Njeri Thubei, Founder of Upendo Women’s Foundation.

Providing access to quality sustainable hygiene & health education for girls and women. 

Words of wisdom: I believe in giving it forward — today. Because today is the day that you have; tomorrow it's just a promise. So do what is necessary today to make an impact and a change in somebody's life.

Country: United States

Website: http://upendowomensfoundation.org/

Industry: Health & Education

Organization size: 5

 

Interview with Njeri Thubei, Founder & Executive Director, Upendo Women’s Foundation; United States

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INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS:

  • The most significant barrier to girls’ education in many developing countries, and what you can do about it.
  • How to engage youth into an international initiative
  • How do you ensure your beneficiary is receiving a product in a developing country?
  • How to get people involved in a nonprofit without doing a fundraising event?
  • How to run a nonprofit, a social enterprise, and have a career?

PROMOTIONAL VIDEO

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Interview with Njeri Thubei, Founder & Executive Director, Upendo Women’s Foundation; United States

Njeri Thubei is the Director of Women’s Relations for Rumble Worldwide Africa. She has a strong background in international relations and sustainable community development. She is known for her ability to create, build teams, and manage relationships for organizations through empowering collaboration. Full of compassion seven years ago, she founded Upendo Women's Foundation and is currently the Founder/Executive Director. She is also a mother, beloved grandmother, Philanthropist, Inspirational, and Keynote speaker. She is passionate about sustainable global empowerment and grateful to be part of such a direct and effective key to change. She’s a radical ‘global citizen’. She has been featured on CNN and Good Day Sacramento TV for her philanthropic work for inspiring students in Sacramento to participate in Global Public Service. Njeri is committed to empowering women through her incredible story while letting her vibrant personality shine.

United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal(s) addressed:
#3. Good Health and Well-being, #4. Quality Education, #5. Gender Equality, #10. Reduced Inequalities, #12. Responsible Consumption and Production

Social impact:
Upendo Women’s Foundation is a grassroots 501(c)(3) non-profit creating a more dignified, humane, and sustainable world for girls through advocacy, reproductive health awareness, education, and sustainable hygiene solutions because no girl should go without. Women and girls discover their potential and self-value, are equal participants and agents of social change, and are given opportunities to thrive, grow and contribute to their community’s betterment while ensuring quality sustainable feminine hygiene.

Website: http://upendowomensfoundation.org/

Interview with Njeri Thubei, Founder & Executive Director, Upendo Women’s Foundation; United States

Note: This interview is transcribed using AI software, which means, the transcription is not perfect. Watch the video or listen to the podcast to hear our guest’s wisdom in her own words. If you want to see more interviews like this, please comment below!

Suzanne F. Stevens 

Welcome to wisdom exchange TV where we interview women leaders internationally, who’ve had a social impact in their communities and beyond, have Suzanne F. Stevens conscious contribution cultivator for the Umi we social impact group, and your host. In each episode will provide actual conscious contributions initiatives to create a social impact to empower you. Your organization and your community. So lots of learning and inspiration, all to make your contribution count. We invite you to join the conversation and post questions on our guest’s exclusive wisdom exchange TV page. Welcome to our guests this week. Njeri, the bay, founder and executive director of Upendo Women’s Foundation, a grassroots nonprofit creating a more dignified humane and sustainable world for girls through advocacy reproductive health awareness, education, and sustainable hygiene solutions, because she believes, no girl should go without, and I would concur women and girls discover their potential and self-value are equal participants in agents of social change and are given opportunities to thrive grow and contribute to their communities while ensuring quality sustainable feminine hygiene. It is an absolute pleasure to have you with us here today Njeri, welcome.

Njeri Thubei 

Thank you so much. Thank you for having me.

Suzanne F. Stevens 

Now, what was the catalyst for you to start this organization?

Njeri Thubei 

Well, the reason why I started the organization is as a result of this, knowing and understanding that I experienced this kind of problem, where girls are missing school because of a lack of feminine hygiene products. I never missed school, but I thought about the challenges. That I just could not shake the idea of just sitting back holding my hands and doing nothing about it. I needed to make sure that every girl can be able to go to school. They don’t have to miss out on school, and they know the importance of education and without education, their lives will not move forward. Without the education of a girl, the community as a whole, the country will not really miss a boy, because a woman, especially in Africa, is the backbone of the community.

Suzanne F. Stevens 

And I think that’s really important to emphasize a couple of things there. One, I know you started this in Kenya, you now live in California, so you are referring to creating your initiative in various countries in Kenya. Correct?

