Onpery® Care: An initiative to reduce period poverty by the most robust, scalable and impact-genuine system in India

• Pramod Priya Ranjan, Co-Foundar and Director, Onpery®, Care Form Labs Pvt. Ltd.
• Shreya Yengul, Design Lead, Onpery®, Care Form Labs Pvt. Ltd.

We started Onpery® in June 2019, with a mission to redesign the green (sustainable) menstrual products and further design systems, such as to enable more people to adopt and continue green menstruation.

In extension to our mission, we launched the ‘Onpery® Care’ initiative on 15th August 2022, to reduce period poverty by providing green menstrual products to low-income menstruators.

(a) Products:
Onpery® menstrual cup is the first product we redesign, which also happens to be India’s first indigenous patent-applied menstrual cup, of which a beta version in one size variant was soft-launched in March 2021 and further the final product in three sizes was launched in March 2022. The team further redesigned reusable liners, reusable sanitary pads, reusable period underwear and menstrual disc. Onpery® launched India’s first detachable and size-adjustable variant of period underwear in May 2022. All these Onpery® products are easier to use and provide better comfort.

(b) Problem:
When we decided to start a green menstrual brand called Onpery® under Care Form Labs Pvt. Ltd., one of the social problems we wanted to tackle is of period poverty.

The profile of menstruators in low-income families located in underprivileged localities is very different from those who belong to financially well-to-do families in urban cities. We had an understanding that it will need in-depth research and multiple pilots with multiple products to be able to come up with a robust, scalable and impactful system to be able to reduce the problem of period poverty.

Out of a total of ~40 crore menstruating women in India, less than 20% use sanitary pads. In urban areas, this number only goes up to 52%. This indicates that nearly half of even urban-based women use unhygienic methods for period protection, making them vulnerable to health issues (as per an article by Business Insider).

(c) Menstrual cup:
We certainly started doing a pilot with our proprietary Onpery® menstrual cup. The menstrual cup perhaps is the most sustainable menstrual product out there as it can be reused for up to 10 years and the most economical reusable product as it cost just a couple of hundred rupees, but there are many myths and taboos associated with it being an internal menstrual product. The better design of Onpery® menstrual cups motivates more people from financially well-to-do families in urban cities to adopt and mainly helps in continue use (whereas in generic menstrual cups, a lot of adopters are not able to continue use due to discomfort and other reasons). 

We started our pilots by providing menstrual cups to low-income menstruators in Pune, Maharashtra and Lohardaga, Jharkhand. We conducted multiple awareness sessions, to which the beneficiaries, the admin of the institute looking after the beneficiaries, seem to be very enthusiastic and take a menstrual cup, but post the awareness and distribution sessions, a very low percentage of them used. A couple of them who used the products, particularly those who were into sports did continue to use them, but the low adoption rate makes such drives less impactful and not viable.

We understand that a few hundred rupees can be difficult for a beneficiary to invest one time on a product, and usually reusable menstrual products given in such social drives are sponsored and not purchased by the beneficiary. We have a methodology ready through which the beneficiary can purchase the Onpery® menstrual cup at below a hundred rupees. We expect to roll out this, in a couple of years or a decade when there is enough awareness and adoption of the menstrual cup in low-income communities.

A few of our contemporary brands of menstrual cups show a very high percentage of adoption rate in their social drives, but there is hardly any evidence of such adoption and the brands don’t provide many details about their methodology. We have observed many contemporary brands trying to publish or get featured in a news article(s), and considering/presenting that article to be like a conclusion (showcasing impact) of the entire drive instead of releasing a detailed impact summary/report.

(d) Awareness and user behaviour:
Awareness programs regarding any topic are a slow and cost-heavy process. What we see on media, is that one or a couple of awareness sessions making a community being informative about the topic is not justifiable. Social drive, where the awareness programs/sessions are also linked with product adoption has a different level of complexity. In a menstrual health awareness session, where a new hygienic menstrual product is introduced, it is not ideal to expect the maximum target audience to adopt the suggestive menstrual product just after one or a couple of sessions, as with most of the reusable products we are expecting to bring change in their behaviour and may be in belief also, that can’t be achieved just in a few hours in the low-income communities.

