Arunachalam Muruganantham wants to go down in history as the first man who wore a sanitary napkin. But, he is more likely to be remembered as the man who made many women wear sanitary pads for the first time.
His obsession with women's hygiene drove him out of village, made his family abandon him but that's the thing about an obsession- you never back down.
So he went on to manufacture the world's cheapest sanitary pad which would have him delivering lectures at most prestigious B schools and becoming a case study by producing sanitary pads for as low as Rs 1 where branded sanitary pads retailed by multinationals are sold for Rs 3-5 on an average. We caught up with him at TEDx Gateway in Mumbai for an interesting chat. (You can watch the entire TEDx coverage here)
Arunachalam has been widely written about at home and globally. When asked what if there's something he does not talk about, he said, "I will never reveal the struggle I faced outside. I do not want people to be afraid and discouraged."
So what does Arunachalam do differently from most social entrepreneurs ?
First off, he wards off venture capitalists by saying that he does not have any 'x' (refers to return on investments) and exits to offer. He also won't ever look at turning it as a business.
As opposed to the dealer-distributor model, which is the route most retail products take to store shelves, Arunachalam instead, chose a decentralised manufacturing model where his company Jayaashree Industries sells the machine where women can make their own sanitary pads, thereby providing employment to many rural women.
He also does not ever want to be a macro or a corporate entity. "I want to pioneer a low-cost sanitary pad movement across the globe," he said.
Where does his business stand now?
After about 5-6 years of experience, Arunachalam realised that older women take time to open up and the adoption is quite low. On the other hand, it is comparatively easy to get girls in schools to change behaviour. He then decided to set up plants in high schools and primary schools where these girls make their own sanitary pads and also convince the women in their household to switch to the sanitary pads.
He makes it a point to emphasise the fact that the government is the biggest disturbance for him. "World over, governments are busy with several other activities and are not interested in the social agenda. This is true for governments across the world. My request to every citizen is that if you ever find a motherly government, please intimate me," he said.
Look for problems, not opportunities
Arunachalam's advice to social entrepreneurs is that they should find the problem first. "If you want a measurable social impact, look for problems and not opportunities and build your business on those problems," he said.
He also said that there is money everywhere, only good ideas to fund are missing. "It was very difficult for me to raise money initially but once I had a proven track record of the success of my product, the repayment ratio of this business model is 98.4 percent, money is chasing me now."
Arunachalam isn't afraid of competition. He's the sort who will embrace it. When asked if he'd heard of Azadi Pads, a similar company who retails biodegradable sanitary pads started by two entrepreneurs in the US, Arunachalam doesn't flinch. Instead, he firmly asked, " Why should I put everything on the public domain if I was afraid of competition? In India, everyone knows to clone things. I am asking people to copy and clone the idea," he remarked.
Arunachalam calls himself a social entrepreneur because his business makes less money than the bank interest he pays.
Updated Date: Dec 20, 2014 14:29 PM