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Episode 008: Celebrating International Women’s Day with Chipo Chikomo, Days for Girls Country Director in Zimbabwe

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Chipo Chikomo is an award-winning DfG Social Entrepreneur, businesswoman and innovator whose work is revolutionizing the menstrual health space in Zimbabwe. She is passionate about providing truly sustainable, locally-led solutions to period poverty – and empowering women and girls with the menstrual products, education and technical skills they need to thrive. She is the brilliant mind behind Nhanga Trust (meaning “girl’s bedroom” in the local Shona language): an Enterprise that trains women in underserved communities to sew and distribute DFG pads, tackling period poverty while earning an income for their families.

Chipo’s story is a testament to the power of resilience and forging your own path forward, no matter what obstacles stand in your way. In this episode, she shares what inspired her to partner with Days for Girls, the challenges faced by Zimbabwean menstruators, the ins and outs of running a trailblazing social enterprise and her vision for the future. Tune in for your weekly dose of inspiration – just in time for International Women’s Day!

Highlights:

  • How winning the Obama Administration’s Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders in 2016 led Chipo to Days for Girls
  • What first inspired her to tackle period poverty in Zimbabwe: her experience working in a rural, underserved community after college
  • The importance of sustainable menstrual health solutions that include comprehensive education and skills training – not just product distributions
  • The challenges of being an innovator in this space: how she has stayed focused and grounded throughout challenges and doubt from friends/family
  • All about the Nhanga Trust Enterprise, including key partnerships
  • Her vision for the next 10 years: reaching every menstruator in Zimbabwe, becoming a household name, developing capacity for humanitarian relief in other countries, and more!

Connect:

·  Email: Chipo@DaysforGirls.org

·  LinkedIn: Chipo Chikomo

·  Facebook: @NhangaTrust

·  Twitter: @nhangatrust

Bio:

Chipo Chikomo is a leading social entrepreneur whose vision is to revolutionize the feminine hygiene industry. Chipo not only wants to ensure that women and girls have access to sustainable menstrual health products, but are empowered with the technical expertise to manufacture them locally. Her quest to empower women and girls drove her to start an organization/Enterprise called Nhanga Trust, which in the Shona language means the ‘girls bedroom’. Her passion for empowering women and girls to be the drivers of their destiny led her to partner with Days for Girls International in training underserved women to make reusable sanitary kits for rural school girls.

Chipo received a full scholarship in Leadership and Social Entrepreneurship (2013) from the Kanthari Institute in India, an institute founded by the world renowned Sabriye Tenberken (a 2005 Nobel Peace Prize Nominee). In 2015, she was the only female amongst five USADF grant competition winners in Zimbabwe. Most notably, Chipo was part of the Mandela Washington Fellowship 2016: a flagship program started by the former President Barack Obama. She has also participated in the Business and Entrepreneurship track at the University of Iowa in the United States.

Chipo holds a Bachelor of Social Sciences in Psychology and Sociology from Africa University and is featured on the university website along with other platforms like the 25th Silver Jubilee Anniversary Newsletter (2017). In 2018, she was one of the Green Innovation Youth winners in Zimbabwe, and won B

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Transcript:

Jessica Williams  0:00  

And then I wanted to make sure I say your name correctly. It’s Chipo Chikomo. Is that right? 

Chipo Chikomo  0:04  

Yes. Yes. It’s like yeah, you were born speaking Shona, the language that we speak here. 

Jessica Williams  0:11  

Oh good! Oh, that’s a compliment.

Jessica Williams  0:15  

Awesome. Well, good. Okay, so I just want to make sure we get all that. All right. Are you ready to rock and roll? 

Chipo Chikomo  0:20  

Yes, I’m ready. Okay, let’s do this.

Jessica Williams  0:25  

Welcome to the Days for Girls podcast, a show about breaking barriers for women and girls around the world. I’m your host, Jessica Williams, Chief Communications Officer at Days for Girls International. At Days for Girls, we believe in a world where periods are never a problem. We are on a mission to shatter the stigma and limitations associated with menstruation by increasing access to sustainable period products, and menstrual health education for all people with periods.

Jessica Williams  0:56  

I wanted to read some of the incredible reviews that we’ve been getting, because they’re so fun. Kim says: “Here is a podcast that gets at the heart of an issue that even today is swept under the rug. So pleased that this information is available.

