Megha Desai: Elevating Women’s Health for 1.4 Million People


Ladderworks is a publishing platform of diverse stories with the mission to inspire kids and youth around the world to become empathetic entrepreneurs. This series features interviews with founders working on SDG 3 – Good Health & Wellbeing by a character named Spiffy. Health is on a lot of our minds these days, so let’s see what’s being done!

Hi again! I’m Spiffy, as you know by now, I’m an interplanetary journalist. For the past few months, I’ve been interviewing every leader that’s willing to nerd out about health innovations with me. Today I’m talking to Megha Desai!

Spiffy: Thanks a ton for meeting with me. What challenge are you addressing?

Megha: Thank YOU, Spiffy. The Desai Foundation empowers women and girls through community programs to elevate health, livelihood, and menstrual health. We cultivate dignity so people can dream beyond their circumstances. We believe in holistic community development to uplift everyone in the community. We focus on both India and the United States.

Spiffy: What exactly are you doing to elevate menstrual health?

Megha: Our Asani Sanitary Napkin program is one of the most robust programs of its kind. Tackling awareness, production, and distribution all fueled by the people we serve. We are so proud to be in four states in India (Gujarat, Rajasthan, Maharashtra & UP) doing this work, and are excited to bring our expertise and learning to the United States. Our work isn’t just about using pads, but about shifting the mindset of the way everyone thinks of menstruation and, fundamentally, about women.

Asani

A woman holds an Asani Sanitary Napkin. Image courtesy of Megha Desai.

Spiffy: What motivates you to do this?

Megha: After 15 years in corporate marketing + advertising shifting to the impact sector was hard. I have never worked harder, and the outcomes and metrics by which we measure our work often can seem murky. But for me – my metric has always been clear. For me, it’s cultivating dignity for the people we serve. That is what keeps me motivated.  I can’t tell you how inspired I am by the resilience and joy of the people we work with. I am constantly motivated to keep innovating and keep growing our work so that I can see more and more of these smiles, more women starting their own business, and more women cultivating dignity for themselves.

Spiffy: How does this translate into a more equitable world?

Megha: We believe that women are the backbone of every society and simply desire the tools to allow them to thrive. Our vocational classes provide skills for them to use at their own pace, our health + hygiene programs allow access + understanding to keep their families healthy, and our Asani Sanitary Napkin program is working to break the stigmas holding women back. We want to empower women with health and the ability to earn – because it’s women that help hold everyone in their community up.

Spiffy: That makes so much sense. Have you reached any milestones recently?

Megha: We have hit quite a few milestones this year! We are now producing well over 1MM retail quality sanitary napkins a year. We now reach a population of over 1.4MM. We directly impacted over 500K people to help fight the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. But what I am most proud of right now, is how we have been able to tap into the thousands of women we have taught to sew and provide over 250 jobs, to pivot to make well over 100,000 masks a month for vulnerable communities – since March.

Spiffy: You’re crushing it, it’s all about adapting but you’ve gone above and beyond. What’s a time you’ve faced failure?

Megha: We face failure all the time – it’s because we experiment so much. We have been able to learn from each one of those failures. Just recently, we spent months trying to build a very ambitious project to develop certified PPE using our Sanitary Napkin Machines. For so many logistical reasons, we weren’t able to make it work, and we initially felt like we let a lot of people down. But when we pivoted to our Masks of HOPE campaign (hand-sewn masks), we realized that we are actually able to serve more people this way, and have a more significant impact.

Spiffy: Figuring out what works for your beneficiaries is key to social impact work. What’s something you’ve learned unexpectedly from someone?

Megha: I have spent the last 6 months living with my nephews (7 & 12 yrs old) who have taught me a lot about resilience and hope. And interestingly, I have spent a lot of time going deep with other women of color in my life, and they too, reminded me a lot about resilience and hope. Even when everything looks like the world is on fire, you can hear the laugh of a child, and you know that everything is going to be okay – hard, painful, but okay. I have been holding very tightly to that lesson for the past 6 months.

Spiffy: That’s so beautiful, children are such a blessing to this world.

Megha Desai

Megha S. Desai is the President of the Desai Foundation, an organization that empowers women and children through community programming to elevate health and livelihood both in the US and in India. Megha sits on multiple advisory boards and is a contributor to publications like Entrepreneur, Fast Company, and THRIVE. She recently delivered a TEDx talk about The Power of Cultivating Dignity. She is an avid singer and performs with the Resistance Revival Chorus. (Nominated by The Centre For Social Innovation)

© 2020 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Elias Ross Trupin. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. Follow Spiffy’s stories of founders building a more equitable world at www.ladderworks.co/blogs/spiffys-blog

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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