MSD P50 – Menstrual Man

I had the chance to meet a number of people personally and interact with them, thanks to EmergE 2013, the annual entrepreneurship summit of IIM Shillong.

Mr. Arunachalam Murugnantham and Mr. Arun Krishnamurthy were two among them who have had a lasting impact on me.

If you haven’t heard of Mr. Arunachalam, I strongly recommend you to watch this video:

If I were to quote Wikipedia:

Arunachalam Muruganantham discovered his wife collecting rags to use for her menstrual cycle as their family couldn’t afford the commercially available products from MNCs. He devised many of his own experiments in an effort to understand the problem. In the beginning he looked for female volunteers who could test his invention, but most were too shy to discuss their menstrual issues with him. He decided to test his inventions on himself, by using animal blood among other methods. His preoccupation of trying to solve the issue of menstruation which is somewhat taboo in India resulted in him being ostracized from his community and family (albeit temporarily). He eventually learned that wood pulp would be the key to a solution, and devised a machine that allows a simple and cost effective pad creation process which can be run with basic training. Muruganantham’s story was the subject of the feature documentary, Menstrual Man.

He says and I quote

My family and people living in my village thought I was a dracula, drinking women’s blood. The people in my village even went to the extent of tying me to a tree with iron rod, thinking that I was a psycho out of my minds.

He had to live with such people from 1997 (when he started his experiments) to as late as 2004, till his invention of a sanitary napkin making machine was recognized by IIT Madras during a competition.

Contrary to general opinion, Mr. Arunachalam doesn’t produce and sell low cost sanitary napkins; instead, he sells low cost sanitary napkin making machines to villages across India, which not only helps women live with hygiene and dignity, but also provides a sustainable means of livelihood to under-privileged women.

His vision is to provide employment to a million rural women through this model, and achieve 100% sanitary napkin penetration in India.

When asked how it felt during those seven years, he says it felt very lonely. “It’s the case with any entrepreneur. You are always lonely till you prove yourself”.

He had the audience in splits in his 10 minute speech to the students of IIM Shillong, much like the TEDx Talk shared above. For example, when an IIM Kozhikode student had asked him whether he caters to the bottom of pyramid people, he had replied, “No, currently, we are not selling any machines in Egypt”. 😛

His sanitary napkin making machine costs less than 70,000 rupees; compare it with the cost of such machines built by MNCs which may cost crores of rupees.

His model has been used in Brazil and several other countries. Despite hoards of MNCs reaching his doorstep to commercialize the product, he has constantly kept his foot on the ground.

He rubs his right shoulder with Ratan and left shoulder with Mukesh and takes seminars to MNCs like Microsoft, Intel, etc.  

His talk is very straight-forward and to the point, and hilarious to the hilt. He does not hesitate to call a spade a  spade.

He was dejected when I told him that less than 1% of people graduating out of IIM Shillong start-up on their own immediately after graduation. “I see this is the case with many B-Schools and Colleges. If a school dropout with broken english (referring to himself) can achieve this much, then there’s no limit to what you guys can”, he told me.

Easier said than done.

From IIM Shillong, he has now gone to SP Jain for a conference and then immediately has an interview with BBC this weekend.

“Ever since 2004, it has always been like this. My story gets published everyday in some place or the other”.

What a man!

Tomorrow: My experience with Mr. Arun Krishnamurthy


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