Heidi M says: “So inspiring and eye-opening hearing about the work this organization does – the experiences they have all over the world has enriched my life immensely. I am so grateful for all that they do such an awesome podcast!”

Sam says: “Can a conversation change lives? Of course, it’s transformative! These conversations are as meaningful as they are interesting. More please.”

Oh, thank you, everybody. We really appreciate all the incredible reviews. Thank you. Thank you for your wonderful support. And please tell your friends and if you haven’t left a review, if you haven’t subscribed, please do so today. It makes a huge difference and do it on Apple iTunes, if you can. This is where it really counts. Apple iTunes is the number one podcast app in the world. The more ratings reviews and subscribes we get, the more people we reach. Today’s guest is Chipo Chikomo, a leading social entrepreneur whose vision is to revolutionize the feminine hygiene industry. Chipo not only wants to ensure women and girls have access to sustainable feminine hygiene products, but that they are empowered with technical expertise to manufacture them locally. Her quest to empower women and girls saw her start her organization called Nhanga Trust, which in the Shona language means “the girl’s bedroom.” She was so passionate about empowering women and girls to be the drivers of their destiny, that she partnered with days for girls international to empower underserved women to make reusable sanitary kits for rural school girls. She is such a rockstar – she has received so many scholarships and awards that there’s just too many to list. But one of the most notable things is that Chico was part of the Mandela Washington Fellowship in 2016, which was a flagship program by the former President Barack Obama.

Jessica Williams  3:03  

Today’s interview as part of our celebration for International Women’s Day. Chipo is so inspirational in how much she has achieved in her lifetime, and she’s still so young! She has so many dreams she’s working on. And I’m really excited to share this inspirational episode with you. It’s a little longer than we normally do. But it’s because Chipo has such a wonderful story. And there was so much I wanted to make sure she got to share with you. I hope you enjoy this episode as much as I did. Now, let’s go on to the show. So Chipo, I was telling you before we started the recording, that you’re quite a legend at Days for Girls. When I came on board last year, everybody said have you talked to Chipo she has this great story. She’s so wonderful. And so I really looking forward to having this conversation with you and getting to know you.

Chipo Chikomo  3:55  

I’m deeply flattered that people are saying that about me. So yeah, let’s just jump and get ready to.

Jessica Williams  4:06  

Perfect. So let’s start with this. How did you first learn about these four girls? How did Days for Girls International appear on your radar? 

Chipo Chikomo 4:18  

it’s took me to actually come to the U.S. to know about Days for Girls, so it’s been quite a journey. I think with other people, it’s a matter of a click of a button. They just go and maybe they’re sent in suggestions. But with me, I was selected for a fellowship program by the then President of the United States. President Barack Obama. So it’s called the Mandela Washington Fellowship and it selects, you know, bright, upcoming young Africans to come to the U.S. so that they can share experiences, build networks and share things that they’re working on or things that they’re passionate about. It’s in hopes that they’re going to meet with different companies or organizations, which they can build lasting relationships. 

So I’ve had been, you know, talking about this wild idea that I had, that I wanted to start making washable sanitary towels. So people, my country didn’t even know what I was talking about, we had this challenge where we are inputting all our sanitary towels from different countries. And when they now come to Zimbabwe, they become very expensive for women and girls to afford them. So in terms of trying to negotiate the prices, we didn’t know who to go to, because the countries that are either in another continent, or that you don’t even know who to start contacting. So for me, it was, you know, what if we could start making our own pads in our country, then actually solving this challenge that we have in the country. And it was, you know, pitching to different organizations that we could make washable sanitary towels, and they would be asking me, have you seen them? I’d never seen one? How do you want to make them if you don’t even know about them? 

One of the things that they did was they believed in what I was doing so much, that at first, I was given two grants. So I actually bought sewing machines, and I didn’t know what I was going to solve. And then that’s when I was also selected to come to the US. So I didn’t really know what I was going to do. But I knew there were companies in the US. So I googled some of them, but I never come across this will go so when I was in the US, I was at the University of Iowa, that’s when we’re doing our business training. I I kept on, you know, talking to my professors saying that I’m looking for a company that we can work to get there. Because I want an organization that is like, a social enterprise where we actually trained because I don’t want to, to be importing ready made products, but we want to empower the communities back home with the skills to be able to make the products as well. And that is empowering! It’s a win win for all of us, so I kept on peeking. 

