A few years after graduating from college, Molly Hayward was invited on a volunteer trip to Kenya by A Voice Is Heard, a small non-profit organization based in Pennsylvania. She accepted the invitation and decided it was a great way for her to get back to helping others after a few stressful years in the workforce.
While in Kenya, she met Purity, a teenager living in a local village. While speaking to Hayward about day-to-day life, Purity revealed that she and her female classmates would typically skip school during their periods because they couldn’t afford sanitary pads. The trip turned out to be a life changing experience for Hayward, who went on to create Cora, a subscription bladder- and period-care brand that provides pads and health education to a girl or woman in need with every purchase made. Since 2016, Cora has donated over 10 million pads and has helped provide reproductive health education to roughly 15,000 girls in Kenya and India.
In observation of International Women’s Day on Mar. 8, Cora is celebrating the lives of women and helping a girl in need with their #FormerCurrentChallenge. Post photos of your former and current selves on social media during the month of March, and for every post, Cora will give pads and health education to those that need them.
Here, Hayward elaborates on why access to menstrual supplies and reproductive health education is key to worldwide prosperity.
InStyle: It’s been great to speak to some of the girls in Kenya and hear how Cora has changed their lives and enabled them to attend school. What changes have you witnessed firsthand?
Molly Hayward: Rebecca's story is the first that comes to mind, she’s a student I met in Nairobi. Rebecca was excelling in school with the dream of becoming a neurosurgeon, but when she started her period, she began missing school because her family could not afford to purchase menstrual supplies. It was commonly accepted in the community that this was a legitimate reason to miss school. With the supplies and health education that Cora provided to Rebecca’s school, she was better able to understand and navigate the changes happening with her body and confidently return to school.
How does Cora distribute menstrual supplies to girls in need in Kenya and India?
With every month’s supply of Cora products purchased through our website, we provide a month’s supply of pads plus health education to a girl in need through our partner, Aakar Innovations, in India. And, with every product sold at Target or other retailers, we give 10% of our net profits to ZanaAfrica, a Nairobi-based foundation that equips teenage girls in Kenya with access to pads and reproductive health education. We are currently looking into expanding our giving and have been working with Kin Travel and Cottars Wildlife Conservancy Trust, to see how we can help provide menstrual supplies and health education to young girls in the Olderkesi Community, located in the Masaai Mara.
We invest in these local organizations because we believe it’s most effective to provide long-term, local investment in a way that promotes economic growth and opportunity.
Why are you so passionate about this cause?
It’s easy to think of menstrual health and access in a silo as it relates to women’s health, but this is an issue that literally touches everything. When girls don’t have access to period products, they are more likely to drop out of school. When girls drop out of school, they are less able to pursue the future they have dreamed for themselves, or to support themselves or their families. With less education, they are more likely to marry young and have more children, which impacts the global economy, the health of the environment, the number of women we have in power … everything.
From the very beginning, our social mission has been absolutely core to Cora’s business model, it’s the reason we exist. We intentionally designed our business model to encompass social initiatives so that as we grow, so does our positive impact. We need to stop treating period inequality and stigma like a women’s health issue and understand its global implications, and I passionately believe that Cora and our partners are at the forefront of doing that.
What keeps you motivated?
I recently heard a story from Megan Mukuria, the founder of ZanaAfrica. She asked a young girl how she would feel if someone gave her pads that would last her the whole year, she said the girl responded, “I would feel like the whole world loved me.” This reaction is hugely motivating as it helps ground me in the understanding that this work is having a truly critical impact on how girls see the world and how they feel about themselves.
As a female founder, what makes you proud to be part of Cora’s story?
I’m incredibly proud of what we’ve built at Cora. At the end of the day, we’re changing the lives of girls and women around the world. You literally can’t put a value on that.
What is your broader vision for helping girls around the world who are experiencing period poverty?
My greatest hope is that this issue will become a non-issue in my lifetime and that is why we work hard to initiate partnerships with great organizations and communities all over the world to continue to reach more and more girls. Our work doesn’t stop with the communities we serve in Kenya, India, and the U.S. because there is still so much work to do and so many girls around the world who aren’t getting what they deserve — which is a world where they don’t have to put their dreams on hold because of something that occurs naturally every month.
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