Achieving the Impossible

It is acclaimed far and wide that behind every successful man, there is a woman. Behind this one man’s success however, was his relentless determination to never give up, till he found a solution to one of rural women’s most basic problem: menstrual hygiene. It all started the day Muruganantham saw his wife looking for old rags and newspapers because she could not afford sanitary napkins. Growing up in a conservative society, he had no inkling of knowledge about this ‘women’s trouble.’ Soon he found out, almost every rural woman faced the same problem. With cotton being the base raw material, he wondered why sanitary napkins are as expendsive as they are. Then he was to find out, the big corporations make about 40% profit from producing a napkin.

Thus started his long and lonely ordeal of producing a low cost hygienic alternative for the millions of rural women, who suffer from serious health issues as a result of menstrual unhygiene. Taboo subject as it is even among the urban crowds, he faced too many obstacles for his interest in the matter, in the rural parts of India where he lived. Some labeled him a ‘pervert,’ others thought his interest on the subject was an excuse for him to get friendly with women, his wife left him when the gossips became intolerable and after some time of research, he started studying used napkins, his mother left the house too.

Undeterred, Muruganantham continued. After two years of what he calls his ‘trial and error’ method, he found out that the napkins available in the market used pine bark wood pulp that made them absorb more fluid while remaining same in shape. These pads were (and still are) usually manufactured in imported machines that cost around 35million rupees, so he made his own local machine. He got his processed pine wood pulp from a Mumbai based supplier. This machine would grind, get rid of the fibres, give shape and sterilize these almost home-made napkins below ultraviolet and then package them for sale. And it would cost Rs. 65,000/-
Rest, as they say, is history. From winning the National Innovation Foundation’s Grassroots Technological Innovations Award to becoming Times magazine’s one of the top 100 influential people in the world, this social enterpreneur seems to have been acknowledged at long last, for his efforts and achievements.
Muruganantham, who has lectured in various IITs all over India, adorned our SMBConnect last year in Coimbatore for a most interesting interactive session. People sat in rapt attention as he spoke in his signature English with a side touch of his charming sense of humor, about the necessity of ‘innovation’ in making any business thrive. He said there is no other way to success than trial and error. In his humble and straightforward words, he said learning begins with admitting “I don’t know.” An ardent believer in starting from scratch, his perspective left an impression on every mind, when he encouraged upcoming enterpreneurs to look for a problem and make their business a means of solving it. That according to him, is a sure shot way of running a profitable business while contributing towards the betterment of society.