Filipa Carreira is a lifelong research aficionado who believes in the power of using facts and figures to effect change.
She has channeled that passion, and years of experience collecting data, into FC Consulting, the Maputo, Mozambique, firm Carreira launched in 2014 to provide local non-governmental organizations, United Nations agencies and others with market research and risk analysis.
And she used it for new purpose in 2016, when she started Wamina, an FC Consulting nonprofit project that provides girls and women in Mozambique with low-cost, reusable sanitary pads, and teaches menstrual health and hygiene.
Affordable menstrual pads and sanitary disposal methods are hard to come by in rural Mozambique, a reality that undermines not only the physical health of girls and women there, but frequently cuts short their education. A 2014 report from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization finds that one in 10 girls in Sub-Saharan Africa misses school when she get her period, leading many to drop out completely.
Carreira aims to change that through Wamina. She and her two employees, two interns and 20 volunteers visit villages near Maputo to distribute pads and host workshops. Since late 2016, they have given out roughly 3,000 reusable pads and held 10 workshops.
The commitment the Wamina team has shown has inspired girls and women to trust and confide in them, creating a safe space they never had before, Carreira says. Indeed, while her methods may be driven by facts, what Carreira is doing is heartfelt. “They realize that we are not just talking, but that we care and are creating a safe space.”
A Passion for Turning Research into Solutions
The data-driven business owner was born and raised in Mozambique, then went to school in South Africa and England before taking on a variety of research internships around the globe after finishing her education in 2011. Her travels eventually led her to realize that her career at the time was not an good fit — she wanted more control over the focus of her research projects.
Seeking numbers-focused opportunities that tackled social issues, she returned to Mozambique and started FC Consulting. It’s a small firm — on average, FC Consulting works with about five clients per year, and annual revenues fall below $25,000 (USD). But growth is happening; in 2016, she secured nine contracts, and she continues to push for more.
It was through that work that Carreira became intimately aware of what she referred to as the “menstrual hygiene situation” in her home country.
“I didn’t have anywhere to dispose of my own pads when I was in the field,” she recalls. “That’s how I started thinking about it. If I couldn’t find anywhere to put them, how do people do this everyday in these places?”
Carriera decided to do what she does best: She conducted self-funded research into the lack of accesses to menstrual aids or sanitary disposal methods. She found that girls would often miss school during their periods due to a combination of not having menstrual products to use, not receiving information about menstrual hygiene, and schools lacking even rudimentary private places to change and dispose of used pads.
[Related: See the full list of the women entrepreneurs on The Passionate & Purposeful list]
Carreira spoke at length with locals while studying this problem. “I got to hear every girl’s story and experience regarding the topic. That is how we identified that menstrual hygiene management is a challenge for most girls,” she says.
She also took business courses and put together a formal plan to tackle the problem. And in October of 2016, she took part in — and won — a pitch competition hosted by a local entrepreneurs’ network called The Hookup Dinner, which allowed her to promote Wamina’s mission to a whole new audience.
A Purpose in Caring for — and Empowering — Women
Wamina’s approach involves finding donors who buy and donate reusable sanitary pads to orphanages and other local facilities. When FC Consulting staffers and volunteers distribute those pads, they also lead workshops in villages, schools and local businesses on menstrual hygiene and general sexual health.
The education component is crucial, Carreira says. “Girls don’t have all of the information about their period, especially if they don’t have their period yet,” she explains. “Some girls think they’re going to die when they get their first period. It’s a scary thing — something new is happening to your body.”
Having a period is considered unclean in some cultures, reports have shown, and depending on the region, girls may be shunned during this time. So Carreira and her team focus on boosting girls’ self-esteem when holding workshops. “By instilling a little seed of self-worth, we are already making a bit of difference in their brains — they will know they have choices,” she says.
Carreira says leading workshops is one of her favorite parts of Wamina’s work — that, “and interacting with the public and seeing their reactions to what we do. It’s inspiring, and makes us want to carry on.”
The combined access to pads and budding sense of independence also leads to empowerment, since local women will sometimes take up sexual relationships with men who provide them with menstrual and other necessities. “If we are able to get the pads to these girls, we’re reducing their vulnerability,” she explains, “not only to more obvious things, like [urinary tract infections], but social vulnerability, too.”
Going forward, Carreira has big dreams for both of her ventures. She plans to expand Wamina’s outreach efforts, particularly online, and wants to provide additional resources to women, such as nets to protect infants from mosquitos and curb the spread of malaria. She also plans to increase FC Consulting’s local engagements on a range of social issues, in particular gender equality.
And though she has bootstrapped her entrepreneurial efforts thus far, she plans to pursue investors, so she can help as many people as possible. After all, she says, “information is important, but what we do with it is what I think matters the most.”
Why should we include you on The Passionate & Purposeful?
Wamina is a pioneer in the distribution of reusable menstrual pads in Mozambique. Through this project we are proving that young people are not lazy and care about each other, as everyone on the team is under 30. Many people do not believe in the importance of data collection or research. Many believe that social research does not have a real impact in the lives of people. Wamina is an example of the importance of research and its applicability in overcoming real life challenges.