Next week, on March 9 and 10, women from around the world will gather in Toronto for the first-ever SheEO Global Summit. SheEO is an organization that funds and supports women-led companies creating a better world. The model brings together 500 women, called Activators, who each contribute $1100 to a fund that is loaned out at zero percent interest to innovative ventures, selected by the Activators.
The global summit’s theme is reorganize.world. The idea is that “collectively, we have everything we need” — the global social impact community already has the resources we need to tackle the world’s most pressing problems. What we need to do now is reorganize the systems and structures that are limiting progress.
A big part of this, and one of the SheEO Global Summit’s four focus areas, is shifting mindsets. Summit-goers can expect to learn how to build resilience in their own work, and how to adapt to the ever-changing world of social impact.
Many of the ventures SheEO funds and supports also shift global mindsets through the work they do. We sat down with two founders whose companies are Canadian Venture semi-finalists for this year’s SheEO funding — the new cohort of ventures selected by Activators will be announced at the summit — to talk about creating products and services that change the way we collectively think.
Leisa Hirtz | Founder, BFree Cup
Leisa Hirtz is the founder of Women’s Global Health Innovations, a research and product development company that focuses on ending the stigma around menstruation. One of the ways they do this is through making and distributing the BFree Cup, a reusable menstrual cup made of medical grade, antibacterial silicone, making it different from others on the market in that it doesn’t need to be sterilized in boiling water. It’s also free from dyes and potentially harmful chemicals.
A big part of getting the reusable BFree cup into the hands of people who could benefit most from it — those who can’t afford to buy new menstrual products each month — means destigmatizing menstruation in general, in order to make a new type of product more accessible. “We are working to change the mindset that menstruation is a curse, that it is dirty, should be hidden away and concealed,” says Hirtz. “Menstruation is a healthy part of the reproductive system. To menstruate is a sign of health. It is not something to be ashamed of.”
Through the BFree Cup, Hirtz and her organization are working to fight period poverty, which is present in communities where there is a “lack of access to menstrual health products that results in missed school, work and daily activities, contributing to a lower quality of life and perpetuating gender inequality,” according to the organization.
Hirtz is optimistic that the future of the menstrual products industry will also be safer for users and friendlier to the planet. Consumers are beginning to question the potentially unhealthy ingredients in menstrual products, and become more aware of the impact that waste generated by single-use tampons and pads has on the planet. “New adopters of our Bfree Cup, and menstrual cups in general, are occurring daily,” Hirtz says. “The transformation has begun.”
Jad Robitaille | Founder, Mini-Cycle
Jad Robitaille is working to shift the way we think about a particularly wasteful industry: kids’ clothing. She’s the founder of Mini-Cycle, a platform where parents can buy kids clothes on a circular economy model — that means Mini-Cycle offers new or used kids’ clothes, with a guaranteed option to have the company buy back the clothes once the customer’s child grows out of them, and resell them to other customers. Any new clothing Mini-Cycle sells is high-quality and durable, with the goal being to resell each item between four and five times.
Robitaille founded Mini-Cycle after a search for higher-quality, ethically produced second-hand clothes, for which she’d be willing to pay in the range of $20 to $30 per item, for her two kids wasn’t turning up much. She says that’s because of the way we collectively think about the industry.
“In people’s minds, because their kids grow up so quickly, they don’t want to spend a lot of money. For them, kids’ clothes should be disposable. They will rip them, they will stain them, they will lose them, and they grow out of them so quickly,” she says. “So what happens is that people pay very cheaply for pieces of clothes that won’t last, that are not good candidates for hand-me-downs and that have destroyed the environment in making them.” Robitaille says her work is to bring attention to the end of a piece of clothing’s life cycle — something the average consumer doesn’t consider when they buy a new item — and provide a solution that recovers some of the costs for her customer.
But the responsibility shouldn’t fall solely on the consumer, Robitaille says. She hopes Mini-Cycle sets an example that ushers in a new mindset among companies that sell kids’ clothing, too. “Raw materials will just keep increasing in cost, so there’s also a business model [advantage] to a circular model,” she says. She’s hopeful for the future of her industry: “There’s no way we can keep consuming the way we’re doing… even the big brand names will have to adapt.”
BFree Cup, Mini-Cycle, and more companies shifting global mindsets will be at the first-ever SheEO Global Summit. Learn more and get your ticket here.