P1000022 (1)

Enterprise Spotlight: Aakar Innovations

By Gail Batutis, DMSB ’15

We are a bad startup. This is because we are doing too much; we are address­ing every­thing at once.”

Som­bodhi Ghosh, Co-founder of Aakar Inno­va­tions, sits across from me at Costa Café in Delhi on a cool Feb­ru­ary day, stir­ring his cof­fee. He takes notes as he explains his busi­ness model, his hand­writ­ing the inde­ci­pher­able scrib­ble of some­one who thinks faster than he writes, accented with flour­ishes rem­i­nis­cent of Hindi script.

Of the 300 mil­lion women in India, only 12% have access to san­i­tary pads, and even fewer use them. Mostly women use rags, or cloth filled with sand or ash. They are washed in secret and hid­den, often while still damp and dirty. The cloths are used time and again, shared between all women in the fam­ily, and con­se­quently lead to ram­pant infec­tion and repro­duc­tive com­pli­ca­tions, some result­ing in death. Fur­ther­more, stud­ies have shown that 23% of girls drop out of school when they start men­stru­at­ing due to embar­rass­ment and fear of leak­ing and staining.

Aakar Inno­va­tions is a hybrid social enter­prise based out of Delhi, India. They set up mini-factories in poor, rural areas con­sist­ing of four sim­ple and patented machines, and they employ local women to make san­i­tary pads. Aakar Social Ven­tures, the non-profit arm, fos­ters edu­ca­tional aware­ness through pro­grams in schools and women’s self-help groups. Their unique dis­tri­b­u­tion model, based on a hub-and-spoke model of cen­tral offices and san­i­tary nap­kin pro­duc­tion units, brings these prod­ucts to remote vil­lages at the low­est pos­si­ble cost, some­thing multi-national cor­po­ra­tions do not attempt. Cur­rently Aakar is fin­ish­ing their first invest­ment round and final­iz­ing plans to add hun­dreds of new government-subsidized fac­to­ries in the next five years.

 Aakar’s holis­tic approach springs from the pas­sion of its peo­ple, their unwa­ver­ing devo­tion to this under-addressed prob­lem. Speak­ing with them, I can feel the weight of their assumed respon­si­bil­ity, and an iron-clad deter­mi­na­tion and dogged­ness to see it through to the end. I feel hon­ored and excited to call these peo­ple my new co-workers, as I begin my co-op with them from the 2014 spring season.