Mamnur founded Ella Pad – an initiative where poor working women make low-cost sanitary napkins using just garment waste
Mamunur Rahman, while growing up, saw how his sisters were denied school, toilets and sanitary pads.
He saw how the female members of his family were discriminated against in both their personal and social lives.
In an interview with UK’s The Guardian, he said: “I, during my time at the University of Sussex – under a Chevening Scholarship – found out why my sisters could not pass their middle schools because there weren’t toilets to manage their menstrual hygiene.
“My sister didn’t have access to sanitary napkins and because of this girls are dropping out of school every year – up to 41% in my country.”
Mamnur was determined to bring change and thus was born Ella Pad – an initiative where poor working women can make low-cost sanitary napkins using just garment waste.
“About four million women work in 5,000 garment factories in Bangladesh. Most factories have inadequate toilets and many women have menstrual hygiene problems, even losing days at work because of this,” Rahman told The Guardian.
“I realized that the garment factories were throwing away so many textile scraps and that these could be used to make eco-friendly sanitary towels. We persuaded the factories to let a group of women make their own towels, the Ella Pad, to improve health, and reduce waste.”
After the Chevening Scholarship, the Ella Pad founder went on to win two more scholarships – to Hungary’s Central European University and to the US’s University of Montana and Michigan State University – for his efforts.
The social entrepreneur, while speaking to Study International recently – a platform for universities and students to share information, news, and resources – opened up about hardships and his journey to success.
“I grew up in an extremely poverty-ridden community. I saw the struggles of my mother and sisters for our livelihoods. I had the opportunity to study at world-leading unis but the Chevening Scholarship opened the doors to the international world for me. Before this program, I didn’t even have a passport.
“I did my first international degree at the University of Sussex in the UK then came back to Bangladesh. Within three months, I got an invitation from the UN and USAID to give a talk with UN officials and the Kabul University faculty,” he said.
“I became the University of Sussex alumni coordinator and the following year I was invited to give a talk to the students. Since then, I just kept on getting connected to all the right people,” he added.
Mamunur said that the people from the Chevening Scholarship program always pushed him to pursue his ambition.
At one point, the University of Bern invited him to an international conference to share his concept on women empowerment which he had shared in different forums.
“In addition to gender and development, I was interested in green economy-related courses. I got scholarships from UNIDO and UNITAR to do a certificate course from the Central European University in Hungary,” Mamunur said.
“This gave me further confidence to redesign my project with a green concept. Then during the Fulbright/Humphrey selection process, I shared my project and was selected for the fellowship which is a flagship program of the US State Department,” he added.
“I was then connected with leading US institutes related to my work. I did two semesters at the University of Montana, then moved to Michigan State University for three more semesters.
I also got the opportunity to work with MIT as a research affiliate. During my time there, I shared my ideas with Harvard University and Boston University. This led me to be invited by OECD to the Green Growth Knowledge Platform in Paris. I’ve also been able to share my experience of working with underprivileged women in South Korea, the Philippines, and India,” he furthered.
Talking about winning the British Council’s Entrepreneurial Award for Ella Pad, he said: “My work was recognized by high-profile people. Winning this award widened my connections with UK policymakers including a number of British MPs.
“Although it has been easy to work in my country, it also encouraged me to be more devoted. People now consider Ella Pad as an important organization.”
Asked about his future plans, Mamunur said that he and his team aim to expand their work at a wider level from national to international to help more people through social entrepreneurship.