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Supporting the empowerment of women while fighting period poverty – Mbombela sanitary pad production facility

The financial inability to afford sanitary products, coupled with a lack of knowledge about menstruation, is called period poverty. The problem affects millions of young girls and women in South Africa every day – and yet there are ways to combat this social issue, while also assisting with job creation at the same time.

In Mbombela, Mpumalanga, HL Hall & Sons, a multinational operation with businesses in fresh produce, property development, pharmaceuticals, technology, and financial services, has joined forces with Blossom Care Solutions to fight this national problem in a practical, holistic way. The approach enables the empowerment of girls and women from both an individual as well as an economic perspective.

So says Shamiela Sarlie, Managing Director at Blossom Care Solutions, a social enterprise that exists to combat the issues brought about by period poverty in South Africa, while also investing in sustainable job creation.

Sarlie explains, “The overall impact of period poverty is to present even more obstacles to the learning and development of those young girls and women who are affected by it, when compared to their male counterparts.

“This, together with the social stigma that is still associated with menstruation in township and rural markets, causes additional social and economic disadvantages to those affected. This is why Blossom Care Solutions was established in 2019 as a mission-centric social enterprise: for women, by women.”  

She notes that Blossom Care Solutions has established a solid foundation over the past three years and will have a national footprint at the end of February 2022. “We are grateful to a number of corporate and NGO partners that have bought into our mission and supported Blossom Care Solutions.  The latest of these is HL Hall & Sons, through the initiative in Mbombela, which will see the opening of a sanitary pad production facility, using our specifically-developed business model.

“During our first year of operations, six previously unemployed women between the ages of 18-34 will be selected to complete Blossoms’ learning and development programme. The emphasis is on developing confident capable young women who are able to take over the running of the business after 12 months.  Our social franchise model ensures that each of our franchisees are supported and nurtured with specific support provided by Blossom, including access to markets.”

Tracey Davies, CEO at HL Hall & Sons, explains: “With a history of supporting communities, Halls remains committed to the wellbeing of people. We know that women play a pivotal role in contributing to a healthy society. Ensuring equal and ongoing access to education and opportunities for women is thus vital. Inclusion and accessibility put in place a solid foundation for socio-economic empowerment. The Blossom Care Solutions initiative creates shared value that benefits everyone. When women thrive, communities flourish. It is for this reason, we have decided to become involved with the project. “

Sarlie clarifies that the Blossom business model has a decentralised low-cost approach towards manufacturing pads so that the franchises can be competitive at a local level.  She further notes the importance of working with and helping to develop local small businesses.

“Each Blossom franchise needs to be serviced by local businesses in the area.  We need security, cleaning, IT support and distribution partners.  In deciding on who to work with, we prefer to partner with other small, local businesses as these businesses, like ours, are the engines for job growth in South Africa.

“Blossom Care Solutions has two important channels to market: firstly, it uses commercial retail outlets like spaza shops, general dealers, pharmacies and regional and national key accounts; and secondly there is a channel composed of corporate partners, which buy pads that Blossom in turn hands out to deserving beneficiaries via the Blossom Beneficiary Programme.”

Sarlie also acknowledges the importance of the partnership between Blossom and the Youth Employment Service (YES).  The partnership provides for the funding of staff salaries for the first year in each Blossom location.  Salaries are paid for by YES’s corporate partners, who have partnered with YES for purposes of improving their B-BBEE score.
The objectives of Blossom Care Solutions and its partners are three-fold, as follows:

·         To significantly increase the access to sanitary pads amongst schoolgirls and women in township and rural markets: Blossom has already signed on commitments with schools to distribute over 840,000 pads over the next 12 months.
·         To create jobs for young women between the ages of 18-34, via a deliberate women-centred approach: Having Blossom Care Solutions set up in a region can also create additional indirect jobs, such as cleaning, security, IT servicing and distribution. This creates significant positive outcomes within the local economies.
·         To establish small black-owned, women-led businesses under a social franchise model: In each location, six young women are recruited, selected and developed, through a detailed, holistic and supportive 12-month programme, into business owners via the Blossom Care Solutions franchise model. The objective is to have nine female-led, black owned businesses producing and selling sanitary pads as at the end of December 2022. This in turn drives the development of local township economies and the expansion of related value chains.  
“In carrying out our stated objectives, we focus on our people, our profit and our planet,” says Sarlie. “We have well-developed plans to make our business carbon neutral by 2026. From a business perspective, we need to realise and understand that organisations are connected to the societies as well as the environments in which they operate,” she concludes.
Please click here if you would like to learn more about the programme, or access Blossom Care Solutions support.

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