Women’s issues dominate at the UW’s Global Social Enterprise Competition

Team Ruby Cup

Every year, the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business holds its Global Social Enterprise Competition aimed at inspiring young entrepreneurs to find business solutions for the problems of poor countries.

Last year’s winners were focused on finding a better toilet, an MIT business venture called Sanergy that has since taken off in a big way — mostly in the slums of Kenya.

This year, women’s issues dominated.

This year’s winner of the $12,500 grand prize, awarded by the Seattle International Foundation and Microsoft, was Ruby Cup — an ambitious proposal made by three women from Copenhagen who made a compelling case for addressing the difficulties faced by women in poor communities due to the lack of access to absorbent pads during menstruation.

“Girls in these communities miss 20 percent of school time due to menstruation,” said one of the Danish competitors.

Women in poor communities can’t afford manufactured pads so some resort to using dirty socks or other dangerously unhygienic practices, she said. The Danish trio made the case for Ruby Cup, a relatively cheap and reusable menstrual cup made of silicone rubber, convincing the GSEC judges it could be successfully marketed in poor communities.

Coming in second, winning $10,000 for the technology prize, was SasaAfrica, an MIT-sponsored proposal aimed at connecting local craftspeople with vendors using mobile phones.

Finally, the GSEC global health prize of $5,000 went — perhaps somewhat confusingly, since it appears to have little to do with health — to a Bangladesh company called Greenovation Technologies that makes low-cost housing materials.

There was only one local entrant in the UW student social enterprise competition, called Astraz, which worked with Seattle’s PATH on a device that monitors refrigeration units that transport vaccines. Astraz did not make it to the final round of competition.

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Tom Paulson

Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom[at]humanosphere.org or follow him on Twitter @tompaulson.