Njeri Thubei 

Well, the initiative was founded in the US. But the distribution we focused on Kenyan. My heart knew very well that it was I wanted to focus on Africa as a whole. But in order to do that, I needed to understand how, in my own country where I come from, how are they dealing with the issue, what are the numbers, what are the statistics. And so, when they take that how can I take what I’m doing in Kenya and replicate that in other countries within the continent of Africa.

Suzanne F. Stevens 

Let’s expand on that. What steps did you take to start this social initiative?

Njeri Thubei 

We rolled it out as a nonprofit organization, the whole idea back then was just to raise funds, make sure that we provide sustainable products for the girls. As nonprofits, you’re relying on the support of others, you’re relying on whatever people decide to give to you. The issue of lack of feminine hygiene products, that’s it is a monthly expense. And so I wanted to make sure that the products, we’re providing the girls will sustain them longer. If I can take care of one girl I know for three to four years, I don’t have to go back to the same girl and think about providing for her, then we can be able to touch many more girls, instead of just one girl and thinking about the budget of, just providing for that one girl, every year. So the whole idea about sustainability was a big factor for me.

Suzanne F. Stevens 

We can dive into that a little bit. You’re right about the nonprofit and we’re relying on others’ generosity and I talk a lot about that actually my book because if we can build it into our businesses or our nonprofits as either a social enterprise or build the mechanism where it feeds itself. So how are you actually doing that?

Njeri Thubei 

So right now, what we’re doing is making sure that we create mini-factories, instead of just thinking of how we can help those who can’t. But how can we teach them how to fish? That’s the whole idea behind it. Because I can continue being the vocal spokesperson for the people, but for how long? But how can I teach them how they can equip themselves so that they don’t have to rely on me all the time? And then also in return for those mini-factories, how can we empower those women to have job opportunities so they have an income for themselves, they can trade amongst themselves. We’re teaching them about business how they can sustain themselves with a product, which they really need, but that is more affordable.

Taking the product that we have designed here and teaching them how to make it there locally, and in return as a nonprofit, instead of me thinking, how am I going to get the products from the US to Africa? How about how can I get the women in Africa to make the product, the cost of what I’m using to ship this combo is enough to create a job opportunity for somebody.

We don’t have enough volunteers to be able to make products to sustain millions. And if one country alone in Kenya alone, I was looking about over 3 million girls missing school. In South Africa, you have over 7 million girls missing school. Those are two nations with 10 million girls. Think about the rest of the continent. How many volunteers can we really have to make this product for us? How about how can we switch it around and create a sustainable product that is affordable that they themselves can make and then be able to sell amongst themselves and be able to utilize a skill that they can pass on generation to generation. Also as nonprofit and other nonprofits that would love to do what we do, how about they can buy what they want to donate to the poor of the poorest, they can buy from this many factories or many franchises, and then, you know, distribute to the girls that they need to support. So really is creating a way of not just a handout, it’s a gifting it forward today.

Suzanne F. Stevens 

I couldn’t agree with you more. I talk a lot about creating opportunity, not dependency, and helping and not hurting and we know that by providing income is the provides the most dignity for a woman if she has her own income. So how many people are actually producing, I assume sewing? Are they sewing feminine hygiene products? How many women are actually sewing these feminine hygiene solutions in Africa?

Njeri Thubei 

Well, so far in Kenya, we have a team of three women who are doing that because depending on the donations that we receive, and how much money we’re able to raise, we have three women who are making them for us. We have a team of women in America who are also making for us, at least eight of them making them for us. We are now setting up also in South Africa, most of these franchises will have between 10 to 12 women that’s the goal of having them have a sustainable, factory working so that we can be able to meet the hundreds and thousands of girls.

The franchise itself is at least 10 women working part-time. Not full time, so that way they can be able to do other things as they have other responsibilities. We can accommodate 20 so they can shift. So we can create, even if 10 are working in the morning, the other 10 can work in the afternoon. That way, we’re spreading out the income. It’s not just one person taking it all for themselves. And it really helps create a better community for the women because nobody’s feeling left behind. We’re still continuing to fund. We are working on funding to get more and more of these little franchises opened up in different places in Africa. It also varies in each country is different based on the economy of the country. In some countries the labor can be a little bit higher than the other based on inflation. So far as we’re speaking right now, we have a team of at least let’s say 10 11 women in total, both in Africa and here, but we also do have a manufacturer that we’ve been working within Egypt who can mass-produce the product for us, who’s willing to work with us so that we can take this project even into refugee camps where the women can learn how to make the products themselves.

Suzanne F. Stevens 

There are a few things seeming to go on here. And I’m going to attempt to try to summarize what I think I’m hearing. You started as a nonprofit. You recognize the fact that that’s not necessarily the sustainable solution moving forward, and want to empower women locally to produce product because then they can make an income. You have started to shift to allow more women in Africa to actually produce the products.