Onpery® believes that awareness of menstrual health and menstrual products, (particularly when talking about menstrual cups and reusable sanitary pads) has to be a slow and consistent process, in very small groups and/or on an individual basis, by the local institute who is directly and regularly involved with the target audience. Also, with such products, everyone in the community will not be adopting the product at the same time, but may gradually, to which awareness inputs being consistent and word-of-mouth are very crucial. We will be discussing this further in later sections.

We also realised that Onpery® period underwear requires the least input on awareness, particularly on usability as it has to be used like generic underwear and also has to be maintained by cleaning and drying like generic underwear. Hence, there is a very low behaviour change in the adoption of period underwear, which makes it highly adoptable. We will be discussing this further in the later sections. 

We also believe that large adoption of the menstrual cup in communities can be possible only in those communities where a local educated and enthusiastic representative from a local institute regularly interacts with the target audience regarding their menstruation and keeping a track of it for at least 4 months. It is difficult to get genuine local representatives and hence difficult to scale.

(e) Pivoting approach:
We realised that we have to work on providing a hygienic and reusable menstrual solution to the beneficiaries, and not focus on being rigid about promoting and pushing the adoption of just menstrual cups. Accordingly, we started to redesign other reusable menstrual products, such as we go to the low-income menstruators in underprivileged localities with the entire range of better reusable products and they are empowered to make their own choice.

(f) Reusable and disposable pads:
Before starting Onpery®, we did see multiple NGOs distributing reusable sanitary pad sets that can be reused for up to 2 years and a few also distributing generic disposable sanitary pads. Initially, looking at those pictures of distribution, it did feel good about the activity, but with passing time we started thinking about how many beneficiaries are actually using the reusable sanitary pads after receiving them, or how long the stock given for generic sanitary pads will last for, or how such NGOs/groups measure the impact for their activities, or how they will resupply the reusable pads or any pads after the stock is over, etc. etc.

Eventually, working on the ground and upon talking with multiple stakeholders, we came to understand that the adoption rate of reusable sanitary pads is also very low, particularly among the teen and young menstruators. The shifting, crumpling, rashes and leakage of the reusable pads are certainly a few top usage problems, but the main problem is cleaning and drying. Socially, drying those reusable pads in open is a huge social discomfort for menstruators.

(g) Period underwear:
Period underwear is a new category of menstrual product which recently menstruators in urban cities are getting to know about. But period underwear is largely perceived as a secondary menstrual product, which can be used to avoid any accidental leakage while wearing primary menstrual products like a menstrual cup, tampon, etc. or in certain medical conditions, etc.

Our design research concluded that period underwear has a huge scope in also becoming primary menstrual products for low-income or sustainable-focused menstruators when purchased in a set of 3 or more units. The period underwear set can last for up to 2 years. The period underwear set resolves a lot of problems that are there with reusable sanitary pads, as the period underwear set doesn’t shift or crumble, is rash-free, and most importantly is much socially easier to clean and dry in open. As period underwear looks just like regular underwear (but with an absorbent layer inside), that is a very neutral form, and hence the beneficiary clean and dry it like regular underwear they anyway use.

But period underwear sets are much more expensive than a set of reusable sanitary pads. Also, generic period underwear can be difficult to change/replace, particularly in a public washroom. Consider a teen menstruator in a salwar-kurta going to a rural school, and having to replace the period underwear in the school’s/public washroom. The complete salwar needs to be removed on a usually not so-cleaned floor makes the process exhausting. 

(h) Reimagining period underwear and pilot:
To our knowledge, none of the NGOs or similar organizations have tried to tackle period poverty by providing sets of period underwear in India, and there was a lack of insights from the low-income communities. Hence, we decided to do our own distribution drive.

As a part of a pilot, Onpery® provided generic period underwear sets to beneficiaries in a village in Hazaribagh city of Jharkhand. Most of these beneficiaries used to wear a saree-blouse. The pilot was highly successful as the rate of adoption and continuation to use, was more than 80%.

In the pilot, we were sure that Onpery® period underwear can be a hero product in low-income communities, but also there were two main challenges we noted. First challenge is that the potential beneficiaries are usually not very sure about their waist size and hence may get the wrong size set which later they may not use (and we were also aware that generic period underwear is difficult to replace particularly in community/public washroom). The second challenge was of it is an expensive menstrual product (usually 3 times) compared to any generic reusable sanitary pad set, and so many donors/funders may wish to sponsor reusable sanitary pads rather than period underwear. A donor/funder usually think that they may provide more menstrual product set to more people by opting for reusable pad but don’t realise that it doesn’t assure much adoption of the product (of which the assurance is much higher in period underwear set).

