Kaleab Getaneh

Insights from our partner companies

“Invest for Jobs allowed us to
reach more women and girls”

Interview with Kaleab Getaneh Zewelde, co-founder and CEO of the Ethiopian start-up Mela for Her

Kaleab Getaneh Zewelde (42) is a water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) expert with over 20 years of experience in the field. He co-founded the social enterprise Mela for Her, which produces eco-friendly sanitary pads in Ethiopia. Mela (መላ) in Amharic means ‘solution’. The company based in Addis Ababa is mostly female-led. All the advisory board members and co-founders are women. Mela aims to bring effective menstrual solutions to Ethiopian girls and women by using a comprehensive approach to fight period poverty through product manufacturing, education and awareness-raising, research and advocacy. In our interview, Getaneh talks about the challenges he has overcome with the help of Invest for Jobs, and why a lack of sanitary pads can seriously affect women’s participation in social and economic activities.

1. Why did you choose to work with Invest for Jobs?

When we heard about Invest for Jobs, the global and national contexts were uncertain, and we were in a difficult position to implement our business plan. We established the company in 2020, in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, when the economy was slowing down and there were limited financing opportunities. While many companies were shutting down and reducing employee numbers, we were looking to expand our company to meet the huge needs of the 25 million women and girls who do not have access to menstrual products in Ethiopia – and periods do not stop for pandemics. Invest for Jobs helped us to be more ambitious with our expansion plan, while creating more green, decent jobs for women in the menstrual hygiene sector.

2. How did the cooperation support the growth of your business?

At the beginning, we only had a small workshop, and our staff lacked proper training. Through Invest for Jobs, the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH brought in experts to train our staff to introduce a proper quality management system as part of the Alliance for Product Quality in Africa – where they partner with institutions with expertise in the field of quality infrastructure such as the German National Metrology Institute (PTB). That way, we will be able to meet the relevant ISO and national standards for all our products very soon. This training alone is extremely valuable, as it would be unaffordable for a small company like ours. In addition, with support from Invest for Jobs, we grew faster by outsourcing part of our production, which gives us more flexibility to manage variable demands. We were also able to train more staff and create more green jobs at our partner enterprises. Together with Invest for Jobs, we aim to create 130 green jobs in our company and with the outsourcing parties.

In 2022, we multiplied our monthly production by a factor of seven. In five years, we aim to produce one million reusable sanitary pads per month and export to other neighbouring countries like South Sudan, Somalia, and Sudan. Our brand is also becoming popular in many parts of Ethiopia, which is a great success given the fact that Mela for Her was only created in 2020.

3. What challenges do you see in Ethiopia regarding menstrual hygiene?

In Ethiopia, only 25 per cent of women and girls have access to menstrual hygiene products. In rural areas – and we should not forget that more than 80 per cent of the population lives in rural areas – access is even lower. Moreover, according to some studies, around half of adolescent girls have never received information on menstrual hygiene. Since menstruation is taboo, girls often get teased at school by their male classmates. This prevents them from going to school during their period for several days a month, and even some days before since they are not sure when they will get their period. According to our study in the Somali region, 68 per cent of girls miss at least one day of school during their period. This stressful situation has a huge psychological impact on girls. At workplaces, companies also report significant absentees. Besides the social and health risks, women are limited in contributing to the economy and in pursuing their dreams.

Mela for Her
© GIZ // Impression from the practical training

4. How does your work help to overcome these issues?

As a social enterprise, we have a unique product – eco-friendly and affordable sanitary pads – but we also engage in education and advocacy. We believe that an integrated and comprehensive approach is needed to fight period poverty. Our products are nice, discreet and can be washed and used for at least a year and a half; the higher-end pads even last for up to four years. We are also developing new menstrual products from recycled and leftover fabrics that will be on the market very soon. On top of that, we produce educational materials. For example, our product kit contains basic information about menstrual hygiene in five languages and a period calendar. The feedback we have received is that the calendar alone has a huge impact. In other countries, there are apps for this, but many women and girls in rural Ethiopia do not have access to a smartphone, so we opted for a paper-based period tracker.

With support from Invest for Jobs, we are also training female sales agents in menstrual hygiene management and social marketing. When they are made aware of the issue, we give them some seed capital in the form of pads to start their sales businesses so that they can sell our products at grassroots level while educating other women on menstrual hygiene and health.

In addition, we supply our products to many NGOs for humanitarian responses in the country, for example for internally displaced women and girls affected by conflicts and drought.

Mela for Her Production

5. What does your advocacy work look like?

We are members of a national Ministerial Hygiene Management Technical Committee, led by the Ministry of Health, where we try to influence decision-makers. For example, we have been advocating for a tax reduction for menstrual hygiene products, with success. In 2021, the government abolished duties for the raw materials we need and reduced duties on some imported products as well. We are also working on a book that parents can use to start a conversation with their daughters on menstruation, and therefore raise awareness in families and communities while breaking taboos. We want to make menstruation a normal part of life.

6. How do you distribute your products besides at grassroots level?

In the last two or three years, there has been conflict in the northern part of the country, and many people have been displaced. A big part of our production therefore went to aid organisations that provided pads as part of their humanitarian response. But our original focus is to work with several distribution channels, mainly cooperatives, pharmacies, companies with female employees, and potentially kiosks. We are already piloting distribution through two cooperatives, one of them being a women’s cooperative. Moreover, we are cooperating with one of the biggest flower farms in Ethiopia, Sher Ethiopia, which plans to offer our product to their estimated 10,000 female employees at a subsidised price. The farm is interested in cooperating with us as they realise that many workers – most of them are female – are absent or underperforming at work several days a month because of the lack of access to menstrual products. Enabling women to participate in social and economic activities will also have a big impact on the national economy.

7. How do people react when you talk to them about menstrual hygiene as a man?

Some are shocked. When people call us or visit us at our office and meet me, they are surprised and have unexpected reactions. But I have been working in the water and sanitation sector and in the development context for many years, so I know the challenges very well. I am very happy to break taboos and stereotypes and be part of such a wonderful and impactful initiative that is changing so many women’s and girls’ lives. Besides, Mela for Her is mostly run by women. Eighty-five per cent of our staff are women, especially in production and marketing. Also, three of Mela’s co-founders are female and have diverse professional backgrounds, including in fashion design. The high commitment and diverse composition of the team is very important and a key aspect of our success, as everybody brings his or her expertise to Mela.

Mela for Her is supported by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH within the framework of the Special Initiative “Decent Work for a Just Transition” of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).


We are looking forward to hearing from you

Under the Invest for Jobs brand, the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) has put together a package of measures to support German, European and African companies in investment activities that have a high impact on employment in Africa. The Special Initiative "Decent Work for a Just Transition" – the official title – offers comprehensive advice, contacts and financial support to overcome investment barriers. The development objective is to work together with companies to create up to 100,000 good jobs and to improve working conditions and social protection in its African partner countries.

Partner countries: Côte d’Ivoire, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Morocco, Rwanda, Senegal and Tunisia.

Find out more about our services for companies, universities, chambers and associations: https://invest-for-jobs.com/en/offers

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