Njeri Thubei 

The nonprofit still exists.

Suzanne F. Stevens 

You have a nonprofit, however, you’re looking to also provide women with income potential. You’re still doing the fundraising from the sounds of it. Right?

Njeri Thubei 

Correct.

Suzanne F. Stevens 

You are doing some production in the United States still?

Njeri Thubei 

Correct.

Suzanne F. Stevens 

But you are trying to get more production in Africa.

Njeri Thubei 

Correct.

Suzanne F. Stevens 

And the Egyptian partner that you mentioned would be providing products to refugee camps? So you’ve got a lot of moving parts happening here. What I’m curious about is who is actually paying? Let’s say women in Africa are actually producing these products? Who is paying for those products? Are the girls actually paying for them?

Njeri Thubei 

The way we’ve set it up is we are building partnerships where we come together with other nonprofits. Like for instance, right now, there’s one partner, we’re working together to start the same initiative in Uganda. So we come together and we set up like mini-manufacturers, get them started all the resources that all materials what they need to get the factory started, we raise funds for that. And then once we know it can sustain itself, we hand it over to the women so it becomes their project. It’s not ours to keep them.

The factory in Egypt already produces pads if we have sponsors who are giving us a big chunk of change and saying we want to sponsor 10,000 girls, so I have a factory that mass produces they focus on making pads washable reusable pads. So, we can order from them directly the huge pallets and get them distributed to the girls with the for-profit nonprofit which is Upendo. Then for profit, the social enterprises is under a different umbrella, which now we can bring in the funds so that people who want the sponsors who want to give towards social responsibility can be able to provide those funds for us to start the mini-factories. And so those manufacturers will be able to pay for themselves when they sell the products a portion of the profit that is raised from that can go back to nonprofit to support those who cannot really afford to buy the pads themselves. So it’s another way of funding the nonprofit you know, to support the poorest of the poor because there are people who really, really cannot afford to buy pads. Their income is limited, but those who can afford it, they’re looking for an affordable product, where they can be able to go and buy products that are not as expensive as what is in the supermarket – that where the social enterprise comes in.

Suzanne F. Stevens 

There are so many girls that don’t go to school, and that if there wasn’t a nonprofit that would support it, they wouldn’t get the education. But I also you know, like the fact that you have the option, like someone like me, I would want to support the social enterprise part of things and still know that okay, I’m applying income is going to somebody, but there’s also an affordable solution and still helping girls go to school. I always like to do two for one if I can.

Njeri Thubei 

That’s the whole idea. Because when people see that their donation is actually more effective, not just a handout. It makes more sense if they made it makes them feel like they really changed a life. The whole idea is most of these women are not looking for a handout. They’re saying, show me how to do this so that I can make money and I can feed my family.

Suzanne F. Stevens 

Speaking of feeding family, do you take an income? A lot of people don’t understand how a nonprofit works. There are administration costs, does your income comes out of that as well?

Njeri Thubei 

So far, the nonprofit I am not paid to do what I do. I do it because I’m passionate about it. I have my own business that I work on marketing. I ‘m a mental health coach. I’m also into Investing. I like to be as a business investor. I look for ways to make my own money so that I can also turn around and put that money, my profits towards the nonprofit. It takes a while for a nonprofit to pay you. It’s a business like any other business if there’s so much work to be done. The most important people are more of the team members that I would be more concerned about how the support system that I have to be able to have something for them. However, the majority of our team members are still volunteers. They are not on salary. Everything we’ve been doing, especially for Upendo has been purely 100% towards the nonprofit.

Suzanne F. Stevens 

And I think this is important to identify. Similar to yourself I have my business that I make my money, I have a fund, foundation and I make money and put it in the foundation to help educate future African women leaders.. So that’s, but I don’t take admin costs or if I run an event to make money for it, it’s a separate thing. But I think this is also a good model that people should entertain, that when you do have your passion projects have something else to make your income so that you can funnel through it or make that passion project a social enterprise. So then you can actually make income and contribute to the community.

Njeri Thubei 

Correct. And the social enterprises is what I’m building upon, so at least, that will pay me to be able to continue doing what I do, because I do realize that we will always need a nonprofit arm where we will distribute to the ones who can’t, but we also want to bring quality products, affordable products to the marketplace in Africa. So people can give the women back their dignity to empower the women by providing financially so they can take care of their family, I can feed my family.

