Young entrepreneur keeps girls in school with cut-price sanitary pads

Barclay Paul Okari, the CEO of Impact Africa Industries. Photo/Courtesy

What you need to know:

  • Barclay Paul Okari starts firm that makes Safi Pads that are affordable to many poor families.

Barclay Paul Okari took up a volunteer teaching job at a school in Narok to give back to the community and boost his CV for career opportunities in future.

Little did he know it would open his eyes to a business opportunity waiting to be exploited. Every day, he would observe girls skip school. He later learnt that they opted to stay home during their monthly periods.

“It astounded me even more when I dug into the statistics of the problem in East Africa. Aside from raising my curiosity, it gave me the idea of offering an affordable solution and making money while at it,” says Mr Okari who holds a Bachelor of Commerce from the University of Nairobi.

In 2011, Impact Africa Industries was born using a loan of Sh100,000 he took from his parents and repaid within six months and part of his savings.

“With the money, I bought very basic equipment and raw materials. I just wanted to show the people around me that it could be done,” he says.

Although he started as a sole proprietor, he brought in other investors afterwards to assist in setting up a manufacturing plant in Kitale and purchase equipment for large-scale production.

At just 22 years, Mr Okari is the CEO of a company that manufactures sanitary towels for the region and is competing for a share of the market with renowned multinationals.

The firm manufactures and distributes affordable, reusable and washable sanitary towels to girls and women in informal settlements. Safi Pads are sold at about half the price of other sanitary pads in the market.

With a staff of 23, including 15 women and eight men, the company is currently distributing to clients in Uganda and South Sudan.

“The market was so thirsty for the Safi Pads that the first batch sold out within a week. I knew at that moment that I had struck it,” says the entrepreneur who likes to keep a low profile.

The sanitary towels are produced in packs of two, four and six with a machine that does not consume a lot of electricity.

So impactful is the company that Mr Okari made a debut entry into this year’s Forbes list of “30 Under 30 Most Promising Young Entrepreneurs in Africa.”
He says he is still trying to wrap his mind around the news which he says got him by surprise.

“I received a call from Mfonobong Nsehe, an editor in Forbes Magazine asking me to verify details about my website, then two days later I saw my name on the list,” he says, adding that being in the list means his business will grow even further.

He draws inspiration from Ghanian-born Fred Swaniker whom he admires for his risk-taking attitude and whom he got to know of through his YouTube videos.

“Let’s say he has been my remote mentor for a long time and has taught me a lot. I was honoured to meet him at the African Leadership Academy which he founded,” says Mr Okari who was a finalist of the Anzisha Fellowship last year.

The Anzisha Prize is the premier award for African entrepreneurs aged 15 to 22 who have developed and implemented innovative business or social ventures.

He is an active participant at the Nairobi hub for World Economic Forum Global Shapers where young entrepreneurs are taught how to grow their influence.

So passionate is he about entrepreneurship that he has written and published a book called Market Place that guides readers on how to transform a business idea into a tangible revenue earner.

For his sanitary pads business, he says his moment of triumph was when he got clearance from the government and took the product to the market.

Registering the company took two long months unlike the case in Rwanda where it would have taken less than a day to clear the process.

Biggest challenge

To date, the biggest challenge to the business has been improving the product to be at par with renowned brands in the market.

“When we started the product was not as good, but we have learnt through our mistakes. We have continued to do more research and reinvest in the product to make it superior,” he says, adding that the company is eyeing the Rwandan market in the near future.

He notes the long term goal for the firm is to have footing in the whole of Africa in order to give girls and women back their dignity. His message to the youth is that they should embrace entrepreneurship and see it as a viable option since it creates monetary value and helps transform the community.

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