GSEA Social Impact Award Winner Naziba Wafa Breaking Down Sexual Health Barriers

11 February 2022

When competing in the Hult Prize competition in 2016, GSEA Alumna Naziba Wafa and her team were required to come up with an idea to solve the refugee crisis by 2020. In order to better understand how refugees live, Wafa and her team visited the nearby refugee camp in Taka, Bangladesh.

Social Entrepreneurship

The team visited the refugee camp often, having conversations to better understand their way of life. One day, the team came across a story about an eight-year-old girl who was menstruating. Because of the taboo of discussing menstruation, the young girl hid her menstrual cloth in a bush to dry it out for her next day at school. Overnight, an insect laid its eggs on the cloth, so the young girl got an infection and died.

“We were absolutely devastated, we were shocked—shocked would be an understatement. Because we are women as well and see these women who, just because they belong to a lower tier of society and are not as privileged as we are, are living in such conditions and have no sense of education or information about how common menstruation is,” Wafa said.

After hearing more devastating stories regarding women trying to hide menstruation, Wafa and her team co-founded Resurgence to help eradicate the taboo around menstruation. The team began making affordable sanitary pads out of water hyacinth, an abundant plant found in bodies of water in Bangladesh, and educating women and young students about menstrual health, mental health, and sexual and reproductive health rights.

After co-founding Resurgence, Naziba Wafa said she and her team employ women to make and sell the water hyacinth sanitary pads to give them a sense of entrepreneurship and ownership of the product.

In addition to making and selling the sanitary pads, Wafa employs and trains women to visit schools to educate students on sexual and menstrual health, to help eradicate the stigma and taboo around menstruation.

Competing in GSEA

When Wafa decided to compete in GSEA, it was her first time representing Resurgence alone, which came with extra pressure. However, she won the Social Impact Award at the 2019 GSEA Global Finals in Macau, China from among 50+ other top student entrepreneurs around the world and made both her team and Bangladesh proud.

When she returned from the competition, Wafa was included in HOTTOPICS.HT’s The Meaningful Business 100 list, featured in almost every Bangladesh newspaper, invited to political panels and served as a judge for several business competitions.

“It made me gain so much confidence and a lot of credibility and fame for my company as well. It is personal branding on a level, but also helped me make a lot of networks for my company,” Wafa said.

Looking back on her GSEA experience overall, Wafa said she appreciated the respect for diversity the competition has.

“When you bring all these people under one umbrella, it is amazing to see how so many cultures can coexist together, be friends and just be in harmony,” Wafa said.

Being surrounded by so many other student entrepreneurs who share their stories and struggles in GSEA made Wafa feel both small and larger than life at the same time, she said. Wafa said she would give anything to be back in Macau, reliving those special GSEA moments.

“While walking down the streets of Macau with all these people I realized, back home I am someone else, but with them I am a completely different person,” Wafa said.

Some words of advice Wafa would share with student entrepreneurs starting out are to be consistent, prioritize mental health and be yourself, especially when competing in GSEA.

“It is really important to share your stories, to not forget your roots, to make sure you stick to your roots and stick to what encourages you every day, because that is what sculpts you as a person,” Wafa said. “That person is competing in a competition where judges not only seek the best business plans, but also someone who loves their business idea, in order to make sure that person will keep going forward with the idea.”

Future Entrepreneurial Endeavors

Not only did Wafa co-found Resurgence and help the refugee community with menstrual health, but she also works as the Green Delta Insurance Business Impact Team Assistant Vice President, where she helps to provide and design products for marginalized women to help them navigate the unpredictable natural calamities of Bangladesh.

As a social entrepreneur, Wafa plans to continue her work with Resurgence. One day she hopes to have a big factory to supply more sanitary pads, spread more employment opportunities among underprivileged women and have no taboos around menstruation in Bangladesh, or the rest of the world.

Currently, