Like any recent entrepreneurs, we tend to get overwhelmed by the day-to-day challenges of starting what we hope to become a successful and innovative business. But unlike most entrepreneurs, we are only willing to gauge that success by knowing how effectively we address the needs of everyone we serve. We won’t consider ourselves successful until we succeed on our menstrual mission to provide healthy period products for every woman with a period.
Last week we had the opportunity to join Dr. Susan Partovi on a medical outreach trip to Skid Row. A team of professional doctors, nurses, housing specialists and other social service providers regularly spend an entire morning walking up and down streets with nicknames like “Heroin Alley” looking for men and women who need medical care. They carry a list of those they have helped in the past, allowing for follow-up and confirming upcoming clinic appointments. They know the names, faces and stories of those living in some of the most destitute circumstances in America, and they treat these patients with the dignity and respect they deserve.
Justin, who is an HIV+ addict and has been in and out of affordable housing for years, was greeted with the same compassion as Jim, a veteran living in dirty clothes covered with flies. Most people would walk down these streets quickly, trying not to make eye contact, clutching their purses tightly and ignoring any greeting or advance. Before this experience, we would probably have fallen into that camp because it’s so easy to stigmatize people who live in situations that we can’t understand. But just because someone is part of this seemingly anonymous group that we have categorized as “the homeless” does not mean that they are all the same or should be treated as such.
At Conscious., we are working to solve a systemic problem. Women living below the poverty line do not have access to the healthy period products they need every month. And while we could just give them the products and walk away, we have decided to address two of the biggest root issues 1) affordability of period products and 2) unemployment.
There is a menstrual revolution brewing with goals such as repealing the tampon tax in many states and allowing food stamps to cover period products. As a company, we are committed to impacting this political movement one bill at a time. There is no reason why period products should be taxed while other health care products are not. Or for someone to be able to get chips and candy bars--but not pads an tampons--if they quality for food stamps.
Additionally, our model not only allows us to distribute pads to those who need them immediately, but also to offer jobs to low-income women and help break the cycle of poverty for those individuals and their families. As a for-profit company, we can provide training and experience in all kinds of different jobs including production, inventory management, sales and customer service to women who might not be able to get a job or pay their bills otherwise.
We have observed a problem that affects many impoverished women, and we feel honored to impact their lives, one pad, job or piece of legislation at a time.
Organizations like ours use language like “the homeless population” or “people living on the streets” but it is critical for Conscious., as well as every other socially conscious entity, to remember that we are not talking about a homogenous group of people with the same needs and values. They are individuals that should not be feared or shunned but rather embraced and offered opportunities.