Business innovation also requires social innovation. Converting 3.5 million customers to locally-made products required standing outside the culture to change very old practices.

… Mr. Muruganantham spent his last savings designing a table-top machine that would shred the fibre and shape it into pads with a hydraulic press. [….]

In 2005, he took his machine to the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology in Chennai, which entered his contraption in a contest for the best invention using technology for the social good. He won, and was summoned to Delhi to receive an award from the President.

When his picture was in the papers, his wife called. She and his mother returned to live with them; Mr. Muruganantham says good-naturedly they probably expected he would soon be a millionaire. But rather than launching into large-scale sanitary-pad production, he sold his machines to rural women at a price barely above cost.

Among them are the six women who co-own Mother Care in in the heart of Tamil Nadu. Last year, they pooled 240,000 rupees ($4,400) for one of Mr. Muruganantham’s machines and started production in a rented garage. They also bought a snappy pink scooter for deliveries, although first they had to learn to drive.

To create a market for their product, they go door-to-door for quiet chats to tell women how the napkins work, assure them they are safe and explain how they can help avoid the discomfort of traditional alternatives.

India’s improbable champion for affordable feminine hygiene | Stephanie Nolen | Oct. 3, 2012 | The Globe and Mail at

India’s improbable champion for affordable feminine hygiene - The Globe and Mail