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So I tried to do a small good thing for my wife. It makes me to stand here, the fame, the money I got out of it. So what I did, I'd gone back to my early marriage days. What you did in the early marriage days, you tried to impress your wife. I did the same. On that occasion, I found my wife carrying something like this. I saw. "What is that?" I asked. My wife replied, "None of your business." Then, being her husband, I ran behind her and saw she had a nasty rag cloth. I don't even use that cloth to clean my two-wheeler. Then I understood this -- adapting that unhygienic method to manage her period days.
Then I immediately asked her, why are you [using] that unhygienic method? She replied, I also know about [sanitary pads], but myself and my sisters, if they start using that, we have to cut our family milk budget. Then I was shocked. What is the connection between using a sanitary pad and a milk budget? And it's called affordability. I tried to impress my new wife by offering her a packet of sanitary pads. I went to a local shop, I tried to buy her a sanitary pad packet. That fellow looks left and right, and spreads a newspaper, rolls it into the newspaper, gives it to me like a banned item, something like that. I don't know why. I did not ask for a condom. Then I took that pad. I want to see that. What is inside it?
The very first time, at the age of 29, that day I am touching the sanitary pad, first ever. I must know: How many of the guys here have touched a sanitary pad? They are not going to touch that, because it's not your matter. Then I thought to myself, white substance, made of cotton -- oh my God, that guy is just using a penny value of raw material -- inside they are selling for pounds, dollars. Why not make a local sanitary pad for my new wife? That's how all this started, but after making a sanitary pad, where can I check it? It's not like I can just check it in the lab. I need a woman volunteer. Where can I get one in India? Even in Bangalore you won't get [one], in India. So only problem: the only available victim is my wife.
Then I made a sanitary pad and handed it to Shanti -- my wife's name is Shanti. "Close your eyes. Whatever I give, it will be not a diamond pendant not a diamond ring, even a chocolate, I will give you a surprise with a lot of tinsel paper rolled up with it. Close your eyes." Because I tried to make it intimate. Because it's an arranged marriage, not a love marriage. (Laughter) So one day she said, openly, I'm not going to support this research. Then other victims, they got into my sisters. But even sisters, wives, they're not ready to support in the research. That's why I am always jealous with the saints in India. They are having a lot of women volunteers around them. Why I am not getting [any]? You know, without them even calling, they'll get a lot of women volunteers. Then I used, tried to use the medical college girls. They also refused. Finally, I decide, use sanitary pad myself. Now I am having a title like the first man to set foot on the moon. Armstrong. Then Tenzing [and] Hillary, in Everest, like that Muruganantham is the first man wore a sanitary pad across the globe.
I wore a sanitary pad. I filled animal blood in a football bottle, I tied it up here, there is a tube going into my panties, while I'm walking, while I'm cycling, I made a press, doses of blood will go there. That makes me bow down to any woman in front of me to give full respect. That five days I'll never forget -- the messy days, the lousy days, that wetness. My God, it's unbelievable.
But here the problem is, one company is making napkin out of cotton. It is working well. But I am also trying to make sanitary pad with the good cotton. It's not working. That makes me to want to refuse to continue this research and research and research. You need first funds. Not only financial crises, but because of the sanitary pad research, I come through all sorts of problems, including a divorce notice from my wife. Why is this? I used medical college girls. She suspects I am using as a trump card to run behind medical college girls. Finally, I came to know it is a special cellulose derived from a pinewood, but even after that, you need a multimillion-dollar plant like this to process that material. Again, a stop-up. Then I spend another four years to create my own machine tools, a simple machine tool like this. In this machine, any rural woman can apply the same raw materials that they are processing in the multinational plant, anyone can make a world-class napkin at your dining hall. That is my invention.
So after that, what I did, usually if anyone got a patent or an invention, immediately you want to make, convert into this. I never did this. I dropped it just like this, because you do this, if anyone runs after money, their life will not [have] any beauty. It is boredom. A lot of people making a lot of money, billion, billions of dollars accumulating. Why are they coming for, finally, for philanthropy? Why the need for accumulating money, then doing philanthropy? What if one decided to start philanthropy from the day one? That's why I am giving this machine only in rural India, for rural women, because in India, [you'll be] surprised, only two percent of women are using sanitary pads. The rest, they're using a rag cloth, a leaf, husk, [saw] dust, everything except sanitary pads. It is the same in the 21st century. That's why I am going to decide to give this machine only for poor women across India. So far, 630 installations happened in 23 states in six other countries.
Now I'm on my seventh year sustaining against multinational, transnational giants -- makes all MBA students a question mark. A school dropout from Coimbatore, how he is able to sustaining? That makes me a visiting professor and guest lecturer in all IIMs. (Applause) Play video one.
(Video) Arunachalam Muruganantham: The thing I saw in my wife's hand, "Why are you using that nasty cloth?" She replied immediately, "I know about napkins, but if I start using napkins, then we have to cut our family milk budget." Why not make myself a low-cost napkin? So I decided I'm going to sell this new machine only for Women Self Help Groups. That is my idea.
AM: And previously, you need a multimillion investment for machine and all. Now, any rural woman can. They are performing puja. (Video): (Singing) You just think, competing giants, even from Harvard, Oxford, is difficult. I make a rural woman to compete with multinationals. I'm sustaining on seventh year. Already 600 installations. What is my mission? I'm going to make India [into] a 100-percent-sanitary-napkin-using country in my lifetime. In this way I'm going to provide not less than a million rural employment that I'm going to create. That's why I'm not running after this bloody money. I'm doing something serious. If you chase a girl, the girl won't like you. Do your job simply, the girl will chase you. Like that, I never chased Mahalakshmi. Mahalakshmi is chasing me, I am keeping in the back pocket. Not in front pocket. I'm a back pocket man. That's all. A school dropout saw your problem in the society of not using sanitary pad. I am becoming a solution provider. I'm very happy. I don't want to make this as a corporate entity. I want to make this as a local sanitary pad movement across the globe. That's why I put all the details on public domain like an open software. Now 110 countries are accessing it. Okay? So I classify the people into three: uneducated, little educated, surplus educated. Little educated, done this. Surplus educated, what are you going to do for the society?
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When he realized his wife had to choose between buying family meals and buying her monthly "supplies," Arunachalam Muruganantham vowed to help her solve the problem of the sanitary pad. His research got very very personal -- and led him to a powerful business model. (Filmed in Bangalore as part of the TED Global Talent Search.)
Arunachalam Muruganantham created a system of simple machines to make modern sanitary napkins -- giving millions of women in his home country and around the world access to hygiene. Full bio »