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When social innovation meets technological innovation

28 Nov 2019

In 2016, TNO joined forces with Simavi and various other partners to form Ritu: a public/private partnership aimed at improving menstrual health and awareness in Bangladesh.  As the programme draws to a close, all participants agree: the programme achieved incredible results in its short existence and the lessons learned and partnerships formed are certain to have a long-lasting effect on everyone involved.

For more information about Ritu go to their website

Ritu

Increase awareness of menstrual health

When Ritu began in 2015, the aims were clear: increase awareness of menstrual health and enable girls and women to lead healthier, more active lives. And that meant addressing menstrual health in schools and communities by offering solutions that would work in the unique circumstances of the region. Early on in the partnership, when TNO learned that many Bangladeshi women bury their sanitary pads in the ground, TNO used its extensive knowledge to develop a comfortable, biodegradable pad.

To date, Ritu has reached more than 26,000 girls, 23,000 boys, 10,000 parents and 1,000 teachers with its messages about menstrual health. Young girls in the project’s target region are better informed and more equipped to manage their menstrual health. And a company in Bangladesh is preparing to create affordable, biodegradable sanitary pads that will ensure the lessons learned will be maintained, long after Ritu has ceased to exist.

Powerful partnerships

Hilda Alberda

Hilda Alberda, Ritu’s Programme Manager and Director of Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning at Simavi, explains the long-lasting benefits of the TNO partnership. ‘With Ritu, we combined social innovation and technological innovation,’ she says. ‘Of course, we are proud of the great results we achieved. And even more important than the numbers, the project illustrated the power of evidence-based structures and advocacy backed by facts. As Simavi moves forward, we use these lessons to inform the way we work.’

The Menstrual Health Management (MHM) Platform in Bangladesh is another example of how Ritu created synergy. It is a platform for various advocacy and development stakeholders from differenct sectors to communicate, share ideas and resources, and support longer-term investment in menstrual health in Bangladesh. ‘Advocacy is stronger when the public and private sector work together,’ Hilda explains. ‘Through publications and events like round tables, the MHM Platform advocates to the Bangladeshi government to integrate menstrual health in the school curriculum and ensure access to menstrual health-friendly restrooms in schools and communities.’

Lasting impact

For TNO, the partnership also created long-lasting opportunities. ‘We knew we could develop a biodegradable sanitary pad because of our previous work in the field,’ says Mathilde Miedema, Programme Director of Innovation for Development at TNO. ‘During Ritu, we linked Dutch and local manufacturers in Bangladesh to ensure the pads can be produced locally. That’s more sustainable, but also creates a new business model in the region.’

While TNO had hoped the product would be in production before Ritu came to a close, product development comes with its own timeline. Still, TNO will continue its work with the teams in Bangladesh to make sure the product becomes available as soon as possible. ‘And we won’t stop there,’ Mathilde says. ‘The biodegradable plastic we jointly developed can have other applications, and we will use local waste streams as resource for the granulate. We will be exploring the ways to continue to bring social impact and technological innovation together. And in that way, establish a sustainable system innovation with a viable business model for all stakeholders.’

This programme supports the following sustainable goals

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