Veronica D'Souza

Proving that profits and social impact are not mutually exclusive

While studying International Business & Politics and Sustainable Business at Copenhagen Business School, Veronica D’Souza met two other students who believed in the power of businesses to take on social challenges without sacrificing their own growth. Knowing they wanted to make a difference in the world, the three women worked on developing a business model with a positive correlation between profits and female empowerment.

Veronica is co-founder of Ruby Cup, winner of the 2012 Venture Cup Start Up Competition in Denmark and the Global Social Entrepreneurship Competition at the Forster School of Business in Seattle. Ruby Cup is an affordable menstrual cup (a reusable, environmentally-friendly alternative to pads and tampons) sold in developing markets through local women entrepreneurs, which provides a sustainable solution to the problem of menstrual hygiene and creates local employment. "By selling the product to women in developing countries, instead of donating it to them, we help empower women by giving them the choice as a consumer," says Veronica. "We teach women and girls about reproductive health and menstrual hygiene, and whether they buy Ruby Cup or not, they will be making an informed choice about their own personal hygiene." Ruby Cup is also sold through the company’s website, and the majority of the proceeds are funneled into the training programs that educate Kenyan women about the Ruby Cup and train them to sell it to women and girls in their local community.

A vital aspect of successfully marketing Ruby Cup was the overall design, specifically the packaging. Veronica and her team worked hard to make the product cool and fashionable, as well as exclusive and trustworthy. "We didn’t want women to associate Ruby Cup with the poor woman’s version of expensive, brand-name menstrual products," she says. "You don’t want to feel poor, no matter how poor you are." Furthermore, by creating a product that directly confronts menstruation, Veronica has taken on several issues related to a woman or girl’s inability to properly manage her menstrual cycle. "We want to start the conversation about menstruation," she says. "Women shouldn’t have to stay home from work or from school because they can’t manage their periods." Ruby Cup’s training sessions incorporate education about general hygiene, reproductive health and even gender based violence.

Before co-founding Ruby Cup, Veronica worked at a Danish think tank, where she co-authored A Roadmap to Sustainable Leadership, a manual/navigational tool intended to help businesses effectively incorporate sustainable business practices that will help drive profits. "I’m advocating for a new business paradigm," say Veronica. “Instead of asking, ‘How little damage can my business do?’ let’s ask, 'How much progress can my business help make?' Business can be used to help solve societal issues, not just to minimize the harm." Veronica has presented Ruby Cup as a successful sustainable business model at several social entrepreneurship events.

Having spent two years of high school at United World College Adriatic in Italy, Veronica knew that one of the tensions within human rights is the influence of various and competing societal expectations. During her Humanity in Action Fellowship (United States 2008), Veronica became more aware that solutions require several different interdisciplinary approaches. She believes that Ruby Cup has been so successful because the company chose to focus on the method recommended by the women of Nairobi: women to women sales. While Ruby Cup started in Kenya, Veronica and her team are planning to bring their product to one or two more countries in the near future. As with any new product, especially such an intimate one, Ruby Cup will need the advice of the local women in those communities. "We get emails from potential partners all over the world," says Veronica. "There are definitely partnerships in the making, and we can’t wait to expand our business!"

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"Business can be used to help solve societal issues, not just to minimize the harm."