So more we distributed the profits in a way that everybody is getting what they need to sustain their lives. Not like the big companies who are always looking at bottom line profit and taking all for themselves and throwing a little seed money saying, “Oh, we supported this.” When I look at how these big companies are making so much money out of the women and they’re giving not even 1% of their profits towards them and then they say they’ve given, it that doesn’t make sense. How about let’s take the power back where the women were the ones who use this product? What kind of product am I making for my myself? What kind of product am I making for my daughter? How will this impact me when I use it? How are we thinking about our environment? We want to be in charge of our lives and we also want to be in charge of our economy.

Suzanne F. Stevens 

The environment piece is an important one because these are reusable?

Njeri Thubei 

They’re reusable, washable, reusable, they will last three to four years. And we know very well one of the challenges we’ve had in Africa is waste management. If I was to go to people here, rally people around and say, Hey, I need you to help support provide sanitary pads, I can do a huge drive, and I will get tons and tons of pads. People go to the store and buy, but where are they going to throw this? I go to villages with some of these Kids barely don’t even have a toilet, let alone a dumpster. When we throw pads away, they end up in our rivers as pollution. Animals will chew on these plastic materials that are wrapped in the pads.  Some of the products that the pads are in, people don’t even know how the type of material that is used. I promote taking care of our environment. Our environment is crucial. We have to protect the environment as much as we can. And we have to teach the next generation the importance of taking care of that environment. So yeah, that’s the reason.

Suzanne F. Stevens 

These are conversations that are having we’re having in the West. I know what you’re talking about, I’ve never seen more blue plastic bags in my life than I did in Africa on the ground in piles are because there’s nowhere to dispose of these materials. You have a solution that does three things.  Protecting the environment is worthwhile. How do you distribute these sanitary napkins to girls in rural areas? Who are you partnering with or who you’re collaborating with on the ground in order for that to happen?

Njeri Thubei 

Well, in every country that I will go to, I have boots on the ground. I have a coordinator who will work with the Ministry of Education. We just don’t randomly give out pads. We go to the Ministry of Education, find out the schools that are most affected, what are the most affected areas, and how can we make a change in those schools. We interview the teachers in which children it’s a process before we get to that school, will have identified the issue identifying the kid who really needs the pads.

We have to work with the schools. We have to work with the Department of Education and find out the list because they have a roll call of who is who, and why. And teachers most likely usually know which kid really is absent because of that issue. That’s how we’re able to distribute the pads. One of the things I’m very, very passionate about, I will not take the parts to school and just leave them with a teacher. When we distribute, we make sure it’s handed to the kid if a kid is absent on the day of distribution, I’m sorry, but I will not leave pads behind. My first naive experience was when I left a couple of 20 kids pads behind. This lady we weren’t doing a group home and she said “Oh, there are some girls who are on a trip they’re going to miss out. Can you leave it please.” I asked how many?  “20.” You don’t think much 20, only to find out that that lady ended up selling to those kids’ pads. That was a lesson learned.

Suzanne F. Stevens 

You bring up something that I’m also very passionate about and talk about quite a bit in my keynotes. I’ve heard another way to, not so many pads, but I could see that happening where a young girl receives them and then she sells them. Or where I’ve heard it is when tourists go give pencils or pens to kids for school, and they sell them. I’ve always encouraged people to funnel what you contribute to through systems. Not every system is going to be honorable, we know that no matter where we are in the world, that’s not just Africa, that’s everywhere we go. That being said, you have to do your due diligence with the process and make sure there are trustworthy people there. And they’re passionate about the mission. But you also have to ensure that they do get to the people that they’re supposed to help. And when we arbitrarily give things away, and I think that’s maybe the key here, and I’d be interested in your perspective, when we arbitrarily give something like in this case, you arbitrarily gave it to the teacher. And tourists arbitrarily give it to young people, without any due diligence around it. And that’s when we don’t know if it’s going to get to the people that needed the most.

Njeri Thubei 

One of the things we’ve added on to a second step process is we let the students know. Now we’re going to come back and find out how it was how you use it. Did it help? Did you miss school?  That will tell us where you took the product. You give them a sense of accountability. If you miss school, then there’s something else going on. Because we know that that’s not the issue. And how did the products work out for you? We have to collect data. We have to see from the schools did it help the students stay in school? Not just randomly giving. If we give them that responsibility, then we tell them that we never know when we’ll come back. The only thing we’ve gone to do a follow-up and some of the kids will be very honest with you and say: I used mine but I share with my mother. Those are the kind of reports we get. But as far as absenteeism, we’ve seen an improvement in the girls not missing school. So that’s the other thing.

Suzanne F. Stevens 

So that is your key performance matrix. How many girls are actually staying in school as a result of handing pads out and you’re being you’re able to track that information? Do you have a number for our audience?

