My name is Olivia Onyemaobi, I am the CEO and Creative director of Pad-Up Creations, a social enterprise manufacturing chemical free, washable and reusable sanitary pads in Nigeria. I am married and blessed with two gifted children – Michael (5 years) and Michelle (4 years). I am from Abia state.
I have a degree in Accountancy and M.Sc in Business administration. I worked with multinational organisations for over 7 years before quitting to start my business.
I love writing. Currently I have 7 publications; my last book, The Missing Star, started me on the journey of using therapy to heal sexual trauma among sexually abused girls, and finally solving one of their basic challenges – manufacturing affordable, washable and reusable menstrual Pads to keep them in schools during their menstrual week.
What do you aim to achieve with Pad-Up Creations, and how did the idea come about?
Having 9 years cruel, incredible and sour childhood experiences, I raised a campaign against child sexual abuse in July, 2015, educating and rehabilitating children, especially the ones suffering from sexual trauma.
In September, 2015, I published a fiction, The Missing Star, which addressed the consequences of not speaking out when a child is sexually abused; I used the book as a campaign tool to reach schools.
In October, 2015, my volunteers and I addressed and counseled over 1,500 girls aged between 7 – 17. During the course of counseling and rehabilitating the girls, I discovered that many of them were exposed to sexual abuse because of unavailability of some material needs, one of which is menstrual pad.
I also discovered that out of the 1,500 girls:
- 68% had infections due to the use of unhygienic materials during menstruation (Use of leaves, rags, old foams, dry grass, sitting on sand, etc).
- 79% are usually absent from school during their menstrual week because they could not afford sanitary pads.
- 97% of them lacked self-esteem
- 70% regret being girls because of their menstrual flow.
- 95% of the girls counseled have had sexual intercourse at least twice in exchange of material needs, one of which is menstrual pad.
- 42% of the girls counseled were lesbians at that age.
All these issues and more led me into research to find the most affordable, healthier and eco-friendly menstrual solution for the Nigerian women and girls.
This research gave birth to PAD-UP MENSTRUAL KIT. It’s a kit of 100% chemical free, washable and reusable menstrual pads with a minimum reusable period of 1 year.
The first thing I did was market survey; I started sharing the idea, especially with medical experts. Many of them were so much excited about the chemical free part of the product. I got a good strategy that the pads does not just last for one year but are chemical free, breathable and safer for the health.
I had a job at the time, so I used my 2-hour break for school visits. When I visited some schools for sexual abuse counselling and therapy, some schools voluntarily paid for the services. So I acquired my first machine with that money. That was in July, 2015.
It took me a whole year researching on the best materials to use for production because they were not produced in Nigeria and had to be imported. By July 2016, we had acquired all the machines and technical knowledge to start.
My major motivation was the solution we were trying to solve – providing menstrual pads to keep young girls in school.
How are people responding to reusable, washable sanitary pads?
it’s really positive. Our products are now used by every class, not just the poor as people may think.
How is your product better than conventional disposable sanitary pads?
Our pads are chemical free, super thin, breathable, leak proof with protective wings that fastens beneath the pants. It is a better option against rashes, irritation, urinary tract infection, TSS, and other diseases that are more likely to occur due to the use of disposable pads which are made of chemicals.
What were the challenges you faced at first?
Our major challenge was funding. Thank God the idea was selected in the 2016 Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship foundation for a grant. That gave us leverage.
We also had issues with staff who had no knowledge on how to operate some of the machines, in fact I had to go and learn one, come back to teach the staff. So as an entrepreneur, you must have the ability to learn things fast, and sometimes, even without being taught.
what have you achieved so far with Pad-Up Creations?
The greatest achievement as an entrepreneur is launching creativity that gives solution to people’s problems, especially young girls and women.
Like I mentioned earlier, we were selected out of the 1,000 in the 2016 Tony Elumelu Foundation program. I was also announced among 7 others as a 2016 woman of action by Radiant Health Magazine.
We have also been featured in national dailies and other online sites. We have been able to affect the lives of over 20,000 in less than 1 year of our existence.
What habits drive you to succeed?
I can’t stay at a place without having a paper and pen. Everybody knows this; even inside my purse, you will find a pen. Inspiration comes at any time. Also, I don’t play with my time. As much as possible, I make everything brief.
What is your happiest moment as an entrepreneur?
Well, I think that is receiving a call from someone I never met who wanted to buy large quantities of the Pad-Up menstrual kits for a girl’s program because she tested and trusts the product.
And the saddest moment?
Losing a big contract that we almost got.
What’s the next stop from here?
We hope to make the Pad-Up menstrual kits available to 5 million girls and women in the next one year. We are working on getting psych guides to carry the menstrual hygiene teachings closer to the people.
Do you think our young people have done enough to live up to their full entrepreneurial potentials?
Not at all. Most young people are actually carrying smart phones but only use them for selfies, chatting and calling. They hardly visit sites they can learn from. Most times you see them ‘like’ a Facebook page without even knowing what the page is promoting.
Some who are out to work lack mentors. No matter how old you are in business, you need mentor, directly or indirectly. I think more attention needs to be given to this even in schools to save the future.
The present problem in Nigeria is that many aspiring entrepreneurs hoard their ideas. They cannot redefine their value proposition. if you don’t speak with the people whom the product would be made for, how do you think you can go far?
How do you handle your roles as a wife, mother, and entrepreneur?
It is mostly about time management. Every night, I write everything I would want to achieve the following day, in the order I want them. I don’t just disrupt any, rather I may add as the need arises.
Being an entrepreneur doesn’t mean my kids would go to school without brushing their teeth or doing their homework. I have no house help and no lesson teacher. I do all that because I owe them to my kids…And most times, I get to my office before most of my staff. I must be there at 7:40 am.
It is more demanding being an entrepreneur but more rewarding. So we women should always allow our dreams to drive us to success.
What three books influenced your life and business the most?
- Companies don’t succeed, people do – Bob Nelson
- How to make your staff own your company
- Rich dad, poor dad – Robert Kiyosaki
What advice do you have for young women in Nigeria?
Don’t allow marriage, school, child-bearing, home keeping or whatever keep you away from your dream. All you need is to plan yourself and time very well to fit into your idea.
Learn how to define your idea and make it easy for people to understand you, am sure you will get all the support you need. Just start something good; don’t mind if you are not perfect on it. As you progress you will get it right.
It is possible. You can do it!