By Gina Alm C’18
Gina Alm received a Startup Internship Award this summer to intern at startup Kmerpad.
Kmerpad is a small startup based in Yaoundé, Cameroon with a progressive social agenda and an innovative business model; they employ local women to sew washable menstrual pads, sell them and use the revenue to provide reproductive health education to vulnerable communities throughout the country. I worked for Kmerpad this summer as a Strategy Intern.
When the opportunity first presented itself, I assumed that remote work would likely be the best way for me to contribute. Traveling to Africa and taking up residence for two months seemed excessive for what appeared to be one big consulting case. Yet, co-founder Yap Boum insisted that it would be necessary. Further, he felt that 2 months would barely cut it. He was absolutely right. Why? Context.
Context has never played a more critical role in my life and work as it did this summer. Socially, politically, economically and environmentally, I witnessed fundamental disparities between my lifelong surroundings and the environment I immersed myself in for just 8 short weeks in Cameroon. More surprising and arguably more valuable, I can attest to countless axiological similarities: proof, to me, that there are significant human patterns of behavior that transcend even the most robust cultures in the world.
The first half of my internship was necessarily spent uncovering all of these truths as they play into the strengths and weaknesses of the organization. Having the opportunity to view their operations as both an insider and an outsider, I could offer Kmerpad a new perspective on the scope of their mission, marketing strategy and target audience. It’s exciting to know that these kind of conversations alone can offer a critical boost to countless forward-thinking social enterprises that may be limited by a similar kind of geographic or cultural isolation.
For the remaining month, fellow intern Michelle White and I spent time with Kmerpad’s management team laying the foundations for them to continue developing in the way that we all collectively envisioned. We designed media templates, a digital accounting system and a growth plan that incorporated step-by-step transitions complete with cost estimates and opportunities for alternative funding. If Kmerpad can successfully transition into a for-profit business over the course of the next 1 to 2 years, they will be able to take complete ownership of their educational outreach program: undoubtedly the most important thing that they do.
On that note, I’d like to share a story from one of the seminars we held this summer in collaboration with UN Woman. When we asked the participants to share some of their personal experiences, we heard several recounts of their very first periods (where they were, how they felt, who they told, etc…). One woman shared something particularly eye-opening.
She was only 10 when she experienced what she would later understand to be her first monthly period. At the time she had no knowledge to prepare her for the event, and she was understandably terrified. She asked her mother what was wrong and her mother responded by beating her. She must be having sex, her mother assumed, and she must have become pregnant. After taking her daughter to the hospital for a pregnancy test that, expectedly, was negative, she continued to beat her every month for several years, refusing to acknowledge that what her daughter was experiencing was not only natural, but healthy.
By the time she finished speaking, nearly everyone in the room was in tears.
I have come to believe that suffering from this kind of body illiteracy is the most degrading systemic problem that women face today. Even more importantly, I have seen that the moment when a woman can break the silence and take pride in every part of her body is empowering beyond measure.
I want to thank Penn Wharton Entrepreneurship and Wharton Social Impact Initiative for not only supporting my work, but for believing in my ability to make it a valuable experience for everyone involved.
Watch the video I created for Kmerpad:
Bio: Gina Alm is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences studying Economics and Fine Arts.