Njeri Thubei 

No, not right now off the top of my head, I don’t have the exact number. What I’ve seen, based on the reports we’ve gotten back, I can guarantee you 90% of the girls do stay school after that, and, and that accountability helps because the teachers can see the difference. They can see the difference in the girl not missing school, and that they’re not missing their homework and not having to make up for anything. It’s not like here where you can just go on your laptop. Be able to make upon your homework on a village in Africa, it’s different. These kids in rural places, if you miss class, you miss class. Most of them end up dropping out of school because they cannot catch up with the rest of the kids. But once they’ve seen the power of that, they’re the ones who will even come and ask you, when we have other girls, can you help them? And they see the power of being able to continue in education.

Suzanne F. Stevens 

What are the two most challenging hurdles to sustain your social impact?

Njeri Thubei 

Financial, financial is one of the biggest hurdles. And the other thing is with accessibility to some of these areas to get the raw materials to where we need them, or even some of the raw materials that we need, are not sometimes easily accessible. So those are the three things that I have encountered, and sometimes even corruption to get the products into where they need to be.

Suzanne F. Stevens 

What do you think needs to happen in order for those three things to be addressed?

Njeri Thubei 

Financially, we will continue to just be the marketing arm we continue to campaign, be a voice. And we love the fact that since I started the foundation in 2013 menstrual health hygiene has become a big thing. People are catching up, they’re catching on. And the more people that are talking about it, it’s being pushed to the frontline. So, it’s really causing people to say, Hey, I got to stop and think and, yes, we need to do something about this. Working with government officials really can help, it’s not always guaranteed, but it can be of assistance, especially in areas pertaining to corruption when they’re dealing with people who are really trying to bring social change. I have dealt with situations whereas a nonprofit, bringing in products into the country and somebody knows you are a nonprofit but before they can let you in, they want you to bribe them to let the goods come in. So those are some of the challenges that I have encountered. Mentally I’m always prepared when I’m heading to those countries. I’m not naïve. It’s not going to happen. I’m always aware. Just be ready. If this happens, this is what we’re going to do to gear up and preparing the team to understand that those are some of the challenges that we’ll encounter in transportation. The bad roads make some of the places very, very challenging to get to. That still does not stop us. When it comes to areas that roads are really bad is planning ahead for seasons, you know it’s going to be difficult to navigate the roads, especially if it’s the rainy season. Need to plan to have the materials needed in the factories during the dry season so that we can long term inventory for the time when it’s raining. It’s just all about planning and strategizing.

Suzanne F. Stevens 

Wouldn’t it make more sense moving forward to actually produce the products locally, source the materials locally so that you don’t have to deal with the Import-Export and you don’t have to deal with anybody wanting a bribe. Would that not make more of an impact and be more sustainable?

Njeri Thubei 

Unfortunately, not all raw materials are locally accessible. In order to produce a quality product, because I don’t want to cut corners, there is one particular material we cannot get in Africa. You have to import that no matter what. Some of the materials you can improvise but this one particular the liner that causes the product to ensure it does not leak you cannot find it in Africa. You have to import it and it’s the most expensive component in the washable reusable pad.

Suzanne F. Stevens 

You said you are the marketing arm, so how do you generate funds for your foundation?

Njeri Thubei 

Well, we do reach out to businesses,  we have the rotary clubs, we reach out to friends and family. We’ve never really done a major fundraiser because I found that to fundraise, to do those events that cost money. And to me the math does not make sense, the amount of money to feed people so that they can give me money, I would use that money to do something else for the girls. I reach out to businesses; I reach out to partnerships. And I reach out to other organizations, I reach out for grants as much as we can to be able to fund the projects.

Suzanne F. Stevens 

You know, as I’m listening to you, I always love working in thinking who would be a great partner for you? And there’s so many, that would be great partners, but one that just really comes to mind schools in the West, because so many schools really want to contribute in meaningful ways. And they like to be connected to schools internationally. What I would think if I was a student and I was helping a young girl in Kenya or Tanzania, go to school, they would be great advocates not only to do some of the fundraisings, while to do a lot of the fundraising, actually, because that gives them a connection and almost create a pen-pal scenario. It was just an idea that I think schools would be a real natural fit that people would get behind and excited about.

