Three years ago, when Kristin Kagetsu decided to leave her employer, a tech company in America, to return to Ahmedabad in India she had five criteria in mind for her next job. It would need to address women’s needs, be economically as well as socially and environmentally viable, have mechanical engineering as a core feature, be located in India and created through her own startup.
Today, Kristin is working with the Global Cleantech Innovation Programme (GCIP), a Global Environment Facility (GEF)-funded project implemented by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) in cooperation with Cleantech Open (CTO), a programme of the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator (LACI), the world's largest startup accelerator for clean and renewable technology, based in Los Angeles.
Thanks to the coaching, mentoring, business training and contacts provided by GCIP, Kristin and Saathi Eco Innovations co-founder and GCIP graduate Tarun Bothra introduced a 100% biodegradable sanitary pad made from banana fiber. “We believe in a profitable business without comprising our purpose. Working in this industry, I have become passionate about fighting the taboo around menstruation in India and making sanitary pads more accessible to girls and women,” said Tarun.
The product, first sold online, garnered rave reviews. “Young, urban women appreciate our affordable and eco-friendly pads,” said Kristin, pointing out that the final product was created after many iterations and feedback from the initial online buyers. Further the product is 100% sustainably sourced and delivers greenhouse gas emission reductions.
The GEF-funded GCIP aims to foster and strengthen clean technology and entrepreneurship by providing the expertise and contacts necessary for cleantech entrepreneurs in eight countries so far. Every year, winners of the startup competition that runs in each country (India, Turkey, Morocco, Thailand, Malaysia, Ukraine, Pakistan, South Africa) come to LACI to compete in the finals that designate a GCIP global winner and runner up. This year’s winner is Saathi, one of the 10 out of 19 women-led GCIP startups present at the event.
At the Cleantech Open Global Forum, GCIP entrepreneurs shared ideas and solutions with each other. For example, Saathi and Gracious Nubian - a GCIP winner in the Global Category who introduced a reusable sanitary pad--discussed their different approaches and complementary solutions to women’s health. The South-South business collaboration was also showcased in conversations between Saathi and runner up award recipient Tom Casava from Thailand, which manufactures activated carbon products from cassava stump. The entrepreneurs explored ways Saathi could diversify its feedstock supply by using cassava in addition to banana as raw material for its sanitary pads.
The judges created a “special mention” award, a special third prize, that went to the affordable housing startup ModulusTech from Pakistan. During his pitch, the young civil-engineer turned social entrepreneur demonstrated with a slick and engaging video how his $3,000 flat-pack house can be assembled by three people in three hours. This alternative to constructed housing can reduce GHG emissions by fifty times compared to concrete buildings. It also has the potential to address the impact of climate migration.
“Today, GCIP is the cornerstone of GEF support for small and medium enterprises. Innovation is critical to solving today’s global environmental threats. And, recognizing the central role of the private sector we hope to do even more in the future. We need scalable, innovative ideas that embrace the opportunity that new technologies provide us with,” said Naoko Ishii, GEF CEO and Chairperson, in a video address to the Cleantech Open Global Forum participants.
During the gatherings, participants noted that clean energy technology is just the beginning. Other sustainability challenges, such as agriculture, urban development and waste are ripe for technology innovation and GEF’s young social entrepreneurs are poised to take on the challenge.