International Women’s Week ft. Hana Osborn, Holly Nissen, Janessa Malcolm, Kate Cameron and Sonika Joshi

The uOttawa Period Project aims to provide sustainable menstrual products on campus for anyone in need. The founders in this group saw a lack of products being offered and took it upon themselves to seek out and implement a viable solution that would provide free sustainable menstrual products on campus.

Fighting “period poverty” within the uOttawa community was an important issue. Connecting with like-minded individuals who shared the same drive for success, encouraged these women to come together as a team and push the limits of the university by highlighting the importance of providing free menstrual products on campus.

Partnering with Aunt Flow, a women-led business, the Period Project Team has witnessed first-hand the massive change that women can make within their own communities. Resilience, dedication, and community education were fundamental stepping-stones the group navigated throughout the project.

In the face of the pandemic, new challenges have arisen, and resilience has been essential for the success of many companies. How did you embrace resiliency, in order to survive and thrive amidst the pandemic?

Our group started this project in the middle of the pandemic and our biggest concern was being able to conduct research that would efficiently assess the concerns and issues that plagued the menstruating population on this campus. Thankfully, we live in the prime era of social media and decided to use that to our advantage. We conducted surveys that were shared on all our social media, cold-called various outside experts and set up Zoom meetings, and even set up our own Instagram to create a central community for our initiative.

Being an entrepreneur is a challenge and being a woman-identifying entrepreneur is another challenge in itself. Has there been a time when being a woman pursuing entrepreneurship created additional obstacles? If so, how did you overcome these challenges?

Often times when women and other marginalized groups advocate for essential rights, they are ignored until the worst happens. When we decided to pursue this project as more than a class assignment, we were definitely nervous about the response from our Faculty. We were informed that the menstrual products that were originally put into washrooms were removed because they were not deemed essential in the university budget. It seems ridiculous, but we needed to create a project that would convince the University of Ottawa of the gravity of their decision; we needed to convince the University that menstrual products that were free and easily accessible were important to the health and support of the student body.

We overcame this through community support, by reaching out to groups and other external experts that we thought would be interested in being a part of this project and they were! In fact, we found out that the Women’s Resource Centre had been pursuing the same initiative for a few years! We would not have known this if we had not made the effort to reach out.

We ended up partnering with the WRC, the Student Union, and the Sustainability Office which gave us a bigger community and more shared resources. With all the combined expertise, we were able to get a meeting with the University’s administration and launch a pilot project. Although we had to compromise slightly, we have already made a significant difference that only stands to continue and grow.

Did anyone that inspire you in or during your pursuit of entrepreneurship? Subsequently, what inspired the idea for your business/organization?

We were inspired by our own experiences on campus concerning the lack of product accessibility originally available to students on campus. Through our initial survey we were also able to receive the unfiltered opinions of students about this issue. We received an overwhelming response from the student body with similar stories about needing menstrual products that were never to be found and the difficult ways they needed to cope; this inspired us further and gave us something to work towards.

The biggest thing we noticed was that the menstrual products that were available on campus were sold in a pharmacy in a corner of campus that hardly anyone knew about; this gave us a direction for our innovation. Our initial idea was to install beautifully designed vending machines around campus that contained various sustainable reusable and non-reusable menstrual products, but then we thought about the additional maintenance and funding it would take to have these machines, not to mention, not everyone who menstruates is comfortable with obtaining these products so publicly.

This led us to the idea we have in place now of simply evolving the in-washroom menstrual product dispensers.

We love having strong representation of women identifying leaders in the entrepreneurial community, is there anything you wish to tell the next generation of aspiring women entrepreneurs?

As cheesy as it may sound, you just need to start! If you have an idea, flush it out, do the research, figure out what resources are available to you, and start! The most important thing we can recommend is, talk to your community!

Find people or organizations that work in the realm of what you are planning and reach out to them. You never know who might have a similar idea or have advice that can get you further. Whether or not your project takes flight is irrespective of you trying; Rodin once said, “Nothing is a waste of time if you use the experience wisely.” Apathy will be your biggest mistake.

Our world moves forward by people trying and failing and then trying and succeeding, but standing still and staying silent does nothing for anyone, and who knows…you might inspire others just by trying.

*This feature was published in honour of the International Women’s Week, 2022.



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