Sylvia Nyaga – an engineer and social innovator – is the founder of Syna Consultancy, which is a start-up that aims to provide the physically disabled and the elderly in Kenya with safe, dignified and sustainable sanitation facilities through the production of accessible portable toilets. Her company faces many manufacturing challenges, and Nyaga is excited to gain valuable insights from her Kimberly-Clark mentors through the Women in the Sanitation Economy Innovation Lab.
“The Innovation Lab offers an incredible opportunity to interact with talented professionals who have great experience,” said Nyaga. “I look forward to receiving support around the manufacturing process, design, commercial viability and quality of our products. We are so excited to grow!”
The Innovation Lab, which launched this past October, features five women-led and/or women’s-health focused enterprises that are based in the UK, U.S. and Kenya. These entrepreneurs receive mentoring from 11 Kimberly-Clark employees from around the globe who offer a diverse array of skillsets and areas of expertise.
Mentors and mentees learn from each other
The Toilet Board Coalition, Kimberly-Clark and its Kotex® brand want to empower local entrepreneurs to help address the global sanitation crisis, and Kimberly Clark views the Innovation Lab as an incredible opportunity for select employees to mentor these entrepreneurs, help create shared value and have a societal impact. The program also presents a development opportunity for the mentors as they learn about new markets, build their leadership capabilities and diversify their roles.
“I was so excited to launch this unique program with Kimberly-Clark, and I can’t wait to watch the mentors help these female entrepreneurs fine tune their business models and tackle various market-based challenges – all while keeping sustainability top of mind,” said Jasmine Burton, Sanitation Economy Accelerator and Innovation Lab Manager at the Toilet Board Coalition. “As a sanitation entrepreneur myself, I have experienced firsthand how valuable mentoring can be for both the mentees and the mentors.”
Pete Dulcamara couldn’t agree more. Pete serves as Kimberly-Clark’s chief scientist and helps oversee the Innovation Lab program. He has also served as a mentor for the Toilet Board Coalition’s Accelerator program.
“Having mentored numerous entrepreneurs over the years, I’ve learned that it’s important to never give anyone ‘the’ answer but instead guide them in the right direction by asking them the right questions,” said Dulcamara. “Performance equals potential, minus obstacles plus encouragement. Mentors can add a lot of value by helping these entrepreneurs to define clear goals, reflect on the realities of their market, explore options through diverse viewpoints and define a way forward to achieve business success.”
Inbar Bengio, a senior quality manager for Kimberly-Clark in Israel, is sharing her manufacturing and distribution insights with Nyaga.
“This initiative enables me to pursue two of my biggest passions – empowering women and leveraging quality as a key growth engine, while using my mentoring skills and caring for consumers in need,” said Bengio. “I am so impressed with Sylvia’s vision and commitment. It is an honor to join her journey and support her goals.”
Sanitation plays essential role in improving lives
In July, Kimberly-Clark announced a goal to advance the well-being of 1 billion people in underserved communities around the world by 2030, and the Innovation Lab contributes to this ambition in numerous ways.
“Kimberly-Clark’s vision is to lead the world in essentials for a better life, and there’s nothing more essential than sanitation,” said Melis Sener, Senior Marketing Manager for Kotex.
Sener added, “A lack of access to sanitation in many parts of the world means that far too many women and girls miss work or school since they’re unable to effectively and safely manage their periods. Kotex exists to ensure that a period never gets in the way of any woman’s progress, and I love that this program supports entrepreneurs who really understand the link between menstrual hygiene and sanitation and want to remove barriers for women.”
Turn waste into an opportunity
Based in Nairobi, Kenya, Usafi Sanitation develops elegantly designed, affordable and innovative sanitation solutions for people in Kenya who do not have access to sewer systems. The start-up wants to build reliable, high-quality waterless toilets and hand washing stations at an affordable price while also reducing the environmental footprint.
Thus far, Usafi has reached over 800 students by installing waterless toilets in schools, which has positively impacted their dignity and education. Now, Usafi wishes to advance its marketing, investment strategy, technology and design.
Rushin Patel is a senior marketing leader at Kimberly-Clark Professional in the United Arab Emirates. He serves as one of Usafi’s mentors, and its mission hits close to home for him.
“I grew up In India, so I can definitely relate to the sanitation challenges in developing countries. When I heard about the Innovation Lab, I knew that it was a great opportunity to give back and impact a broader population,” said Patel. “My goal is to better understand Usafi’s challenges and opportunities and then determine how I can help them with their business and marketing plans. I am very grateful to work for a company that empowers me to use my skills to help others.”
Read more about the Innovation Lab and its entrepreneurs.