Njeri Thubei 

I thought so too. And we’re still working on that. We have one school that has been very, very consistent here in Sacramento. It’s called Folsom High School. They have participated in the project we call global public service as a way of understanding what it’s like, to serve internationally from a global perspective. And these students every year, they adopt the Women’s Foundation. They take the initiative, they will either work on marketing materials to raise funds for this for the girls, They will look for ways to raise to collect donations, whether it’s the fabric that is used to make the pads for the girls, the washcloths that go into the kit, underwear that goes into the kit, anything pertaining to what’s listed as to what is needed to create a kit for the girls. So we would love to see more schools participate in a project, in the project like that. We are hoping more schools can be able to enroll there was another middle school that we worked within 2016. They were eighth graders and we have interviewed on a good day Sacramento with them because they are sold the need, they say, wow, we can do something to make a difference in somebody else’s life. Somebody you know, a student just like me who’s an eighth-grader was missing school because they cannot access sanitary pads. And that was the most touching project because we have boys, young boys sewing and making the products, which is to show you when you expose the young people to situations and challenges that it’s around the world. They’re more than willing and to be hands-on to go in.

I tell people it’s not just about raising money. I don’t always ask for money. I always want everybody to be able to contribute in the way they feel best works for them. Some people want to go buy the fabric to make the product. They are more than welcome because it’s as good as the money. I would have still needed the cash to go buy the fabric. So if you feel like fabric is what you want to buy and you’re happy about it choosing the colors and you know we provide a baseline of what you can buy, go for it if you want to buy washcloths, Go for it. We have people who just see panties and they go buy panties for the girls go for that. We know about a few soaps that people collect from hotels, bring them. Everybody has a different way of feeling that they are contributing that does not mean that they did not give. Make it open such that people can be able to do what they can according to their ability and how they feel that will fit best with their way of giving.

Suzanne F. Stevens 

I love about what you’re saying is the encouraging of young boys also to participate. I’m a huge advocate that empowerment doesn’t come from a gender it or sex it is. Everyone works together for empowerment and to see young boys participating in the other gender success I think is an extremely important message. The other thing I just want to tap on to this, you and I may see this slightly differently and I think we possibly do and that’s okay. I know Tanzania has really shut the door on importing products from foreigners, particularly new products, for example when you’re talking about the soaps and these sorts of things, a lot of countries are starting not to accept those sorts of things and which I’m a bit of an advocate for by the way. I’m personally not an advocate for sending our stuff over to countries because it can take from jobs in the country. So what are your thoughts on that?

Njeri Thubei 

I’m very like the idea of sometimes closing, but not close all the way. Because if we’re going to create a product that works for your people and you don’t have a certain resource, how is that going to be beneficial? The problem will still be there. So as long as we can use, for instance, soap that we use, I recently have gotten into a position where we can now teach the women how to make soap. We don’t have to bring soap from here. Soap weighs a lot when you’re transporting. That can be an avenue that we create part of the social enterprise when the women are making pads, it can be proud of what they add on into the factory as to how they can create beautiful soap. It’s just a matter of sitting down and talking and discussing with the president and saying, hey, Okay, I understand where you’re coming from, this is taking away from jobs, but we don’t have this element. The power of international trade is making sure we can be able to also trade with one another what we don’t have, that should be the key, not trading with I have. I really believe in that and when we when you sit down and have a discussion with people in government, especially when I meet with the people in the Department of Education or the Minister of Education, I’m able to communicate that because they can communicate to their leader and show them: This is the product, do you have this? If you don’t have this, then we’re wasting time. They’re able to comprehend that and say, Okay, then this is something we can make room for, while we continue to use what we have here locally.

Suzanne F. Stevens 

I can appreciate that. Trade is a great thing. And I agree with you, and especially when you don’t have the product. It’s particularly with developing countries, people often look elsewhere for the product when we can get it locally, and that’s what I’m referring to. I agree with you, you need to assess what is best for the country and for job opportunities because sometimes they don’t have the product.

Njeri Thubei 

In some of these countries, not everybody wants to use washable, reusable. We have other products that are biodegradable that we’re putting together a proposal to bring in machines for the women to be able to make disposable pads that are biodegradable using resources that are within the country. We have identified which raw materials can be used, that we can be able to create these pads that will be affordable for the women to create job opportunities, but they are also environmentally friendly. We are not looking into just one solution. For instance, the menstrual cups if we can bring the production within the country that we want to promote everything for the social enterprise. We want to promote the products being locally made and manufactured.

Suzanne F. Stevens 

In the West we use tampons, is that something that you’re looking at a biodegradable product, or do you see that that’s something more for mothers in the African context? What do you think?

Njeri Thubei 

We’re not really looking into tampons, I’d rather use pads because the toxic shock syndrome is not always the best idea. Mothers in Africa, I remember I did not get to use a tampon for a while, because some remote places mothers think that that will affect a girl’s virginity.

Suzanne F. Stevens 

That is why I’m bringing it up actually. Because culturally a lot of people don’t understand that.

