Get to know Nyungu Afrika - Techstars Sustainability Paris Accelerator

Nov 01, 2022

Mary Nyaruai, Founder, and Stella Maina, Head of Operations

01. Describe the problem/the industry that you are trying to mediate.

Nyungu Afrika was born out of two major needs. Firstly, to bridge the period poverty gap in Kenya and secondly, to provide access to safe and eco-friendly period products.

According to USAID, 65% of women and girls in Kenya cannot afford sanitary products due to poverty. Unfortunately, as a result, some girls have to trade sex for pads which may contribute to Kenya being the country with the third-highest number of teenage pregnancies. Others are forced to use unsanitary products such as rags, newspapers, cardboard, feathers, and practices such as digging holes during menstruation. For those who are able to access sanitary pads majority of them leave a colossal waste burden behind them during their menstruation years with some complaining of irritation, itching, and rashes from the plastic and chemicals used in making the pads which have devastating consequences for their health and also for the environment. A Life Cycle Assessment of tampons conducted by the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm found that the largest impact on global warming was caused by the processing of LDPE (low-density polyethylene, a thermoplastic made from the monomer ethylene) used in tampon applicators as well as in the plastic back-strip of a sanitary napkin requiring high amounts of fossil fuel generated energy which takes centuries to decompose.

Nyungu Afrika’s mission is to create a sustainable lasting impact to solve these problems by leveraging the circular economy, and technology and localizing the supply chain to transform underutilized agricultural waste of pineapple leaves and corn husk fibers into safe and eco-friendly period products.

By addressing these needs we will help tackle the five following UN SDG goals:

Goal 3: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.

Goal 4:Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.

Goal 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.

Goal 6: Ensure access to water and sanitation for all.

Goal 12: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns.

02. How did the idea to create the company come to mind? How did your team come to be?

As a menstruating woman, it was extremely difficult to find period products that understood my needs during menstruation, an experience that is still shared by thousands of women and girls. In 2019, a viral hashtag on Kenyan Twitter started a conversation about women in Kenya and Africa experiencing irritation, itching, and rashes from using existing brands of sanitary pads. In the same year, a 14-year-old student, committed suicide after she was allegedly shamed for starting her period in a class by her teacher.

It was out of this pain and a need for better, that Mary Nyaruai teamed up with a leading material scientist to find a local solution which coincidentally happens to be something Nyaruai has grown up seeing and eating in Thika, the pineapple capital of Kenya. The team has since grown to include Stella Maina as the Operations lead who worked together with Nyaruai in the banking industry cumulatively for six years before resigning. Together, they are supported by a growing team of driven consultants, advisors, friends, and partners who pour their brilliance wholeheartedly into their vision.

 03. Why did you choose to participate in the Paris Techstars accelerator program? What are you looking forward to the most? 

We chose Techstars because we are aligned with their goal, To Help Entrepreneurs Succeed! 

Our company wants to succeed in tackling pretty big challenges that affect more than half of the world's population and cross-cutting areas such as human and environmental rights, stigma, economic empowerment, agency, public health, gender equality, education, and sustainability in Kenya and beyond, and with that, we need big muscles like Techstars to help us succeed to create sustainable lasting impact.

We look forward to capitalizing on the funding opportunities, workshops, resources, and most importantly access to the best mentors, and corporate partners. Through Techstars network and structured program, we will be executing all of our learnings and experiences into the startup. The best part is that Techstars is a partnership for life that is startup and founder-friendly with you along the highs and lows in this marathon we call entrepreneurship that we are proud to be part of.

04. What are you the most proud of in your initial journey with your company? 

The courage to step into my activism and use my voice to change the way menstruation and overall women's health are viewed. Second, is the community of allies, friends, family, and partner organizations that have been built around Nyungu Afrika and have been hand holding us when It all started and still do to this day. Lastly is the sheer pride and deep sense of purpose that we felt from the farmers, youth, and women when we were doing research and development to date.

05. How do you plan to measure the positive impact of your company in the next 5 years? Environmentally focused question. 

Menstruation Health Management is both an environmental and a public health issue we can no longer ignore. The emerging trends in sustainability and public pressure for eco-friendly products puts us in an impeccable position to create and measure a positive impact on the environment. 

We aim to do this in three ways: 

  1. Reducing CO2 emissions by using low-carbon technology, upcycling the pineapple and corn husk waste, and resource efficiency.

  2. Sum up the amount of single-use plastics products that we shall prevent from ending up in the environment by women switching to our eco-friendly period products 

  3. Reduce the environmental footprint by optimizing the value and supply chain

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