They were looking for referrals if they knew of any such organizations. And then one day, we went to visit the investor of Iowa hospitals, and one of the doctors, they had heard about Days for girls, they say, you know what, I know about this organization called Days for Girls, but I don’t have the context. You just search for them. And I hope you’ll be able to, to network and have a long lasting partnership. And then that was it. 

I went and I google, this girl’s got the contact details. Well, I made a phone call. I think I talked to the somebody at the reception, and then they directed me to sell it. I said, You know what, I’ve come to the US and you know what I came here for? So I was looking for an organization like you. So I’d read up about this because I was like, this is a perfect fit. So that was it. And there was I think it was in a team, which was in Iowa the next day, they came to meet me. So I was actually looking for people that were already around me, but we didn’t know each other yet. So they came they showed me the keys. And I was like this is exactly what I was looking for. So from there on, I can say the rest, rest is history. But that’s how I got to know about this because I’d never heard of it. But it took me coming all the way to the year so that I can learn more about this.

Jessica Williams  9:22  

What a great story of tenacity and perseverance and trying to, you know, network your way in. I love that journey.

Chipo Chikomo  9:32  

Yeah.

Jessica Williams  9:34  

So okay, so take me back to that that time. So you met Celeste, and you’re like, it’s a perfect fit, and you’re going back to Africa. So what do you what did you do next?

Chipo Chikomo  9:46  

So we actually, I’d never met Celeste so it was via a telephone call that I made. So I think with the skills that they were teaching us, I was able to pitch me convincing such that the next day, she had connected me to other people. So I’m really grateful for the program that I went to. So that we were taught how to, you know, talk to different, people and in an engaging way. So from there on, I came back home, I was just so excited to get the ball rolling. But what I didn’t know was that, you know, it wasn’t just you being spoon fed this organization that you now want to work with. But with these girls, they were, they knew that they had to train us, you had to go through a leadership program here to go through ambassador of training, of health, and then you had to pass it. And before you even start all the sewing! 

So for me, I was thinking, I’ve come from the US, I’ve got the sewing machines. And the next thing, we’re just going to have the pattern sent to us, and then we’re going to start sewing but it was not so. But we then through the training, we’re doing it now online. So we were able to start sewing because we were just so excited that finally we had, you know, maybe an organization that was doing it. So when we finished the theory part, we then went to the practical. So we’re using the links that were sent to us, the video links, just reading through the Patreon guidelines and everything. And then would be translated to Shona language so that the seamstresses would understand what was going on. But one of the challenges that we had was we didn’t have any of the raw materials that we needed to use. So it was quite a challenge in Zimbabwe only had thread. So you know, trying to get into the fabric shops and telling them about snips or cotton. They would just look at you like the whole list that I’d reach in, there was nothing that they had. So it was one of those nightmares, that they just look at you they like, okay, maybe you can bring samples of what you’re talking about. I’m like, I don’t even have samples. Like we’ve never heard of what you’re talking about. I’m like, Oh, this is what we need this fabric, you have a like, we know what you’re talking about. So I had to actually send my mother to, to South Africa. And she then bought the fabric they do, some of it was hard to get because you’re not aware of where you’re actually going. It’s in a different country. So it’s like a wild goose chase, maybe you’re looking for something that’s already there. And then you go to another province or you go to another city. Yeah, so that was what was going on. But after that, we now know where to get some of the things but we are still importing all of our raw materials. Because in our country right now, we cannot access all this fabrics that we use locally at the moment.

Jessica Williams  13:41  

So did you know how to sew when all of this started?

Chipo Chikomo  13:45  

You know, I, didn’t know how to sew. And up to now, what I know how to do is I read a lot. So I know so much about the pad and how to sew it as if I can saw it. But I don’t have the sewing skill. And by the time I wanted to learn more about it, there’s so much work that I have to do in terms of admin and stuff like that. But I know how to put the press that so I do the packing as well I assist in the packing to ensure that the pads are nicely packed. And I also do the quality assurance. So in terms of creating more employment, I just said you know what, let me just stick to what I know best and empower more women to become the tailors. So yeah, it’s a win win. I get to do more of the admin work and they get to be empowered in the actual sewing, but I know what the pad is supposed to look like. So I look at it, even though we’ve got someone who is responsible for the quality and everything. Eventually I look at it. I know what is gold standard, I know what is not gold standard. So I actually measure, I can just take a few samples and then I can just measure them and say, Oh, no, this is not gold standard, I think, you know, so you’re supposed to do this and supposed to do that. Yeah. So they can’t cheat me on that.