Njeri Thubei 

No, they don’t. And in fact that has been one of the biggest challenges when introducing menstrual cups because menstrual cups are great, they will last longer. They will last up to 10 years. So, what a better way not to waste, right? But when you show the mother and they’re looking at this cup and like it’s going where? No. So, we veer away from tampons and we want to be more like the traditional pads. We want to respect the culture, and beliefs that they have. We don’t want to impose on anybody. We’re trying to provide a solution that will just help the girl stay in school, not trying to be fancy.

Suzanne F. Stevens 

Fancy, I love it. So you had said earlier on when I asked you what was the catalyst for you starting this organization and you mentioned that you may not have been able to go to school too, so you can appreciate it. But you were mentioned to me in a conversation we were having another reason why you started the organization and I can’t quite recall it, but I’m hoping you remember it is you had heard the President or somebody in politics speak about the challenges of girls going to school.

Njeri Thubei 

In 2013. I was watching a presidential debate for Kenya and all the eight candidates were all saying when I do get elected, I will make sure we have sanitary pads in school. And I thought, this is not a topic we should be having as for presidential debate, and I was really frustrated and I said something somebody needs to do something about this. And that still small voice said why don’t you? It’s like I had a flashback of my childhood. I remembered, oh my gosh, if when I was young, I hated using what I was using because I used cotton wool. It’s batty and it absorbs but can still leak because there’s no protection. And my mom just gave me a role and told me to figure it out. So you cut it and you pad it and you put it in your, your panty, but you’re walking shuffling. I had something there were girls who did not have anything. There were months when we could not afford cotton, I had to use toilet paper. And I tell America, it’s not quilted toilet paper. It’s the equivalent of almost sitting on toilet seat covers. That discomfort is created and you’re walking under the sun-scorched land of Africa and everything and the burning. I mean, I would just get so inflamed. And it was just a horrible, horrible feeling.

I had neighbors who always seem to miss school a couple of times a month. And I used to wonder why? Some would say they’re sick. They’re always sick every month. That’s the reality hit me when I was thinking about the whole menstruation thing. That’s why they could not go to school and they could not afford to soil their clothes. So you might as well just stay home. So that was one of the biggest things that I just thought this is ridiculous. I couldn’t sleep I had to start looking for solutions. That’s it. I needed to find a solution that will last longer. Waste management was an issue growing up, it was really terrible. So hence the reason why I veered towards sustainable products.

After setting the foundation, going to do distribution, some of the horrific stories I have come across, that still causes me to say, Okay, I need to do something if we can, if we help 1000 more girls 10,000 more girls, wherever because kids are opting to trade sex for pads because they really want to go to school. What does that mean? If they end up pregnant, they drop out of school. They end up with teen pregnancy, it’s poverty but getting more poverty, but just because of a small solution of a pad that this kid had to go and do the unthinkable. The men preying on them, because if you’re at home, and there’s nobody to watch over you, a man knows “Oh, she’s of age,” there are no child protective services. Those kinds of things have really pushed me. Every day when I wake up and think about how many more girls don’t have to trade their bodies; how many more girls don’t have to go through violation because of not having a pad, a simple solution.

Suzanne F. Stevens 

You’re very passionate about this subject. Understandably. Often people don’t understand that if somebody’s Kenyan and live in California. But you’re born in Kenya and serve girls in Kenya, Zanzibar Malawi, Cameroon, and future you’re looking at Zambia, Rwanda, and Ethiopia, I believe.

Njeri Thubei 

We’ve done Kenya, Uganda, Uganda, South Africa, Malawi, Cameroon, and Zanzibar.

Suzanne F. Stevens 

So why did you move to the United States?

Njeri Thubei 

Well, I moved to the United States because I wanted to create a bit of opportunity for my daughters. I was a single mother of two. And I was really young. I had my children at a very young age. And some of the challenges that I faced when I was a little girl, I saw that the cycle was going to repeat itself. And I already had a job. I had a great job. I was an executive administration, secretary. And that was it. I knew that was this the ceiling. I wasn’t going to move anywhere further that way in the career but then it was not even the courage of my choice. I did that because I needed to have a job to provide for my kids. Being a young girl in Kenya, when I was 19 I was sexually violated. That’s how I got pregnant a second time. There was no justice for that. And I did not want my daughters to grow up in a society was nothing that they’re not protected by the government because of situations like that. And it’s sad to say that even today, it’s still going on. And it’s worse because I hear stories that will horrify you.

