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Breaking Barriers: Chipo Chikomo’s Journey to Social Entrepreneurship

Chipo Chikomo’s path to becoming a leader in the menstrual health (MH) field was unexpected, and her impact so far has been nothing short of remarkable.

After graduating from Africa University, Chipo was unable to find a job in her home city of Harare, Zimbabwe. After two years without any leads, she decided to take an offer from the Ministry of Women Affairs, Community, Small and Medium Enterprises Development working in a rural district.

“When I moved [to the rural areas], I thought I was never going to survive in this district, it was one of the poorest in the country,” Chipo said. “But when I started working there, I got attached to the community and the women I was working with.”

At the Ministry of Women Affairs, Chipo worked on cases of gender-based violence and built relationships with the women and girls in the communities. It was also in rural Zimbabwe where she was confronted with the realities of period poverty, specifically the lack of MH education.

One day, Chipo visited a local store to purchase menstrual products and toiletries. The store staff seemed surprised. While menstrual hygiene products had always been available, they hadn't seen anyone purchase them before.

“They asked me what tampons were used for,” Chipo said. “It was a shock that some girls didn’t know what they are and what they are used for.”

This interaction caused Chipo to consider how life in rural areas may pose unique challenges to accessing menstrual resources and education. After a five-year working career, Chipo left with the ambition to start a project focused on advancing MH in Zimbabwe.

Chipo knew she wanted to make washable menstrual pads in Zimbabwe, but she needed to find a way to do it. Sourcing the materials for the pads and manufacturing them proved to be difficult, but Chipo was not discouraged. Instead, she worked harder and pursued new avenues to accomplish her goal.

“It really pushed me that so many people were believing in me and what I wanted to do,” Chipo said. “So I had to find the solution.”

To achieve her vision, Chipo received a series of prestigious grants, fellowships, and opportunities to expand her social entrepreneurial skills and experiences. Chipo later studied at the Kathari Institute in India. Chipo received a grant from the United States African Development Foundation. She was also selected for the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders, which led her to visit the United States and study at the University of Iowa. Toward the end of her fellowship, Chipo spoke with a doctor who told her about Days for Girls (DfG). She contacted DfG immediately and discussed her goals of producing washable pads in Zimbabwe. She even visited with a DfG Chapter in Iowa.

“I had to travel from Africa to Asia and America, and then I found what I was looking for,” Chipo said.

Upon returning to Zimbabwe, Chipo’s organization, Nhanga Trust (translated as ‘girls' bedroom’ in Shona, the local language), purchased sewing machines and began assembling washable menstrual pads. It was a learning process, but, in time, the pads improved in quality, and Nhanga Trust grew. In 2018, they received their Lean Gold Certification for manufacturing, and they began being asked to supply washable pads to prominent organizations, including the United Nations. Their vision is to supply the government Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education in Zimbabwe.

“Seeing how people are receiving the products, and even the team that we employ [at Nhanga Trust], seeing how their lives are being changed, you feel like you’re playing a pivotal part in your country,” Chipo said.

Also, in 2018, Chipo was one of Zimbabwe’s Green Innovation Youth winners and won Best Eco-Innovation from the Environmental Management Agency of Zimbabwe

Later, in 2023, Nhangta Trust was the first Zimbabwean enterprise to be named a Global Finalist for Accelerate2030, a global program led by Impact Hub and the United Nations Development Programme. Chipo was invited to Geneva, Switzerland, where she shared the impact of Nhanga Trust and her work in the MH field.

In addition to leading Nhanga Trust, Chipo serves as Days for Girls Country Representative in  Zimbabwe. Last year, she was a contributing author to Voices for Leadership: Embracing Diverse Strategies for Effective Leadership, a collection of personal journeys from diverse thought leaders.

Chipo exclaimed, “I’m doing something that I haven’t seen, [and] people don’t understand me, but it’s an answer to what people in my country are looking for.”

Chipo is motivated to continue breaking barriers and furthering her mission of revolutionizing the MH space through Nhanga Trust and DfG, both in Zimbabwe and around the world.

Days for Girls
Days for Girls is an award-winning global NGO bringing menstrual health, dignity and opportunity to 3+ million girls (and counting!) worldwide.