Jessica Williams  15:19  

So I want you to take me deeper into this whole journey, because you come back and you make it sound so simple, like you just, you know, recruited some women they started selling and now you get some fabric and…but I mean, how did you? Did you have people in your community who were ready and willing, did you have to go out and convince them to join you? And, like, did you have to find a space and all of those things that went into making this enterprise happen?

Chipo Chikomo  15:52  

It’s not as easy as it seems. But just when you’re talking about it, it can take maybe 30 minutes, but it has taken years unfolding, they say that overnight success takes years of preparation. So when someone is talking, they’re having an interview, it’s like okay, wow, they just had it all figured out. They knew that okay, if I do this, and then this is what’s going to happen. But it was never like that.

I can take you back at a time when I started working. So I couldn’t get a job in the city where I grew up in which is the capital city and my parents had sacrificed so much so that I could go to the best college in the country. And when I finished I couldn’t get a job however, I had gone to the one of the best universities in the country and I was at home. I was just seated not doing anything I think I was just waiting for the job to just you know find me or drop in the sky. So when I realized that nothing was happening, I then applied to the to work for the government in one of the ministries for me in affairs and because I was a junior they posted me in one of the poorest districts in the country. 

And you know, it was in the rural area, like one of the most hottest places in the country, the electricity was there but it’s never available. There’s always something happening – some cable falling or being struck by lightning or something is just always happening. These erratic water supply even the rains so when I got there I everyone just said you know, there’s no way you’re going to survive in such a place. Even the community themselves said that, you know what, we’re just giving you one week, there’s no way someone like you can survive in this place. So we are giving you one week, one week, you will have packed your bags and gone in one week. But I fell in love with the place! I realized that you know, we are the ones to make our country better. If everyone who is trained to make the country better, always says there is no way I’m going to sacrifice to wake in such a place or stuff like that, then there is no one who is going to come. So that has always been what I stand for: that I’m not going to wait for another person from another country. We can do it we can do it here in Zimbabwe, no matter how young or old, we can still do it. 

So I decided to work there. And when I was looking for supplies, some toiletries, I went to this shop and then I was surprised with some tampons and they were also pads I didn’t expect that I was going to see them available because it was so remote. And so I asked them because there was so dusty so I didn’t ask them. Why are the pins in tabloids The packaging is just so dusty. They’re like, you know what? No one ever buys them. So if you can so all the women that were in the show are selling and they were like you know what? No one has ever bought them ever since we started working here for someone saying one year someone saying two years. No one is ever buying them. So can you please explain to us what that is? So to me I was wondering what are they using if I have to explain to them that this is a template and this is a pad. This is how you use it. So I then explained to them that this is how you do it, this was useful. They were like you know what we don’t even know we didn’t even know that. This is what they are used for but they are selling the product. So I think that is when the seed was sown and that I was working in that area. And just being surrounded by such poverty where people have never seen a pad, they don’t even know how to use a pad. No, you’re talking of maybe 30 year olds that have never used their head will never use a tampon. So that is when later on, I then transferred and got another job in the city, but it never left me. There were just so many stories about how some girls were not able to go to school because they didn’t have sanitary towels.

Chipo Chikomo  20:47  

To be honest, I’d never had an experience where my parents could not afford to buy sanitary towels for me. However, what had happened was one of the triggers was, it was something that wasn’t given priority in my country. So I remember when I was 16 years old, I was writing my final national examination papers. And it was the first paper that I was writing. And I think because of the stress, the anxiety, everything going on, I just started my period. And I didn’t have any tampons that I had carried or pads that I had carried. And I just had my book and my papers that I just carried, so they could be able to just read and just write my exam. I didn’t even have my bag. But I remembered we had had a company, I think it was one of the companies that makes some pads, that had come before and they trained us. So I’d been given a box of mini tampons. I think we have about six of them, they were in my blazers, I just kept them there. So because I could not find some way to buy… yeah, it’s cool, there is no way you’re going to go out of school to go to the shops to go and buy the pads. So I wish that our schools would have maybe the toilets where we could just access sanitary towels when you need them in the emergency room, like situations like the one that I had experienced. So that’s when I started using tampons, but because I didn’t even know how to use it. I think I just put it just, you know, it didn’t even reach where it was supposed to reach, because I was so scared. So for the next two hours writing my exams, I was in so much excruciating pain that I’ve never experienced in my life. I didn’t even know what to do. Thank God, I passed that exam. But you know, it was just a horrendous experience. Yeah, it was just so horrific. That’s how I can say it’s, you know, you’ve got something that’s you that is stuck in, you know, and it’s just so painful.

