Posted by Catherine Njuguna on Oct 01, 2018

Betty Sonda studied Civil Engineering at the St. Joseph University College of Engineering & Technology in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Her inability to get a job after graduating led her down the entrepreneurship and innovation path. 

She is addressing an important and yet often overlooked challenge in menstrual hygiene issues, the disposal of female hygiene towels which are often made up of non-degradable materials.

So, tell us briefly about yourself and how you joined Rotaract.  

I am a second born in an extended family of five. My mother passed away and my father remarried, so I have one sister and three stepbrothers. I joined Rotaract last year because I had just finished university and was looking for a job. I needed to connect with the right people and also to help the community A friend told me about Rotaract and it sounded like the right place to be. So, I joined the Rotaract club of Young Professionals last year September.

Any memorable highlights in your time so far in the Rotary family?

Yes. I got to attend the District Conference and Assembly in Entebbe, Uganda, early this year. I did not know much about Rotary. The event opened my eyes and made me realize that really this is the place to be to network and to help the community. 

And how about your entrepreneurship journey. How did it start? 

I graduated from the University in Dar es salaam last year with a degree in Civil Engineering. Since I didn’t get a job straight away, I got involved in modelling and in sales and marketing. I also explored entrepreneurship and attended many innovation meetings. In one such meeting, the speaker challenged us to find a solution for disposal of sanitary towels. He said the pads that women were using were causing septic tanks to fill up quickly and causing blockages. And, interfering with making of biogas.

So, the idea to develop biodegradable pads came up. After the meeting, I started conducting research on my own. I came up with the idea of using hyacinth and papyrus. I wanted to use locally sourced materials and to create employment for women by making the pads locally. 

I was born and brought up in Mwanza, which is near Lake Victoria. Hyacinth is a big problem for the fishing industry and the livelihoods of farmers. Therefore use of hyacinth as a raw material can contribute to finding solutions to the hyacinth problem.

I developed a prototype but it’s not that good yet. The challenge we are having is developing a non-absorbent layer to prevent leaking.  I contacted a lecturer at the university of Dar es Salaam who is researching on making a biodegradable non-absorbent material from hyacinth. We are also looking for funds to set up a factory to manufacture the pads locally. 

Can you tell us briefly about the digital innovations where you came in third place? 

Digital Opportunity Trust (DOT) Tanzania was searching for people with innovative ideas. I presented my idea for bio-degradable sanitary pads. I came in third out of 40 applicants as my prototype was not completely ready. I got a prize of USD1,000. This will push us in our plans to register the company and to further develop our prototype.

What motivates you to do what you do?

I want to help people in the community. The pads will not only help the women who use them but also create jobs. By manufacturing the pads locally, we will not only create jobs but we can also make the sanitary towels affordable. I am looking at a packet selling for less than $1. I also want to be a role model for young people and show them they can do anything they want to, if only they take a step forward. My mission in life is to inspire people to be better.  

And what do you do for fun?

I like hanging out with my friends, cooking, eating and going to the movies. I also love travelling. My dream trip is to Italy to look at the architecture!

Caption: Betty pitching her idea at the Bank of Tanzania Conference Center

 

Betty wins 3rd place at DOT's Dare to Change Tanzania social innovation challenge.