Ogunte: What energises you about your work, Hyasintha?
Hyansintha Ntuyeko, Knowing that I am making a difference to my community energises me, especially when I face challenges.
Ogunte: What is your proudest achievement?
Hyasintha: One of my proudest achievements is translating ‘menstrual hygiene management’ into Swahili – ‘Hedhi Salama’. When we first presented this term to stakeholders, they rejected it and proposed an alternative, claiming ‘Hedhi’ was too sharp to pronounce. They were concerned people would not support our cause if we used our word, and insisted we take their suggestion, which did not communicate the true meaning. At the time, we decided to push the agenda without a covering phrase.
But now, in Tanzania, the term ‘Hedhi Salama’ is very popular and is used by all to refer to MHM. For us, this is a great achievement, and an example of hard work paying off!
Ogunte: What is your 3-point plan to revolutionise the state of menstrual hygiene?
Ogunte: Have you always been an entrepreneur at heart or was there a moment when you discovered your passion? What was the response from your family to your path?
Hyasintha: I never imagined I would be an entrepreneur – I thought I might work as a telecom engineer in a big national firm. However, at school, I experienced the challenges of menstrual hygiene, which made me wonder whether I could do anything to solve the problems.
One day, after I had finished university, my Aunt Vicky challenged me to try business temporarily, instead of staying at home waiting for employment. She introduced me to the cosmetics and sanitary pads business, but I had no idea how to sell. My aunt told me to get out there and sell to everyone you meet, both women and men. After two days of planning, I went out and managed to sell half of my products - I couldn’t believe it!
During this time, I discovered abilities I didn’t know I possessed and became convinced that entrepreneurship was my call. I stopped applying for jobs, which caused serious conflict with my family - even my Aunt Vicky was not on my side.
For a while, I decided to keep my distance from my family, and anyone who did not support my mission, so I could focus on starting my business.
Ogunte: How do you measure your impact at Kasole Secrets?
Hyasintha: Mainly, by the level of support to the national MHM agenda from government, NGOs, the media, and other stakeholders.
Seven years ago, when we started running menstrual hygiene campaigns in Tanzania, no media stations were willing to air our programs. They said the issue needed more privacy and that it was immoral to broadcast such things to the public. We approached different stakeholders asking for support, but the response was that MHM was not their priority. Some asked us why we were copying Western culture and humiliating women and girls.
In 2015, Tanzania decided to celebrate Menstrual Hygiene Day, so we tried again to engage the media and stakeholders – a few joined us. The celebrations were a success and drew significant attention to our country. The following year, many more wanted to join in and the day received a lot of support!
Now, many who work with adolescents, women, and girls incorporate a menstrual hygiene component into their programs. Journalists are writing on the subject and it gets media coverage. This year, East Africa Television (EATV) ran a campaign for donating sanitary pads to school girls in rural areas to celebrate Women’s Day.
We also measure our impact by our growing influence and reach. Kasole participated in the MHM discussion forum in Nyarugusu refugee’s camp in the Kigoma region, and it was agreed that menstrual hygiene education would be given within the camp. Our suggestion to include boys in the training has now been accepted by number of organizations. So far, we have trained 150 social workers (female and male) who will reach 10,000 adolescents in schools.
Ogunte: What structures do you have in place to avoid burning yourself out? What is your top tip for balancing work and home commitments?
Hyasintha: I set aside time once every 6 months to have fun with my staff, and I have mentors to support me in business. So, my top tips for balance are:
"Most doubted my capacity to deliver, since I looked young and was pushing a stigmatized issue."
Ogunte: Hitting rock-bottom is a fear that stops a lot of entrepreneurs from pursuing their dream. How do you overcome failures and disappointment and keep driving towards your goals? What would your advice be to someone who is scared of failing?
Hyasintha: Being an entrepreneur is a tough and bumpy journey: it demands passion, focus, resilience, and creativity. My journey was complicated because no one believed it was possible for me to build a business with no capital. Most doubted my capacity to deliver, since I looked young and was pushing a stigmatized issue.
What kept me going was my passion for the agenda, and a willingness to learn from mistakes and failures. I surrounded myself with mentors and like-minded friends who were always ready to offer support.
My advice is: never hesitate to try things out; keep trying, even if you fail every time; and once you find what you are good at, give it your all.
Ogunte: Have you ever felt isolated on your journey as a social entrepreneur? If so, how do you break out of that and reconnect?
Hyasintha: Yes, many times! What I normally do is try to understand the reasons for the feeling of isolation. The next step is to be humble and always do my best. I believe a person’s actions matter above all else, so I try not to boast or complain, and instead find a way to be creative and improve.
One day, those who had been unfriendly will appreciate my work, and approach me with respect and willingness to follow my lead. This method has worked for me every time.
Ogunte: How do you test the viability of an idea when you are pushing yourself to dream big?
Hyasintha: I rely on feedback from customers, and learn what the demand is like from them. This guides and fuels my great inspiration to dream big.
Ogunte: If you could travel back in time to when you were starting out on your entrepreneurial journey and have a 5-minute conversation with yourself, what counsel would you give?
Hyasintha: I would say don’t judge a book by its cover. Give yourself a platform to test your ideas, learn from this, and decide who you would like to be. We are all different and some hidden talents take a little extra effort to discover. You never know what you might find!
Ogunte: In the past, you have seen the gaps in your personal skill set and undertaken training to fill them. What are the key new challenges you foresee coming up in the next decade, and how will you equip yourself now to tackle these challenges?
Hyasintha: To me, learning is an ongoing process. As business challenges grow, so personal skills also need to grow. I must continue to be creative in everything I do, so as to keep us on track.
Recently, so many initiatives have been started that, in the next five years, many challenges around MHM will be solved. At Kasole, we have already recognised that and have started to work on new strategies that will keep us one step ahead and continuing to meaningfully impact lives.
Ogunte: Finally, is there a woman in social enterprise who inspires you?
Hyasintha: Dr. Minou Fuglesang - the executive director of Femina Hip. I am inspired by her way of mentoring people, and by the great work of her organization for adolescents in Tanzania.