Jessica Williams  23:04  

Girl, I’ve been there.

Chipo Chikomo  23:07  

I didn’t know how to use it. And I didn’t know who to ask, you know, and I’m writing my exam. So, you know, it’s those things that when you look back, you’re like, you know, they were triggering you. If I was experiencing some of these things, I’m sure so many girls and women are experiencing even worse. So when you just hear those stories, they’re just constantly coming. And then people were having the pad drives with their campaigns and then buying and donating. But I always thought this is not a sustainable solution to the challenge that we have. This is just not sustainable, we need to have a long lasting solution. We have pads that are locally manufactured, and they are washable as well so that we give options to NGOs, on what they can use. So we have people coming to maybe in various platforms, and then they do campaigns. So for me, I was like, I want to solve this challenge differently from what I’m seeing how people are going about it. I want to be in that space where we provide the product plus the health education because it’s something maybe that that led me to not be able to use the tampons that I’ve been given correctly. And it’s a topic that we never talked about. It’s something that you cannot talk about. So there was just so many myths, stigma, you know, misconceptions, you know, that you have that you don’t know who to ask and you cannot talk about it. So yeah, it was one of those situations that led me to start working on that. So I then left my job that I was waking So I was waiting for one of the now I was waiting for one of the billion governmental agencies in the country. And it was such a great job. So when I left that job, people thought I was crazy, I was mad. They’re like I was taking it too far. You’re talking about peers that you have never seen that you said, you want to start making. So I selected to go to India for a leadership course. So I went to India. However, when I was Wednesday, I couldn’t find companies that we making them then in India at that time, but I came with leadership skills, and they were willing to help me build this enterprise. They will just say, you know, what, we don’t know what you’re talking about. But we believe that it’s going to be successful, we believe that you’re going to do it, and it’s going to be beneficial to the country. Yeah.

Jessica Williams  26:02  

I love it. I mean, I’m just, I’m so impressed, that you overcame so many things to get where you are today, like people telling you, you’re crazy. And people not knowing what you’re talking about? And how like, how did you become so courageous, and like, push through all of that adversity and all of those challenges? What drove you?

Chipo Chikomo  26:27  

what the first thing is, I think my background, I think you need to have something that you stand on. I’m a Christian. So one of the things is, I meditate a lot. And I just believe that there are some things, some principles that you just need to stand on, if it’s in this city, I just knew that anything good, doesn’t come easy. And say, some training that I need to go through, maybe I’m like, Joseph, I need to be first sold out, or something like that. But I’m going through training. So I can adjust that something without the necessary knowledge on what I’m doing. So I always knew that, you know, whatever is going on, even if it’s delaying. But I’m learning a lot through that. So even if it means that I’m sacrificing my finances, that I don’t have the finances that I was comfortable with, but I know that I’m actually being exposed to some knowledge that I didn’t have, as well. And all I’m being exposed to some training or something that I didn’t know, at that time why I’m having this network be building this network that I didn’t have. 

So at first, actually, my family wasn’t supportive at first, like, you know, I think they were one of those people, you know, people that are close to you, because they see your potential. So it’s not like they don’t like what you’re doing. But they don’t want to see you get hurt, because they will be there to you know, wipe your tears. So at times, they are just try to cushion you from being too ambitious or something like that, or chasing the because you’re pitching to them something that they’ve never had off. So at first they’re thinking, I think Chico has just lost it. You know, she’s just now going crazy. So, really, they didn’t understand how someone can leave a great job, a great career, to sit at home, because at first I was actually at home, I was seated. They were trying to find the reasons why I left the job. I was like, No, this, I need to do something more. They know, I’m still young, I want to at least try something if it doesn’t work out, I can always look for a job. So they’re like, how can you sacrifice all that for something that you don’t even know that is going to wake up? So I had to plead with them to say, you know what, I’d rather leave knowing that I tried than to leave knowing that I could have done this, and I would regret it. 