To tackle the first challenge, we redesigned period underwear and filed the patent and design registrations on the same. We launched India’s first detachable and size-adjustable period underwear called ‘Onpery® period underwear (detachable variant)’ in May 2022. With this variant, the period underwear can be easily detached and replaced/changed without removing the trouser. Also, the size-adjustable feature allows the beneficiary to adjust the size of the underwear if any minor issue with the size after collecting.

To tackle the second challenge, we have also redesigned and filed a patent on another variant of the period underwear that is a more economical proposition. This variant is expected to be launched by 2023. Meanwhile, we try to educate the donor/funder about the high adoption rate of the Onpery® period underwear compared to any other generic menstrual product out there, which assures of the actual genuine impact which anyone aims for.

(i) Designing ‘Onpery® Care’:
When we aimed to reduce period poverty and make green menstruation inclusive, we knew that we are talking about a huge scale which has rarely been tackled by a single organisation. We wanted to be true to the cause. Providing a few thousand reusable menstrual products in a year’s span, which most of our contemporaries have been doing doesn’t seem to be an ideal way for going out. We want to provide lakhs and lakhs of Onpery® green menstrual products to the potential beneficiaries in a year to actually reduce the period poverty as more than 20 crores of menstruators still don’t have access to menstrual products. 

Hence, ‘scale’ was the primary element we want to have in our system. This fundamentally means that we have to remove the mandatory operations of typical ‘awareness sessions’ which are usually practised in such menstrual social drives. This was because it is not feasible or viable for Onpery® to deploy their team members in maximum localities, when we aim to cover the entire nation; also, in the pilot, we realized that it is not preferable to depend on any third-party awareness group as it may generate false data and due to multiple limitations. ‘Onpery® Care’ is designed in a way, such that no third party is associated on ground. The local institutes (who we call as ‘beneficiary representative’) who are directly and regularly involved with the group of low-income menstruators can only provide the products to the beneficiaries. Since they are directly and regularly involved with the potential beneficiaries, they can talk to them individually and in very small groups and make them aware of menstrual health and menstrual products. Onpery® provides certain sets of communication material.

While the ‘beneficiary representative’ make them aware of the menstrual health and menstrual products in person, they can ask and register them and their preferable Onpery® green menstrual product at the same time, through an online registration form given by Onpery®. This registration process is perhaps the most important in such social menstrual drives. 

Usually, by our contemporary organizations, the distribution and registration of the products is done immediately after their awareness session. We strongly discourage such a methodology. Organizations certainly want the mileage on the awareness session and pull maximum beneficiaries from the session, which does happen, but they don’t realize that anyway the beneficiary will be using the product only when the menstruation start and mostly not instantly. By the time, menstruation starts for any beneficiary, the mileage or the motivation generated among the beneficiary goes low and mostly then don’t further wish to change their behaviour much and a few may adopt. It is better to focus on slow but constant awareness which only a local institution directly and regularly connected with the beneficiary can provide for actually making the beneficiary adopt and continue using a new product.

Usually, the beneficiary opts for an external reusable menstrual product, and such products last for up to 2 years. Hence it is important to note that the beneficiary has to be reached out again after 2 years and provided with the preferred green menstrual product. For the same, registration details should be proper, with complete contact details. In generic online registration, it is tough to verify the authenticity of the person being registered, hence in Onpery’s online beneficiary registration form, it is important to upload the profile picture and Aadhar card copy of the beneficiary by the ‘beneficiary representative’ along with other few details. 

Generally, the beneficiary is given menstrual product just after the awareness session, to reduce the operation cost of the third party and for a photo-opportunity, whereas in ‘Onpery® Care’ to make sure that the beneficiary can be reached out even after a few years when new products can be replaced from the old one and to verify the address, each product is shipped to the respective address of each beneficiary individually. Later, if required, the ‘beneficiary representative’ may assemble the beneficiary to share their feedback and to click photographs.

