set up a fully equipped and functional menstrual hygiene supplies company that will produce to full capacity to serve girls and women everywhere. Also, I will like to provide adequate education on sexual and reproductive health.

At what point did you decide to be an entrepreneur? 
It wasn’t an outright decision; my commitment to the wellbeing of girls and women led me to be a social entrepreneur.

How did you get the capital for the start-up?
Personal savings from my paid job and crowd funding.

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