Deeply entrenched stigmas and taboos are hard to overcome. But if there’s anyone who can effect transformational change it would have to be Suhani Jalota, the social entrepreneur Dr. Dweck and Rachel welcome on this episode of The Busine$$ of the V. She has not only founded the visionary Myna Mahila Foundation to educate and debunk disempowering myths about menstruation prevalent in India, she’s ultimately seeking to do nothing short of revolutionize the Indian economy to equalize the power of women within their households. It’s an amazing agenda for anyone, but particularly for such a young woman.
Suhani has secured a PhD in Health Policy and Economics as well as an MBA at Stanford while overseeing the mission of the Myna Mahila Foundation, which was founded in 2015 to provide a voice for adolescent girls and women in marginalized communities. She is building a team and network for young female entrepreneurs and leveraging technology to provide access to job opportunities throughout the world – work that has not gone unnoticed. She has been honored with the 2017 Queen’s Young Leader Award and featured in the Forbes Asia 30 under 30, not to mention receiving an invite to Meghan Markle’s royal wedding. (Yes, the experience was amazing!)
You’ll learn about the origins of her vision (as an undergrad), the cultural barriers her organization is breaking down and what is on the horizon for a young woman who clearly has barely begun the work she intends to do. It’s exciting and heartening for Rachel, who shares an alma mater (Duke University) and longtime alliance with Suhani. “The gender attitude has to change,” says this social entrepreneur. And she’s developing the tools, network and platforms to do exactly that!
Topics Discussed with Suhani Jalota
Suhani’s Journey as an Entrepreneur
- Suhani shares her entrepreneurial journey and how she came to found the Myna Mahila Foundation as well as the early commitment she made to bringing access and equity in women’s health and other realms marginalized women in India.
- A professor at Duke challenged Suhani to do more than lament the problems that preoccupied her. Was she ready to run something on the ground and be a social entrepreneur? She had no idea what that meant, but he talked her though it!
Menstruation and It’s Meaning in India
- Across the spectrum of communities there are a variety of onerous taboos and superstitions.
- Suhani ticks off the many barriers to dispelling the perception (even among themselves) that women are lesser when they’re menstruating.
- Suhani and her team leveraged survey data to target misuses of menstrual products and shaming around misinformation.
- It’s common for women in India to use pads for up to 24 hours (based on the advertising misinformation they’ve received). There are hygienic, disposability, attitudinal and other constraints that make these options impracticable at present.
What’s Next for Suhani?
- Her PhD at Stanford was designed to deepen her understanding of the issues.
- Her MBA was a route to making her social impact agenda self-sustaining and scalable.
- Mobile apps and other forms of engagement are high on Suhani’s list of priorities for fostering employment opportunities for women in India.
The Economic Component of Myna
- The model has evolved as the team has recognized limitations to scaling.
- The foundation has developed a new platform called Queen through which women can earn income to empower themselves.
- A pilot for Queen was just completed with 500 women who LOVED it.
- Suhani also developed a relationship with Meghan Markle, who invited not only Suhina but other women involved with the organization (some of whom had never been out of India) to her royal wedding in London.
The Myna Mahila Foundation also has a platform selling menstrual products, education, a health tracking that is available for a nominal fee and connects women to critical resources.
Many women do not even have access to phones or electricity. It’s a paradox that’s evolving. Lots of industry but limited amenities. Change is afoot, however. About 60% of households in urban slums have at least one (and in many cases, thanks to Covid-related online schooling, two) smartphones.
There’s a perception on the ground that the stigma around menstruating has lifted, but it has not. There’s a gap between the public discourse and the attitude shifts that are not yet occurring at home.