And you know, I always say that you are the ones who stopped me from doing what I wanted to do at that time. So they understood sort of at that time, but they were just folding their hands and saying you know what, we don’t even understand how, what she wants to do. But right now my family is very much involved in what I’m doing. My mother, my husband, my brother, my sister, all of them can So, so they assist me in what we are doing the day they, you know, I can leave the country for maybe six months. I know they can run everything. Right now they’re the biggest cheerleaders because now they’re like, you know what? We never thought this is going to work. How did you do it? Or did you always know that it’s going to work out? So if they now see the different partners coming into the office, they’re like, you know what? We actually surprised that. You know, you now have all these embassies coming. Yeah, actually ordering the pads. You know, why we actually surprised others are coming to just have videos done. So even when I went to the US they were like not so you actually selected to go and see President Barack Obama because of this pads. Because you’ve got this idea of making pads is new to them, they just couldn’t understand it. So even when I came back, I was invited by a first lady to go to the statehouse of Zimbabwe. So they accompany me to see the First Lady. Because of the pads. So to them, it’s still, you know, they just can’t believe that all because of following my passion. That is now opening all these doors, but they did. They now realize that there is so much need out there that we know. So the many girls, they are now able to go to school for years without being interrupted because they don’t have sanitary towels.

Jessica Williams  31:50  

So let’s talk about some of the doors that are opening for you. You’ve your organization’s called the Nhanga trust, which in the Shona language means that the girls bedroom, right? Yes. Okay, so let’s talk about the organization. And I want to know, like, how many people? How many people work there? And what are some of the projects that you’re currently working on? Or excited about? And what’s your like vision for the future?

Chipo Chikomo  32:18  

Okay, So currently, we’ve got 10 people currently working, including myself. And then, because of the COVID, the pandemic, we’ve had to have tailors work remotely. So we’ve got some tailors who we can work in the comfort of their homes. So they come cut out when they need to use, and then they saw and then when they come, we just check what they’re sewing and then we’ve got others who are working in the vicinity. So it’s a walkable distance, they can always come at any time that they want. So we’ve got flexible working hours, because we will you know what, one of the things that has always been limiting women, especially from Africa, is because most of the conventional waking hours are not favorable to most women to be able to come to work, some of them need to leave home later, when they have done all the household chores, send the children to school, or cook for their children. 

So at times, they end up having challenges with their spouses because they’re going to work now, they’re not able to cook for the children are not able to do the laundry. So we’ve got work, flexible working hours with the woman just comes anytime that they want to come to work so they can spend the whole day without coming to can spend two weeks without coming. We are not going to follow them up unless it’s an emergency. We’re not going to say you know why not come into work. However, what we do is we just paid them pay how many days a week they make. So if it means they’re going to be coming in the evenings. So others will be like, you know what, in the afternoon or during the day, I’m actually at my market store, selling or doing whatever else I want to do, and then I’m able to come in the evening. So be it we are always open for them. If they want to come in the evening to 12 the midnight they can always come. So that’s how we currently are working and then we with our partnerships. 

The first one was Cantare Institute where I was trained in India, they believed in the one of the first people to believe in the vision and what I wanted to do so that the ones that first gave me the seed funding to actually come and register. When I got back home. They believed in the vision so much that, like, you know, you can go back home, buy machinery and stuff like that, so that you can at least try out your idea of what you want to do. And then from there on, it has been different organizations like the US Embassy, they’re the ones that selected me to go to the US and even up to now we have the they keep on following up to see where we are, whatever support we can get from there from them. So monthly, we have zoom meetings, we just had one just last week. And we just discuss what we are doing, what further support they can, you know, assist us with so that we remain viable in some of the challenges that we are going through. So they are the ones that also made it possible through the US embassy to get funding from the United States African Development Foundation, USA. So they also gave me funding so that I could buy machinery, and also some of the raw materials, you know, when you first start, you know, you got all these errors, so they were willing, I am very thankful that they were willing to walk me through my mistakes, because I started buying the wrong materials, because I was just so passionate. Sometimes I would buy T shirt material, thinking that I’m going to start making the paintings. And then later on, that’s when I’ll be told that you actually need a flossing machine to be able to make this pad, to avoid the T shirt material for the pads. And when we started producing more, the machines were always breaking, and, you know, we admit that we spent more time fixing them than actually doing the actual sewing, that’s when later on when we got, again, another grant from UNICEF and SNV.

