Empowering Women and Girls Through Eco-friendly Sanitary Products
Athena was established to reduce menstrual poverty and end the taboo surrounding menstruation through education and outreach.
Since 2015, Athena emphasized an inspiring and healthy lifestyle. The three founders promote social awareness and sustainability, and encourage women to be comfortable in their own skin. They aspire to grow a thriving community where women can be themselves confidently.
“We started with manufacturing and distributing eco-friendly sanitary products. We have since expanded our product range from reusable pads to include reusable diapers for children and adults. We even have a cloth nursing pad. Our products are an effective solution for personal care that is environmentally friendly,” said Athena co-founder Fazlina Ahmad Fuad.
Athena carries the meaning of ‘wise’ and embodies strength. The founders believe that those with wisdom and willpower to switch to a better choice, creating impact for themselves and the universe, are the real champions.
“When I started out with Athena, my daughter had just gotten her period. She became my test case. I’m proud that she fully switched to reusable pads,” said Fazlina.
Athena conducts three programmes - Athena Empowers, Athena Reach and Athena Engage.
Athena Empowers is designed for youth aged between 13 and 17 years old. It is the age when girls have just gotten their period. The programme aims to educate the girls to raise awareness that they have a choice and they can be change makers.
“Currently, single-use sanitary products are adding to the trash filling up landfills, and we aim to change that. We want to create a positive impact to help the environment by reducing trash that is going into the landfills. Our reusable pads can be used for up to five years,” explained Fazlina.
Meanwhile, Athena Reach incorporates business elements into the programme by providing education on entrepreneurship and offering beneficiaries the opportunity to sell Athena’s products both online and offline. The objective is to empower beneficiaries to be financially independent.
“We have a beneficiary orang asli community in Gombak. In our training for the community, we taught them how to keep records and do proper bookkeeping, which are important when entrepreneurs want to apply for financing. We even taught our beneficiaries how to apply to the registrar of companies to set up a company,” said Fazlina.
“Communities that are our beneficiaries can sell their own products besides Athena’s products. For example, the Semelai orang asli community in Negeri Sembilan sells bamboo straws they produce themselves to restaurants. Athena collaborates with another social enterprise for outreach work with the Semelai tribe there,” she added.
The third programme offered is Athena Engage, which was created fairly recently during the first Movement Control Order (MCO 1.0) in 2020 as a form of outreach. Talks were conducted via Zoom as part of the engagement programme.
“We used to meet customers at our physical booths, but because the booths were closed during MCO 1.0, we had to find another way to engage with them. When we organised talks, we would announce them in our social media and website,” explained Fazlina.
In addition, Athena is a part of the Pemangkin Usahawan Sosial Hebat (PUSH) programme, and supported by the Economic Planning Unit (EPU), the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MOSTI) and the Malaysian Global Innovation and Creativity Centre (MaGIC). PUSH is a scale-up programme with an ambition to grow social enterprises and increase their social impact through a personalised capacity building and skills development training.
“We are thankful to MaGIC for providing us with seed funding of RM30,000 during the SE Cohort 1 Programme. After that, PUSH helped us to scale up in the growth stage of our business,” said Fazlina.
In 2020 and beyond, Athena hopes to explore the global market, but this expansion plan is on hold for now due to the pandemic. However, the team is looking forward to Expo 2020 Dubai, which was postponed from last year. This expo will be the first event Athena will be attending outside Malaysia.
“The overseas market is already open to reusable products such as reusable pads. Locally, the market penetration in Malaysia is about 10-15% now. There’s still a long way to go to educate the public and raise awareness about the benefits of reusable sanitary products here,” said Fazlina.
How You Can Provide Support
Athena would like to thank all its sponsors and supporters since the social enterprise began its journey in 2015. First and foremost, Athena appreciates the invaluable support provided by the Selangor State Government. In addition, Air Asia Foundation (Sabah) has enabled Athena to reach out to the Sabah community, while the Melaka State Government connected Athena with beneficiary communities in the state and provided support in terms of sponsorship.
Besides that, Athena received support from the Ministry of Youth and Sports, which is making it possible for Athena to attend Expo 2020 Dubai. Currently, Athena’s biggest collaborator in 2020 is Yayasan Hartalega.
Moving forward, Athena would like to invite more state governments, agencies and corporates to collaborate with them and be their champions to support the orang asli and B40 communities.
“We recognise the importance in forging key partnerships and close collaborations with various government agencies. We also look forward to establishing more strategic alliances with corporates, NGOs and other social enterprises,” said Fazlina.
To find out more, visit athenaempowers.com and www.facebook.com/athenaempowers