Bringing comfort to growing girls
An Edinburgh alumna’s entrepreneurism is helping to transform the lives of young women from low-income households in Africa and beyond.
Namibian-born Liita Iyaloo Cairney (pictured above) recently completed her PhD in Global Health Policy at Edinburgh. Keenly aware of the lack of hygiene products available to women with little or no income in her own country she put her skills and knowledge to use to help them.
An inspirational journey
Liita was inspired to take action during a trip to a school in Namibia in 2012 when she was gathering data for her PhD. While talking to her aunt, a teacher at the school, she discovered that many of the female pupils resorted to using rolled up tissue paper due to a lack of access to feminine hygiene products for menstruation. Liita came back from her trip determined to improve things for these girls and others like them.
Liita Iyaloo Cairney on her product
Helping young women understand menstruation
On returning from Namibia, Liita developed a prototype for new product called Koree, an externally worn and reusable menstrual hygiene device for those who are unable to afford existing hygiene products or who have restricted access to such items. Liita also created a website and a 12-year-old character called Koree, who provides girls with tips on how to take care of their bodies.
Learning to be confident
“A lot of the fear for young girls comes from a lack of knowledge,” says Liita. “If you educate girls about menstruation as a whole then I believe this allows them to better engage with their own bodies. Many women who live in village areas in Africa don’t have easily disposable income on a monthly basis or are facing so many other issues that buying pads is the least of their concerns.
“I’ve got some really good feedback from young girls in Namibia. They especially liked the idea of the little black character, Koree, because they are not used to seeing themselves portrayed in a way in which they can relate.”
Turning an idea into reality
Liita’s patent-pending product is soon to be manufactured in the UK. She has been helped by a SMART proof-of-concept grant, a Royal Society of Edinburgh Enterprise Fellowship and private equity investment. An essential part of Liita’s journey has been the time spent with the University’s entrepreneurial support department LAUNCH.ed.
“I wouldn’t be doing this business if it hadn’t been for LAUNCH.ed believing in the idea. The University really encourages students to use their knowledge and understanding of the world to make an impact on other people’s lives and I think that’s awesome,” says Liita. “I’m a big believer in dispersing the knowledge we have, so that we can empower people to gain their own knowledge.”
For Liita, the benefits of becoming an altruistic entrepreneur are clear: “It really is possible to be your own boss and to know that what you do every day that you wake up is something that you’re fully emotionally invested in.”
Main photo by Tricia Malley & Ross Gillespie: