Our So Powerful Soap Miracle


Earlier this month we conducted a set of home visits in Lusaka checking up on purse recipients. We learned a lot. In several respects, the visits were very depressing. But God is up to something very interesting – and we wanted to share the exciting news! Is it a miracle? It certainly seems like one!

First, the home visits were difficult because hearing the stories of hardship and challenge that the girls in Ngombe Compound face was a reality check. We know that 2/3rds of the children we work with are full orphans (having lost both parents), and over half are HIV Positive, but those are just statistics. When you go and visit the children in their home, see the situation, and realize how desperate the circumstances are, it’s honestly overwhelming.

But we also heard that the soap we provide in the Sew Powerful Purse Program is used up very quickly. We knew it probably was – but hearing the details made us realize we have a problem. The soap we provide basically lasts girls one period, so after the first month of use, it’s gone. Each bar costs us .59 cents.

As I sat in home-after-home hearing the same soap problem – the weight of the challenge sank in. After one of the particularly challenging visits I said to the team, “we’ve got to figure out this soap problem.”

But to meet the need we’d need to find a way to deliver a small bar of soap every month to the purse beneficiaries. This year alone, that would mean 3,700 bars of soap per month. Next year, that would be 6,000 bars per month.

6,000 bars of soap a month is 72,000 for the full year. If we reach our 2020 goal and assist 20,000 beneficiaries, that would require 240,000 bars of soap a year. That’s a huge amount of soap!

Here is where the story gets interesting…

On our last day in Lusaka we came down to the hotel lobby for breakfast and we saw a former colleague of mine. We used to work together a long time ago. We greeted her and asked what she was doing in Lusaka and she said,

“I’m here to talk to Esther (our Sew Powerful Program director) about a soap project.”

Soap project?

“Yes”, she said. As it turns out she had come with a proposal she wanted to discuss for an ongoing soap project. Long story short, she has access to a source of soap scraps that can be re-purposed. Melted and re-used.

To do it right, it will take equipment, space, and staffing. But the bars could be used for the purse program, the school, the clinic, or even sold in the community as an income generating activity.

I was speechless. My mind quickly flashed back to the math I had already done. So I asked,

“how much soap are we talking about?”

She said, “more than you could possibly ever use.” 


A few minutes later Esther arrived to greet us for the day and take us to the Needs Care school. On the way to the school, we discussed the new project idea. At the school we sat down with our guest and worked through the details. A plan began to emerge, led by Esther of course. In short:

  • We’ll be launching a new soap making team. This will be our 3rd “Purposeful Product” (school uniforms, reusable hygiene pads, and now soap). Of course, we should also add food from the farm to our list of Purposeful Products, so we are now up to four!
  • Technically the team won’t be making the soap, it’s just melting and cutting it into small bars. But their mission will be to make a massive amount of soap each month.
  • Sew Powerful will fund the operation – in exchange for soap.
  • Esther has 80 volunteer Caregivers that have worked together for many years in support of the HIV/AIDS crisis. She is going to ask them to be helpers in the program and assist in making the soap.
  • We will use our current soap budget (the .59 cents per bar that we currently have budgeted) to hire several highly motivated school moms (or dads) and ask them to help set up and run the program. This will create new jobs – and expand the Sew Powerful / Needs Care school team. As the program expands more team members will be added. These jobs can be done by people who are not literate, which allows us to include some of the most desperate people in the community.
  • We’ll work to produce enough soap to fully supply the Sew Powerful Purse beneficiaries, and begin selling the extra soap in the local community under the name So Powerful Soap. Until we can come up with a better name.
  • We will work to invest in this new soap team and expand it over time – creating an ongoing income source that can assist in funding the school programs.


We Need Your Help: The program is not up and running yet! During our brainstorming conversations, we came up with a list of start-up expenses to get the program going. We need roughly $1,500 to launch the new soap team. We’d love your support: www.sewpowerful.org/donate

Give a gift of any amount here

When you contribute – you’ll be helping us launch an exciting new chapter in the Sew Powerful ministry story. Only God could orchestrate this type of amazing provision. He loves the children of Ngombe more than we could ever imagine – and He’s got good things planned for these precious children.

Honored to serve together,

Jason, Cinnamon, Esther & the entire Sew Powerful team!

Ps. upon hearing this someone wrote, “Before they call, I will answer, and while they are yet speaking I will hear.” a verse found in Isaiah 65:24. What an amazing promise that God made long ago – that He is still fulfilling today!

P.P.S. please note, all extra funds raised will be used to support the Sew Powerful Purse program – and directly benefit the children of Zambia.

6 Urgent Requests From Zambia 2016 Trip

Hi everyone,

As I write this we have just two hours left in Lusaka before we head to the airport. I realize there are a lot of you that have been following our daily posts on Facebook and all the fun pictures there – and would love to be here with us – so I thought I’d give you a quick list of the requests I heard about this week – and a quick update on the status of the program. First the status report.

The program is working incredibly well, but it’s not without it’s technical issues. But overall, the seamstresses are busy making product, the teachers are training the girls, and the purses are making a huge impact. We heard story after story – the outcomes are very consistent – the Sew Powerful Purse program is making a transformational difference in the lives of girls and women in this community.

In terms of urgent requests – here is what I heard this week in order importance. Please note some of these issues our team in Zambia can resolve on their own with our help. Some we can resolve ourselves on the U.S. side, and several are simply funding related challenges, so as you might guess – your monthly financial partnership is incredibly helpful (set that up here). Here’s the list:

  1. The girls mentioned they run out of soap. They are provided one bar in the purse when it is given to them. It costs us 38 cents. But to offer an ongoing supply – we’ll need to create a line-item in our program budget for soap so the girls can come to the school and get some when they need it. (Please note – we do not, and cannot accept random bars of soap in the purses you make for us. That’s not helpful. These items need to be purchased locally and used at the Needs Care School.)
  2. We met with the seamstresses as a large group, then with our three amazing team leaders – and they requested three things. First, a bigger team budget to grow the team and ensure everyone is benefiting.
  3. The seamstresses second request was for better machines. (Please note – if anyone wants to step up and help us replace the entire set of machines, we’d be incredibly grateful. Contact us.) I blogged about that not long ago – here is the entire story.
  4. The seamstresses third request was for more space. They are challenged by the space they have – and ideally (some day) as we continue to grow they will have their own production facility.
  5. We met with the World Vision Zambia team and they asked us to urgently help them fulfill their Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) program goals distributing 5,000 purses in the One-Chongwe Area Development Program with purses and the Sew Powerful training. All indications are that our 2017 purse goal should be 6,000 purses (to fill the need at the Needs Care School + the 5,000 World Vision is requesting). Can we do it? We have NO idea!! But we we believe in miracles – and we are constantly blown away by the enthusiasm we’re receiving for this program from around the world.
  6. Finally, the donors on the trip requested more giving options and resources to help them tell the story, engage their pastor and missions pastor, their local fabric store, local sewing machine store, and their personal network of friends. Watch for those soon on our resources page.

Cinnamon and I are incredibly honored to serve as coordinators for this program – bringing together seamstresses from around the world to combat extreme poverty and unlock the educational potential of girls – and entrepreneurial potential of the moms of the community.

We are grateful for your support.

Jason & Cinnamon Miles


Our Manifesto For Self Reliance

School Uniform ProgramAs a donor – we need you to understand your role and how we see giving/charity/and the issues related to creating sustainable solutions.

So I thought I’d outline our vision for helping the wonderful people of Ngombe Compound, Lusaka, and the entire country of Zambia. I hope you hear my heart in this – I’m not trying to sound condescending or like a know-it-all or something. We barely know anything about combating extreme poverty, but we feel strongly about a couple things and I thought I’d share them with you today.

Broken Program Models

I’ve worked in the non-profit world since 1990. In that time I’ve seen a lot of International mission and aid type program models (from A (AIDS relief) to Z (Zika Virus Intervention). I wish all of the programs I’ve seen were effective at combating poverty, but they aren’t. That’s a serious problem!

Some of the program models I’ve seen, (the worst), are hurtful, wasteful, and render poor families and communities dependent on perpetual handouts. There is a nagging question that every charity leader needs to answer…

Can my charity (and donors) do too much, give too-much, and intervene too much? Can we cause harm by taking control out of the hands of the (truly) responsible people and “handling” it for them?

Specifically, in 2009 when we first entered Ngombe Compound in Lusaka – we saw,

48% of the kids HIV Positive with no clinic and no medical help

70% of the children have lost both parents to HIV/AIDS/TB or Malaria.

kids at the Needs Care School only getting 1 small cup of porridge for lunch each day

Kids with no school uniforms

Girls that don’t go to school when they are on their time of the month because of a lack of supplies

The moms don’t have jobs but want to help

No school building (so they met in a half-built church)

Very few 7th grade children going to Secondary School (what we call high school)

Girls failing to pass the 7th grade exams at more than 10% short-fall compared to boys

And many many additional challenges – this list honestly just scratches the surface.

Why Do Good Intentioned Donors Do Harm?

The short answer is – yes – of course donors can cause harm by creating programs that bake in dependency and obliterate self reliance. Bad medicine. Good intentioned people can do TOO MUCH and therefore dis-empower local moms, dads, teachers, and community leaders – the people who are actually responsible for the situation.

We’ve struggled with this over the years as we’ve worked in Ngombe – always trying our best to NOT be the problem solver, money giver, (hero of our own story). That is not a good long-term solution. That’s wasting the most valuable of all human resources – people’s ability to overcome their own problems. We want the moms, dads, and teachers of Ngombe to be the hero of the story.

Turning Your Abundance Into A Weapon  

When you stand in a urban slum in Africa, or a very rural village far away from any town, you understand that the people don’t have much (compared to what you are used to). And you realize that you have a lot by comparison – and your community of friends and family back home has TONS of financial capacity by comparison. Surplus resources that could solve a lot of problems – it’s easy to see a simple solution. You give – they get.

The first response is to simply give – give – give. Give to solve the problems. What’s wrong with that? Jesus said to give. You give out of your surplus capacity (of time, money, fabric, sewing ability, health supplies, food, vehicles, clothing, etc.) … giving to people who don’t have any of it. They are (of course) grateful.

Many charities work to make this a pinnacle of achievement – an emotion provoking feel good moment where we all rejoice together at “what God has done.” How much can you give? Can we give more? Can we give millions? Can we give billions? Shouldn’t we?

Of course – when we do that we are managing our resources out of our surplus to solve their problem because they don’t have any resources. But the real compassionate / caring / loving question is,

How Could The Moms and Dads Of The Slum Get To A Point Where

They Can Manage To Solve The Problems On Their Own Out Of Their Own Capacity?

And … is there anything we can do that would help make that happen – without destroying their self-reliance?

These are the questions we obsess over at Sew Powerful. They haunt us. It’s a much harder set of questions to answer. It means that you have to set aside the quick and easy knee-jerk response that says,

“Well, I’ll just give you what you need today –

and maybe get you therapy later to deal with your self-reliance issues.”

But the self-reliance issue never gets dealt with.

Mainly because the Americans don’t even know what they are doing. Plus, they get so good at setting up a capacity pipeline that they (we) hire the Africans to simply manage the abundance of the flood of giving. A charity industry is born. The Africans have jobs and a better standard of living. They work for the charity.

But that is NOT the same as truly creating real capacity within the community.

At Sew Powerful we truly believe that clothing children, and providing girls health supplies (and training) is a problem best solved locally – by the moms and dads of the community – out of their own financial capacity. Our job is to help them put together a system that generates real resources – that they keep – so they have real SURPLUS capacity.

Creating True Capacity & Abundance

Sorry if I sound like a raging capitalist, (I am an entrepreneur after all), but I don’t know of any other method for creating true financial (and time and resource) capacity in a local community than by moms and dads making money in legitimate ways and accumulating assets that they manage. Moms and Dads having real jobs.

Creating a money making venture anywhere is hard. Doing it in an urban slum is crazy hard. But as long as the moms want to keep working and learning (and trust me they do) we will keep helping them figure it out.

At Sew Powerful we have two things happening at the same time:

  1. A Sewing Cooperative in Ngombe (the worst slum in Lusaka) where seamstresses create school uniforms (that the parents pay for) and feminine hygiene supplies (that go in the purses that the donors provide). The seamstresses are paid for their work – giving them a real income – and the dignity of knowing that they are making an impact on their community. This is our CORE activity. It’s hard work.
  2. Donors from around the world create purses that are delivered to the Ngombe Sewing Cooperative. This is partly an awareness / fundraising strategy (let’s be honest) and partly a way to help support and encourage the Ngombe Sewing Cooperative. It is also VERY helpful because the fabric (and time) our world-wide group of seamstresses have to contribute to the project is amazing. Of course we also need financial support. We need YOU and your abundance (and generosity) if this crazy 2-part model is going to work. We also need to encourage and support the Sewing Cooperative by involving you in the effort.

Achieving Real Capacity Milestones

In my last post I mentioned that the largest charity in Zambia was eager to sign a 4-year MOU (Memorandum Of Understanding) with Sew Powerful to distribute purses and feminine hygiene supplies to girls in need because the product was coming FROM Ngombe.

They had NEVER heard of donations coming OUT of Ngombe – and they wanted to learn more. Even after several conversations they still thought we going to somehow ask THEM to give us something. When we explained WE where going to give THEM something (of value) they were shocked! Imagine…

A tiny little sewing cooperative in the worst slum in Zambia giving over $30,000 worth of purses and feminine hygiene supplies to the largest charity in the country for use that their program sites. Imagine their shock!


But this isn’t the only capacity milestone we’ve achieved together. Before this large milestone, we also…

#1 – Created school uniforms for over 1,200 current students and well over 2,000 students in total.

#2 – Provided 500 purses and feminine hygiene supplies to the girls of the Needs Care school.

#3 – Regularly distributed clothing to rural schools (Susu Village).

If you’re still reading this then you are a TRUE saint – amazing partner – and friend. We are so incredibly blessed and honored to work with each of you. We are making a difference together. Learning how to serve – and doing our best to effectively use the resources we’ve been given.


Jason, Cinnamon, Esther & the entire board of Sew Powerful

October Update From Esther

Hi everyone,

I think you’ll love seeing this update from Esther about the recent fundraising campaigns you helped us achieve. Of course – we are always in need of more funding for the ongoing support of the program. If you’d like to give a general gift be sure to visit our giving page.

If you want to see how we use these funds (and how we achieve near zero overhead) read our Financial Accountability & Trust Information.

151005 update

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Special Update From Esther

Hi friends,

Yesterday I received this special update from Esther. I’d love to have you join us in funding these two special projects. The first project is going to take an ongoing monthly budget increase which we think is possible with your help – If you’re interested in donating – simply give a gift of any amount via paypal here. In case you’re curious the second project – the rebar project is estimated to be about $700 and we’ve already received several gifts. So I think if we all work together we can make that happen for her.

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Here are a few pictures we received with the update:


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Delivering Purposeful Products In Zambia

The 2014 Sew Powerful Purse Impact Report

Earlier this week we returned from Zambia. In this post I’ll give a recap of the trip and then share our lessons and insights related to the Sew Powerful Purse program.

Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 7.58.54 AM[Note: I’m pretty sure this post is going to trigger all kinds of Google Search Algorithm flags and probably get this website black listed in some Googlebot-type-of-way for questionable content because of the nature of the keywords and topics used in this post. So I’ll try to be somewhat vague with my wording.]

Purpose: The purpose of the trip was to have our U.S. team of professional seamstresses work with the Zambian team of seamstresses to do skills training and knowledge transfer. Almost the entire week was spent on the topic of re-usable feminine hygiene pads, which is a key part of our Sew Powerful Purse program. In the International Relief and Development industry, (aka World Health Organization type people), this topic is called MHM, (Menstruation Hygiene Management). You can read about how the Gates Foundation is looking into this topic here. More on that topic momentarily, but first here is a brief recap of the trip.


Trip Summary: Just so you understand how we organized our time, here are the major activities of the trip day-by-day.

Monday, (first full day): Monday was packed! We…

1. Were greeted by the 1,200 students at the Needs Care School. This is in Ngombe the poorest community in Lusaka. They sang for us and welcomed us. They even had songs about Sew Powerful. It was incredible!

2. We watched as the children were fed lunch and we learned how it is prepared, (it is commonly their only meal of the day). This is basicly one 50KG (very large) bag of commercial grade porridge that costs the school roughly $45 a day. That is all they can afford to provide and the situation is desperate because half (yes, this is a documented fact for that community) of the children are HIV+ and need a reasonable amount of food to maintain their general health while on Anti-Retroviral Therapy medication, (pills which they get from a local government clinic).

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3. We also met and spent time with the new sewing students who are participating in the current 6-month sewing training program as well as the on-going sewing team and staff, (more on the team structure in another post).

4. In the afternoon we also visited the World Vision Zambia warehouse and picked up the 475 purses that had been shipped (starting in January) via World Vision United States, (our formal partner in this program). We also brought more than 25 with us so we had just over 500 to use in the program.

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5. While we were at the Warehouse we saw several pallets of XXXL sized clothing that is going to be given to the Sew Powerful program so we can cut it down to children sizes and use it in support of our educational goals. See how we upcycle large items here.

6. We were also given 3 new Babylock Sewing Machines via World Vision (that was a huge surprise gift and very valuable). Thanks Baby Lock and World Vision!

Tuesday, (first full skills training day). We…

1. Discussed the Sew Powerful Purse program and the re-usable feminine hygiene pads with the sewing cooperative participants.

2. Cinnamon, Melinda, and Karen, (our professional seamstresses), showed the Zambian seamstresses how to cut and sew the re-usable pad items and they began making them. Of course when it came time to explain the entire program and how the products were intended to be used, (after a little awkward laughter), the women in the group were ecstatic! They laughed, they literally cheered, they were super eager to start making these items for their community.

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3. We also went shopping in the Lusaka garment district and purchased roughly 80 meters of fabric including a water-proof fabric that is a key component of the product.

4. We also ordered 4 Singer combo electric/treadle sewing machines. These are the machines-of-choice for the seamstresses because they can be used with our without electricity. (We picked them up on Thursday).

Wednesday, (Program Visit To Susu Village). We…

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1. Drove 3+ hours each way to a very rural community called Susu Village. This gave the team a chance to see rural village life, which is very different than the urban (slum) of Ngombe where our program work occurs.

2. We were greeted by the tribal leader and elders from the community. I’ve previously visited this location and feel like I have a good on-going relationship with the tribal leader, (his name is Sandy). His son, (Kenneth), is the school principal.

3. The team learned about the vast wealth, (in one respect), of the rural farmers who are very good at growing all sorts of produce, (watermelon, beans, maize, oranges, cabbage, etc.). They eat well and feed their children a very large meal at the school each day. A shocking difference compared to the school lunch the children at Needs Care receive. I’ve been pondering this difference for a year now and cooked up a plan to address it, (keep reading)…

4. We visited the Susu Village school of 232 students and distributed new dresses, shorts, and shirts to them. (of course these were all made-with-love by the Zambian seamstresses in our program). The fabric used included both “cut down” XXXL sized garments from World Vision as well as on-the-bolt fabric they had donated to the program, (again a huge thank-you to World Vision for that).

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You’d never guess this shirt used to be an XXXL designed for 400+ pound men. The location of the pocket is the only indicator, but the overall fit has been very nicely modified by the Sew Powerful seamstresses. The shirt was gifted to Sew Powerful by World Vision.

5. In the afternoon Esther, (our Zambian Program Director), and I had a meeting with Sandy and Kenneth and presented them with a business proposal, (we explained this was not a “charity” program or offer, this was business). Here is what we proposed: If they were interested, the Sew Powerful seamstresses could make their students beautiful school uniforms each year, (which is a custom in Zambia), in exchange for an equal value of farm fresh produce for the Needs Care School. Sandy responded by saying, “we’ve been praying about how to get uniforms for the children”. After a period of questions-and-answers on both sides we agreed that it was something that may very well work-out. Sandy agreed to present it to the village leaders and school parents. This could be a massive win-win, providing his school children with legitimacy of uniforms and the Needs Care school with much needed ongoing food.  (side note, I’ve calculated the cost of this proposal and committed to help the seamstresses cover the cost of the uniform material and transportation to the village as well as produce transportation costs).

Thursday, (second full skills-training day). We…

1. Worked with the seamstresses to finalize the Sew Powerful Purse content and prepare for the 1st “Health Class” which is where the purses would be given to girls from the school.

2. We also “gifted” one of the completed purses to each seamstress. They were thrilled!

3. We picked up the 4 Singer Combo machines and had them set-up.

4. Cinnamon, Melinda, and Karen showed the seamstresses how to make a simple clutch purse as an alternative to the American made purses. This was done so that the clutch purses (and re-usable hygiene pads) could be sold locally to aunties, sisters, and other ladies in the community. The nice part is the heavy fabric used was donated by World Vision and originally intended for upholstry type projects, but worked great for the clutch purses. They had 10 to 12 bolts of the fabric, each with 40+ meters on the bolt, (a massive amount). There was A LOT of energy and enthusiam around this idea because prior to it the sewing cooperative team didn’t know what to do with the fabric.

5. We had a (fairly long) group conversation with the seamstresses about the program, the value of the product to the community, the necessary costs and pricing issues, and how the on-going product creation (and selling) could work. This was very cool because they were very opinionated about how the “new product” could be marketed locally. I LOVED this conversation because it felt like were were legitimate product marketers planning a product launch!

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Friday, (the final full skills-training day). We…

1. (actually I) met with a local pastor (Bishop Banda) of a mega church and discussed the Sew Powerful Purse program and MHM topic. He was previously on the Board of World Vision Zambia for 9 years. He was very excited to bring his wife to visit the program and discuss how they might become a customer – using the program in two of their schools. He is the Presbyter overseeing 4,000 Assembly Of God churches in Southern Africa and (amazingly) also a Northwest University grad. So we might have a great opportunity to serve a bigger audience.

2. Assembled 60+ purses with the product for an afternoon health class that had been organized.

3. We also did skills transfer for a re-usable baby diaper product. While potentially valuable, the diaper product is probably less vital since there are somewhat good alternatives already provided at very low cost in the community.

4. The afternoon health class was a huge success. The girls were ecstatic, incredibly grateful, enggaged in the topic, and excited about it all. They literally danced in the parking lot of the school for half an hour after the class was over, (it was incredibly cool)!

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Saturday, (our debriefing day). We relaxed and discussed the entire program at-length at a regional Safari lodge.

Sunday, (our tourist market day). We visited the tourist market and had fun.

Monday, (our last half day with the seamstresses). We spent time with the seamstresses and had an extended goodbye conversation.


Major Lessons Learned: We learned a lot on this trip about the reality of doing the Sew Powerful Purse program, the dynamics of the local economy, the topic of Menstruation Hygiene Management (MHM) and current products available, the needs of the children at the school and the reality of trying to launch a product in a foreign context. Including,

Understanding The Current Product: As a product marketer I was curious what our new re-usable pad product was competing against. I never imagined I’d learn so much about personal care products. There are basicly two commonly used personal care items for women in Zambia.

  • Disposables: One option (which none of the poor use) is disposable product just like women use in the western world. The problem is, this is a very expensive solution, unavailable in their community, and in the urban slum location, even if they could use this product, with no garbage service these products would create an ecological nightmare. This is really only an option for the urban middle and upper class.
  • Poorly Designed Re-usables: There is a current “method” (I won’t go into detail) the poor women use. What is very interesting is the older (American) ladies on our trip said it was “the common method” used in the United States 40 to 50 years ago, before the invention of disposable products. The reason the current method is poorly serving these women and girls is that it cannot be trusted to not leak and cause social embarrassment. This causes most girls that use this method to stay home from school during their period.

The Value Of The New Re-Usable Pad (MHM) Product: We aren’t claiming to be experts on the topic of MHM. We learned what we are doing from Days For Girls, (they are great, and have a different delivery model than we do). However, our team is expert at sewing and product marketing with deep design skill including over 25 years of Nordstrom Design and Management expertise. We also design sewing products for women – so we are at least in a good position to learn how to add value in this area. We also have a large group of seamstresses in Ngombe (the poorest slum in Lusaka) that are obviously very knowledgable about the issue and can validate what is fact versus what is fiction.

The Winning Product – Re-usables: In our view – it is obvious – a well designed re-usable pad product, that can be made very inexpensively in-country, then rolled out and explained by trusted local health workers and educators, is the winning product solution. We also believe it should be provided for free to school girls as part of their school supplies, but also made available for very low-cost purchase to others in the community. Until we learn otherwise, we strongly believe that for the urban and rural poor, a good quality, low-cost re-usable pad product is the only viable product. No disposable product solution makes any sense. That is a western convenience product that doesn’t translate into poor communities for several practical reasons including cost, and the fact that in poor (or rural) communities there is no garbage service. Simply “gifting” disposable pads into poor communities won’t solve the sanitation related problems.

Girls In Ngombe Are Missing School Because Of This Issue: We validated the fact in the Ngombe community that girls do commonly stay home when they are on their period, (we watched the hands raised as they answered the questions). Statistically it has been documented that girls in Africa miss about 6 weeks of school each year for this reason. That is a massive systematic dis-advantage over the boys in school. We also have the test results from the Needs Care School to prove that girls do worse than boys on the Secondary School Exams, (yes, we have actually statistical test data). Our plan is to document the test results over the next few years and also track user adoption to statistically prove our product has serious social (and educational) value.

We Need Two Purses For Every Girl: The first comment we heard from our local program staff, after seeing the value of the purses and re-usable pads, was that the moms (or caretakers) of the girls would (without any doubt or hesitation) take these items from the girls so that they could use them for themselves, leaving the girl in the same circumstance as before. So we need a “household” solution. We decided the most practical way to achieve this is to give each girl a purse for themselves and one for their mom or caretaker, which may be an aunt or extended female family member.

Additional Supplies Must Be Provided: We also heard quickly from the Zambians that the girls in Ngombe don’t have more than one pair of underwear. Nor do they have soap for doing laundry at their house, a key part of the re-usable pad method. So we factored into our Sew Powerful Purse program the cost of one bar of laundry soap and two pair of underwear, (all sourced locally). We believe we can cover this cost at-scale for the school program and “build it into” the cost structure of the locally sold product versions.

We Need To Put The Product On-Sale Locally: The first question the girls in the health class asked was, “how much does this cost if my sister or auntie wants to buy it.” Wow, we were shocked! We quickly realized we need a complete solution that can be sold – in addition to the “gifted” items given to the school girls. So we spent several days working out the product costs and have a work-able solution for the local Ngombe community. We believe we can affordably provide a complete solution, including a simple clutch purse made by the seamstresses, that will provide a one-year “solution”. Our new product strategy looks like this:

  • Sew Powerful Purse version: In this version pads and related supplies are included in a beautiful purse made with love by seamstresses in American (and Canada, Australia, England and beyond). This is a “gifted” version that goes to girls as part of health class training. For use beyond the Needs Care School in Ngombe, we will charge our in-country distribution partners a fee to cover the cost of the pads and related supplies, but the purses are a gift.
  • Local version: The local version is identical except that it comes in a locally made clutch purse that is sewn by the seamstresses in Lusaka. This version is designed to be sold to local customers at a price point that they can afford, (very inexpensively), but still covers the cost-of-goods and labor.

This Is Unstoppable And Really Powerful: There are so many “wins” related to this program for us, the seamstresses, and the women and girls in Ngombe, it is incredible. Let me list a few of the exciting aspects:

  1. We are a charity, but at our day jobs, Liberty Jane Clothing, we are product makers and marketers. So this fits within our core competency very well. Truth is, this doesn’t feel very much like charity to us, but of course, it is very charitable. But with our product marketer hats on, our job is to create a superior product – for a very low-cost – at a very large scale – and then work to introduce it into the community for broad adoption. This is in our wheel-house – we can do this work professionally and it feels like a reasonably good part of our core mission.
  2. This product gives the seamstresses in our program good solid work. We are paying them one U.S. dollar for each completed product. Almost all of them live on less than $200 USD per month, so this program can increase their household income by 33% per month, or more. That is a serious benefit to them personally.
  3. The product has real health and educational benefits for the poorest girls and women in the world.
  4. We can do this at-scale. This year we served 250 girls and their moms (or guardians) in Ngombe Compound (Lusaka Zambia). Call it our “proof of concept” year. Next year that number will most likely double and reach a much bigger target market. We have no doubt we will make this work at a large scale. We are well on our way! We have the capacity to provide the purses and the re-usable pad products for years to come. We are building the relationships to expand this program to cover all of Zambia.
  5. The Sew Powerful Purse program, (Americans and other western seamstresses making purses for the girls), is a very nice part of the program. The western seamstresses get to learn about the program, use their extra fabric, as well as skill, to make very nice gifts for girls. The girls in the health class really appreciated the purses being made by someone who “cared” and took the time to include very encouraging note cards. Delivering them to Zambia via World Vision was (almost) cost-free. We believe this could be our signature donor engagement strategy for years-to-come.

I realize there are probably two or three people that will read this entire post, but I felt like it was important for us to document our work and explain the program completely. Feel free to contact us via the contact form if you have questions, or leave them in the comment field below.