There is always a right time to do things, even if you have to put your dreams on hold for various reasons !
Seema Khandale, our next pathbreaker, Social Entrepreneur, combined her love for the environment with social causes to raise awareness on sustainable products especially for the economically deprived.
Seema talks to The Interview Portal about her plunge into entrepreneurship after being a full-time mother for more than 20 years !
Seema, please tell us about yourself
I am a Social Activist by passion and a mother of 2 handsome sons. Working somewhere from 10am to 5pm was never my cup of Coffee!! Being a full time ‘HouseMaker’ was my choice, and my first priority ! Marriage happened in 1994, followed by kids, who are now grown up (23 &16 yrs). I have been enjoying every second with my kids, looking after everything that they needed, being with them all the time, helping them with all their projects and all etc. But for the kids, something was missing, they wanted some specific identity other than ‘Mom’. This was my first turning point.
What did you study?
I graduated in Botany, B.Sc (1994) . I completed my master’s degree in ‘Master in Social Work’ (MSW, 2015) from IGNOU, in first attempt. My dream came true, after 20 yrs of my marriage:). But, here too I was only “Mom”…
Tell us, how did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and fascinating career?
“Anything is possible when you have the right friends to support and inspire you.”
Friends have always had a very great impact on my life. One day a friend asked me to check with the NGOs. With the help of my family members and friends I became the Founder of Ashay Social Group, NGO, working towards the environment.
Social work, helping people, always attracted me. I had observed my Mom & Dad doing something or the other for the society, being within their own parameters. But I always found their thinking to be something out of the box. Friends are my strong pillars, who have taught me to do charity in such a way that it should pinch you! And charity always begins from home, ourselves.
Lets now talk about your career in Social Work
Always blessed with the strong support of family and friends, I came up with a project, “Avoid Plastic Carry bags and Use Cloth bags”. This is a 3R project, Recycle, Reduce, Reuse. We ask for old used sarees, dupattas, blouse pieces, then make cloth bags from them and distribute them to the people of our society. We have distributed 29000+ cloth bags till now. I personally believe in ‘Gifting’, and this is one of my ways to return something back to our society.
In March 2016, I read a news article which explained something as innovative as a cup, which could be used at the times of our periods. I was completely shocked to know about such a mysterious product!! Reading led to curiosity, but I found out that the product retailed online only. I was searching for something that I could lay my hands on, so that I could decide if I could use it or not. After two months of research, I found my first ever menstrual cup. That month I eagerly awaited my periods. In June 2016, I celebrated my No-rash, No-stains and No-trash periods. This was my second turning point!!
The experience of using the cup and the ease of use led me to share my experience with my near dear ones. I decided to create awareness about and promote Hygienic Healthy and Sustainable Menstruation options like Menstrual Cup and Cloth pads.
Sanitary napkins or tampons are the easiest options we get at the market, a one time use and throw option. Sanitary napkins are plastic based and made with lots of chemicals. The plastic components take 500-1000 yrs to decompose. Let us just think about the number of napkins that we toss in the bin every month and the numbers are mind boggling!
In a month 12~15 dirty sanitary napkins are thrown away by every woman. This is around 144~150 in a year and a total of 6000 or more in the whole life cycle of 40 yrs~. Just imagine the trash created by millions of menstruating women!!! We throw these used napkins in our domestic waste which creates a huge health risk to our waste collectors. Burning trash also creates toxic fumes of dioxins which is said to be the cause of cancer. All this sanitary waste makes its way into our sewage system, landfills and water bodies. Though rules and regulations have been introduced by the government to manage this sanitary waste, how many have been implemented is a big question mark. Isn’t it our responsibility to take care of our community ? And how can we forget that we have only one source to fulfil all our basic needs, our Mother Earth! It is our duty to take care of it!
Being a comfortable user of this innovative product, I started thinking why this product is not popular? Since every woman around here is using sanitary napkins or tampons, I started sharing about this with my friends and almost everyone else around me! I bought a few cups and started knowing more about the menstrual cups. I realised that higher price and lack of understanding of the proper technique were some of the issues faced. I started thinking of a new concept. I started spreading awareness about cups. At one point I got the opportunity to design a cup, and gave it a name as RUTU menstrual cup and got a title, Designer of RUTU Menstrual Cup!!