Yesterday I got a video, this Member of Parliament talking about what kind of a country have we become allowing people to have sex with 10-year-olds? Now if I was a teen and nothing was done and this is a 10-year-old, and people are being bribed. I didn’t want my daughters to be grow-up under that. So that’s what really caused me to think I need to figure out where I can go start afresh reinventing myself and raise my children to provide a better opportunity. And it happened. I left Kenya with an airline ticket and $200 in my wallet. And I was coming to America to create a lifestyle, but God has been such a blessing to me because with less than two years my girls were with me. Now they’re all adults, they’re grown they know they’re on their own they have their own jobs one of them has made me the grandmother of two. The protection I wanted to see happen,  and I’m so grateful for that.

Suzanne F. Stevens 

Well, I’m sure you’re adding a ton of value to where you live. And your daughters are happy that you made the decision for you and them and, just for clarity, when you brought your girls a couple of years after they stayed with your family until they could come with you?

Njeri Thubei 

Yes, they were with my parents until they could come with me.

Suzanne F. Stevens 

As you probably know, in the West, parents wouldn’t keep them for two years. And that that is actually one of the biggest differences that I’ve seen in cultures is the family takes care of the family and many of the African countries, were as in the West you take care of your own I take care of my own.

Njeri Thubei 

You are on your own in the West. I never understood the concept of individualism until I came here.  Back home, my parents knew she’s doing what’s best for us. I still take care of my family even from here. I’m the Social Security retirement for my mother. Families need us to take care of the extended family if you have an aunt and uncle who is in need you. We’re constantly thinking of how you can support the family. It’s never all about yourself. Even after having come here, I have a son who’s 21 but I also have a niece, my bonus baby, who I adopted. She is my brother’s daughter, who is here with me. I got her to come here. Raised her. Americans are surprised…I say “It’s family.”

Suzanne F. Stevens 

My book is inspired by pioneering African women, like you, who have really embraced Ubuntu: I am because you are, and the ‘we’ philosophy. So you’ve impacted my life too.

So I’m just going to ask you a few questions that you can give me some short sharp answers to the first thing that comes to your mind. Okay.

Njeri Thubei 

Okay.

Suzanne F. Stevens 

What is the one thing you wish you knew prior to engaging down this path of your nonprofit?

Njeri Thubei 

The work, the work,

Suzanne F. Stevens 

Worst piece of advice you ever received.

Njeri Thubei 

Just be patient.

Suzanne F. Stevens 

The best piece of advice you’ve ever received.

Njeri Thubei 

Pursue your passion

Suzanne F. Stevens 

Which of your strengths do you rely on most to have the success or the impact that you have?

Njeri Thubei 

My faith in God

Suzanne F. Stevens 

Besides yours, which beneficiary Do you think needs the most investment time research and money?

Njeri Thubei 

women

Suzanne F. Stevens 

Best business advice you’ve ever received.

Njeri Thubei 

If you dream of it. They will come.

Suzanne F. Stevens 

Now, you have daughters, if your daughter was 10 years old today, what advice would you give her?

Njeri Thubei 

Never shy away from speaking out on any injustice.

Suzanne F. Stevens 

What advice do you wish you received?

Njeri Thubei 

I wish I was told that women can be leaders.

Suzanne F. Stevens 

What three values do you live by?

Njeri Thubei 

love, compassion, and serving

Suzanne F. Stevens 

I’m going to say a word in the first word that comes to your mind.

Empower.

Njeri Thubei 

Women.

Suzanne F. Stevens 

inclusive.

Njeri Thubei 

Gender

Suzanne F. Stevens 

care,

Njeri Thubei 

giving

Suzanne F. Stevens 

courage.

Njeri Thubei 

Faith

Suzanne F. Stevens 

contribute

Njeri Thubei 

money,

Suzanne F. Stevens 

consistent.

Njeri Thubei 

Patience.

Suzanne F. Stevens 

Conscious

Njeri Thubei 

integrity,

Suzanne F. Stevens 

collaborate

Njeri Thubei 

community

Suzanne F. Stevens 

Thank you everyone for joining us.

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Do you have any words of wisdom for our audience regarding contributing to society?

Njeri Thubei 

One of the best things I tell people is, I never give it back. Because to give back, you have to look back and who did you leave back? I believe in giving it forward today — gifting it for today. Because today is the day that you have, tomorrow it’s just a promise. So do what is necessary today to make an impact and a change in somebody’s life.

Suzanne F. Stevens 

Love that and I’m not a fan of the “give back” either. Until next time, Make your contribution count for you, me, we.

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Wisdom Exchange Tv

Conscious-Contributions™ Cultivator: Author, Professional Speaker, Moderator, Host, and Social Entrepreneur. WisdomExchangeTv is part of YouMeWe Social Impact Group — igniting a culture where your contribution counts for you • your company • your community. YouMeWe.ca | we@youmewe.ca

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