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IDS alum finalist in British Council awards

Published on 22 March 2019

IDS and Sussex alum Mamunur Rahman has been announced as a global finalist for the prestigious British Council Alumni Awards in the Entrepreneurial category. The Awards recognise the outstanding achievements of alumni who have used their experience of studying at a UK university to make a positive contribution to their communities, professions and countries.

'Mamunur Rahman with workers in Tongi, Bangladesh'. © Mamunur Rahman
‘Mamunur Rahman with workers in Tongi, Bangladesh’. © Mamunur Rahman

Mamunur completed a Masters degree in Gender and Development taught jointly by IDS and the University of Sussex in 2007. On graduating, Mamunur joined the SME Foundation serving eight million small and medium enterprises (SMEs) directly and indirectly with policy support. Mamunur led the research and policy advocacy team promoting women entrepreneurs in Bangladesh and was instrumental in creating a section on Women Entrepreneurs in the public office.

Supporting women and girls’ economic empowerment through improved sanitation

In 2012, Mamunur worked as a gender auditor for UNFPA. During this role he surveyed 15 garment factories in Bangladesh and identified that lack of access to toilets and sanitary equipment for women workers resulted in two to three days a month missed work, loss of salary and lower productivity.

In response to this, the following year Mamunur began a research and development process which led to the ‘Ella Pad’; a low-cost feminine hygiene product for poor working women and school girls who drop out of work or school on a monthly basis. The Ella Pad’s key feature is that it is made by female workers, owned by female workers and used by female workers. The Ella Pad sanitary napkins are made by the garment workers using leftover material or scraps from the clothing industry. Although it was a struggle to convince factory owners to allow their workers to have access to machines and materials to make their own sanitary napkins; now it is regarded as good practice for the factories.

In an article for the IDS Alumni Network Mamunur explained: “Ultimately I want to change the lives of two billion people globally; my more immediate target is that of the four million poor garment sector workers of Bangladesh. …We are leading with a target to create 1,000 women entrepreneurs who will create another 100,000 green jobs for poor women by 2020. In the context of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the low-cost green napkin project is so critical that it is addressing at least 12 out of 17 SDG goals”.

Over the past two years, Ella Pad has received glowing recognition, including from UN agencies and the media. Now public sector agencies, trade associations and leading clothing brands in Bangladesh are getting involved in the initiative via the Ella Alliance to ensure the health and welbing of women workers, improve industrial productivity, create entrepreurs, and transition to a greener, less wasteful economy.

Mamunar said: “During my time studying the MA Gender and Development I focussed on women and sanitation issues. I was influenced by Professor Robert Chamber’s work on development and sanitation. The uniqueness of IDS and Sussex was that they encouraged me to develop my own initiative in my area. I was encouraged to develop my own ideas and to create opportunities for many.”

Sharing learning on transitions to a green economy

In June 2019, Manumur will share his experiences of the Ella Pad initiative as part of an IDS short course that aims to equip participants with conceptual and practical tools to use the circular economy as an approach to analyse, design, implement and evaluate projects and interventions for greater global sustainability.

Award winners

The Global Alumni Award winners will be announced on 4 April 2019. We wish Mamunur the very best of luck!

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