Generally, where organization don’t go out to measure the impact and/or take the feedback (mainly as it is a huge operational cost and the donor/funder don’t provide the fund for the same); it is mandatory for any project in ‘Onpery® Care’ to reach out to beneficiaries and note their feedback, such as to make an impact summary/report, after which only the project can be declared closed. The assurance of usage of the product starts from the product itself, where we know the Onpery® period underwear set is a hero product for such drives with a high acceptance rate, with robust registration methodology. The feedback is collected by the ‘beneficiary representative’ and each is reached out to a few times by a representative from Onpery®.

With time, we understood the challenges of the system and why most of our contemporary organizations failed to create an impact. We wanted to create a robust and impact-genienue system to reduce the problem of period poverty. More details, on our interventions among other things about the ‘Onpery® Care’ initiative can be checked here.

(j) Models of ‘Onpery® Care’:
We understand that in a system design, multiple models will be required with respect to the diversity of stakeholders and channels. Accordingly, we have developed 4 models as mentioned below:

• Model 1: Purchase
A ‘beneficiary representative’ purchases the green menstrual products for the ‘beneficiary’.

• Model 2: Donate
A ‘donor’ provides finance for the objectives of ‘Onpery® Care’, which is further utilised by Onpery®, Care Form Labs Pvt. Ltd. & OneForm Foundation to initiate a ‘project’.

• Model 3: Fundraise
A ‘beneficiary representative’ apply to Onpery® to start a ‘project’ to get free green menstrual products for the ‘beneficiary’ associated with them; to which further the ‘fund outreach partners’ of Onpery® try to raise funds for the ‘project’. Once the required funds are raised, then Onpery® starts the ‘project’.

• Model 4: Buy 1, Donate 1
The ‘Buy 1, Donate 1’ applies only to Onpery® menstrual cups. If a potential customer wants to adopt Onpery® cup and also knows some financially underprivileged menstruator whom the customer wants to empower, then the customer can purchase two Onpery® menstrual cups at a 40% discounted price by using coupon code ‘onperydonate’ from Onpery’s website, to which the consumer will get 2 units of the Onpery® menstrual cups. It will be the responsibility of the customer to enable the said financially underprivileged menstruators to adopt the menstrual cup. A representative from Onpery® will connect with the customer in a few weeks to know about the adoption of the donation cup.

These models have a defined set of steps, which need to be covered by respective stakeholders. More details can be checked here.

(k) Freedom to choose:
Usually, in such menstrual social drives, only one product is pitched by the sponsor and organizing team. This is operationally friendly to contemporary organizations, as they mostly distribute the product after the awareness session, and having multiple products in multiple sizes in multiple sessions in unprivileged communities can be a non-viable approach. Also, usually, organizations raise certain funds for the project beforehand without knowing which types of products are preferred by each potential beneficiary. Now it is important to note that different sets of green menstrual products cost different. But since the organisations have no clue about the preferable products of the beneficiary, yet they frame project proposal to raise funds, and they eventually feed the target audience to use their suggested product. Now because of this single product approach, the inclusivity of adoption of a green menstrual lifestyle is not impactful.

We have worked to develop an entire portfolio of green menstrual products. We at Onpery®, don’t distribute the product through any session. A ‘beneficiary representative’ makes the target audience aware of the different green menstrual products and asks them about their preference through in-person individual interaction. The preferable products are recorded in an online beneficiary registration form and accordingly Onpery® ships them later at their respective address. This approach gives the target audience a window to choose their preferable product out of the entire range of green menstrual products, empowering them. Also, the prior registration of beneficiary preference helps the sponsor/buyer (and other stakeholders) of the project/product know the entire finance of the project to implement it properly.

(l) Finance:
Usually, for such social drives, the organizations depend on the finances allocated by the funders/donors. We realised that yes, there are huge social impact funds available but projects being conducted in the domain have not been credible enough so far. Onpery® aim to conduct credible and impactful projects in the coming time to reduce period poverty by raising social impact funds; but also, Onpery® has come up with a policy where 5% of its revenue is allocated to the ‘Onpery® Care’ initiative to sustain the initiative. Broadly, Onpery® is also working on a platform, which will help to generate funds for the initiative, regarding which the team will share the details in the coming few quarters.

We are confident that Onpery®, with its redesigned product and designed initiative/system, will be able to resolve the problem of period poverty to a great extent.