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Featured case: Arunachalam Muruganantham, A Social
Entrepreneur Innovating in a Woman’s World

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The case

Who – the protagonist

Arunachalam MurugananthamArunachalam Muruganantham was named one of the ‘100 Most Influential People’ by Time magazine in 2014 – a rare honour. He revolutionised feminine hygiene among rural women in developing countries with the invention of a simple machine to manufacture low-cost sanitary protection. Along the way his wife and mother disowned him and the villagers became convinced that he was possessed by evil and should be chained upside-down to a tree so he could be healed by the local soothsayer.


Arunachalam’s semi-automatic machine produces finished and wrapped sanitary napkins. The main raw materials used include wood fibre, thermo-bonded non-woven, polyethylene (barrier film), release paper, super bond paste & LLDPE 50 GSM to make the packaging material.


Newly married in 1998, and living in a remote Indian village, Arunachalam was shocked to discover that his wife did not buy sanitary protection because if all the family’s women did so they would be ‘unable to afford milk’. Arunachalam came from a family of spinners and decided to come up with an affordable and effective alternative to the expensive items available in the local shop. During the development phase, he even roadtested his products himself with the help of a football bladder filled with goat’s blood which he wore under his clothes.


Women in an Indian villageIn 2009, following years of dogged determination, hard work and setbacks, Arunachalam received the ‘Best Innovation Award’ for his mini sanitary napkin making machine from Smt. Prathiba Patil, the then President of India. By 2014, Arunachalam’s Jayaashree Industries had installed a total of 600 machines across 24 states in India, having successfully created ‘846 local brands surviving against multinational giants’. His invention had created direct employment for more than 17,500 women and helped more than 6.5 million women gain self-empowerment and better health.


As well as across India, Arunachalam’s machines are now being sold in Bangladesh and many African countries.

Key quote

‘My wife gone, my mum gone, ostracised by my village … I was left all alone in life.’ – Arunachalam Muruganantham

What next?

Sanitary productsWhat does the future hold for Arunachalam’s invention? Can he resist the threat of copycat manufacturers? And how can he help extremely poor communities who cannot afford a bank loan to buy one of the machines? He was also actively crusading against government plans to source from multinationals: how can he protect and nurture his socio-economic objectives to empower women by creating employment for them?

Interested in finding out more?

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Arunachalam Muruganantham, A Social Entrepreneur Innovating in a Woman’s World
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Teaching note
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This case came third in the oikos Case Writing Competition 2015 Social Entrepreneurship category.

The author

Doris Rajakumari John

Doris JohnDoris explains why she became so interested in this story and the importance of highlighting the need for goods and services at ‘the bottom end of the pyramid’.

Engaging … and taboo

Women in an Indian village It all started when I saw a TED video on Arunachalam Muruganantham. At Amity Research Centers, we believe that a good case needs to narrate an engaging story ... and hence the choice to write a case on Arunachalam Muruganantham. Also, there was a taboo about the product involved, and it was interesting for me to probe and learn more about how he had tried to address a typically feminine issue and help solve the problem. The social barriers he had to face made it a case fit for social entrepreneurship.

Profits plus social goals

Management students in business schools – the future managers – are usually nestled in their cosy surroundings and often fail to be sensitive to social issues in the society. They also need to understand that there is a segment in society at the bottom of the pyramid which needs goods and services. When marketed efficiently the result is not only profits but also the achievement of social goals.

Indian womanThe main ‘takeaway’ from this case is that it not only explores the bigger picture of helping students understand the tenets of social entrepreneurship, but it also sensitises them to the fact that business skills acquired in the classroom can have a more far-reaching impact.

Wider relevance

Menstruation posterThe issues the case addresses have a much wider relevance, especially in the context of social challenges in the developing and under-developed countries and cultures. Here the rich-poor divide is stark and the ‘haves’ sometimes seem oblivious to the issues of the ‘have-nots.’ The case offers insights for students not only in India, but also for those across the globe to understand social innovations happening in the developing world and expose them to opportunities existing in this area.

Unique challenges

Every social entrepreneur goes through setbacks in their own context. Students need to understand that while the challenges may be unique to each entrepreneur, lessons can be learnt on how they overcame them to reach their social goals in a profitable manner. There is a lot of learning to be gained from this case in terms of the business models adopted and scaling-up issues.

Cases and social entrepreneurship

Cases are one of the best pedagogical tools to teach social entrepreneurship. Each case has a unique story to tell and a lesson to be learnt, cutting across cultures and national boundaries. Learnings in one context have applications to totally different situations, enabling maximum mileage to be drawn from a specific case.

About the author

Doris Rajakumari John is a member of the Research Faculty at Amity Research Centers, Bangalore.
e drjohn@chn.amity.edu


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