Chipo Chikomo  37:19  

We’re able now to buy the industrial machines. So those ones we can sew anytime any day without them, you know, breaking easily. So you know what most of these organizations, they were willing to just, you know, let us make some of these mistakes and help us grow in those mistakes. So even with these four girls, they’ve been, you know, very incredible in just willing to work with us, from making our first pad, which wasn’t gold standard, and, working with us through the whole process, and ensuring that we get fabric in a country where we cannot get fabric, like Zimbabwe. So they’re always connecting. So all these organizations that we have been working with, they keep on working with us. It’s sometimes it’s not financial, but it’s just networking, you know, referring to you to an opportunity that you can work with this organization, you can work with that person, you know, so they’ve constantly been opening all those doors for us. Like right now, I think it’s above, I can safely say that we make the best pet quality wise, when people look at it, they’re like, you know, this is just the standard is just up there, you know, it’s export quality is, you know, something that when a girl looks at it, they, they really would love to use the pet. So we are just so excited that there’s been so many people who have been willing to walk with us through that process, such that we’re able to now make such a pet. So we’ve also won awards, like the Environmental Management Authority of Zimbabwe is the largest governing authority in terms of the environment. So in 2019, we are given an award, the one of the best eco innovations in the country. So you’ve got City Council’s being awarded awards, if they came first in whatever they were doing. You’ve got different mining companies. So it’s actually a huge platform to showcase what you’re doing. Yeah, so I think so far the journey as we don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. There’s still some challenges, but you know what, it’s quite fulfilling. It’s incredible. 

Jessica Williams  39:57  

I love how far you’ve come and looking, let’s say 10 years in the future, do you have a an idea of where you would like to be and the impact you would like to have had?

Chipo Chikomo  40:11  

10 years from now, we want to have reached the whole country, like, we want to be a household name. Because right now, we’re still just a small enterprise. We’re still learning. But whatever we have learnt, we know that we can now replicate it across the country. So we want to really be, you know, a household name in the country says that when someone talks about washables, we are the ones that come to their minds, just like when someone talks about toothpastes naturally, we just think of Colgate, we actually refer to Colgate as just the same as toothpaste, we don’t even use the word toothpaste, because it is just become such a household name. So we will say, I want to buy Colgate close up someday, that doesn’t make sense other people, but that’s what we mean. Just using a household brand that has grown so much. That’s what we aim to be. And we want to also be able to know when there’s a disaster in another country, we also want to be able to send our Kits to that country, like when there was that blasts in Lebanon last year, we want to be also be able not only to supply the needs of Zimbabwe, but also to supply the needs of the rest of Africa. So that is our dream that we have. And also to venture into other products as well. Yeah. Like washable diapers, adult diapers that are washable. You know, I’ve been just researching more about it just looking at how they’re made. And then you can you can see that it’s almost the same materials, but we haven’t really researched much on that one. So it’s all those future plans that we have to revolutionize the sanitary products industry in that country. And beyond.

Jessica Williams  42:26  

Amazing. Well Chipo, I have just been so grateful for this conversation. I’ve gotten a lot out of it personally. I feel really inspired and impressed by what you’ve been able to accomplish and how far you’ve come and what you’ve overcome to get where you are. And I think our listeners will feel the same way! I’ve just really enjoyed this conversation. So if people want to connect with you if they want to support you. How can they find you?

Chipo Chikomo  42:54  

Okay, I’m on Facebook, on LinkedIn as Chipo Chikomo. And my email is chipo@daysforgirls.org. So they can just get in touch with me on all those platforms, or just visit the Days for Girls website and write a general question that they are looking for me and I’m sure some way they can get in touch that way.

Jessica Williams  43:26  

Absolutely. And we’ll put all of those links in the show notes. I wish you luck and I hope that all of those dreams do come true for you. And thank you so much for coming on the show today.

Chipo Chikomo  43:39  

Thank you very much for the opportunity. You’re welcome.

Jessica Williams  43:43  

The Days for Girls podcast is produced by Days for Girls International. For show notes and resources mentioned in this episode, visit daysforgirls.org/podcast. If you’d like to support the work we do on the show, leave a rating or a review wherever you listen. Subscribe to the show and share episodes on social media or with your friends. To learn more about Days for Girls and to join our global movement, please visit daysforgirls.org. Thank you for listening. See you next time!

Jessica Williams
Jessica Williams is Chief Communications Officer of Days for Girls International. She is also the host of The Days for Girls Podcast. Jessica holds a Bachelor’s degree from Wake Forest University in Communications and a Master’s degree in Strategic Communications from The University of Oregon. She is also an adjunct instructor for the University of Portland’s Pamplin School of Business Nonprofit MBA program.