Menstrual Cup is made up of medically graded silicone material, inert material, reusable option, which can be used for years. These all things makes this hygienically safe, ecofriendly and beneficial option.
I’m located in Mumbai, but I try to manage traveling or request volunteers to come at my place to learn this and spread this awareness forward. This is just a way of giving back to society in a small manner.
What were a few challenges you faced as an entrepreneur?
Talking about challenges, I faced several. Reaching out to people, especially targeted audiences, was difficult. I had to manage resources and time, as this concept was new and not more openly discussed. I had to put in more efforts in explaining the product. I had challenges financially as well. In my work, the main challenge is to encourage people to think, talk and step up to accept something new, as it is scary initially to think about wearing some foreign body inside our body. I try my best explaining to people and being available on phone 24×7 if needed, till they are comfortable and confident.
How does your work benefit society?
In the last 4 yrs of my awareness campaign, I got connected with different schools, colleges, maids, anganvadi sevikas, govt and corporate offices, mahila mandals, street women’s, sportspersons, visually challenged, physically challenged and even doctors. I try my best to guide them wherever needed. I can proudly share here that only with the RUTU cup, I am supported with 2000+ users till now.
Many women are comfortably using the menstrual cup. Adding to this, I help in the concept of MAKE YOUR OWN CLOTH PADS, to the users who can’t buy these costly options. I help them with the material that they have with them. Many schools, colleges, NGO groups, helped me in conducting such workshops.
Can you share some of your achievements?
The Best Achievement in this work is the smiling face of the users after accepting this new concept and spreading the word about it with their near and dear ones. 20 yrs after marriage, when I decided to put my passion into work and a career, it gave me a very different identity, A Cup Woman, Cup Queen, Online Nurse!!! I got the opportunity to reach different parts of society. I spoke on the radio in many cities, television (News Lokmat) as well. Social Media helped me spread my work a lot. It also helped me to reach outside India and manage workshops in China. I help with short videos, and messages. Facebook, Instagram are my best platforms to work on. In the year 2018, I was honoured as BaiManoos for the Facebook Live by Lokmat on the occasion of International Women’s Day. I was also honoured by Lokmat as Social Entrepreneur in 2018 for my social work. On 11th Dec 2018 I was honoured with BahinaBai award, for working for Women’s Health, by Gurunath Foundation, Muktainagar, in Guidance of Shri Eknathrao Khadse Sir and RakshaTai Khadse in Bhusawal.
A few other achievements
Tarunai award from Jantaraja Pratishthan, Pune
Honoured by REA Foundation, Panvel
TedxKharghar and TedxTaraBaiPark Speaker.
Selected as ‘Top 30 Awaredees’ as “Dhasu Woman” from 1000 nominations.
Best 5, In Maharastra, by Fandry Foundation.
Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!
I have countless memories which are close to my heart. The Cold Period Campaign that we ran in Jaipur, managed in association with Indian Women Blog, for street women, on 21Dec 2018, resulted in 49 women switching to menstrual cup. After a few months, we met them for a follow-up, and seeing a smile on their faces and their request for additional cups for their relatives was a big achievement for us. Visually challenged (Pradnya P, BOB, Ghatkopar, Honey Kaur, Delhi) and Physically Challenged (Kiran Kanogiya, First Blade Runner, Bangalore) women showing faith in me and giving the cup a successful try gives me a satisfactory smile. It is a long list.
Your advice to students?
Request to students, Please Please Please avoid One Time Use and Throw Options, try to switch to more and more sustainable options and save our Mother Earth!!!
“Vision without action is merely a dream; action without vision is merely passing time, but vision and action together can change the world.”
What are your future plans?
I would like to spread awareness to our society, and try my best to make sustainable menstruation products available in every part of our country as it is a hygienically safe, eco friendly option.
It would be great pleasure to move ahead with such a great mission with you all, so let us step ahead for the betterment of our next generation!!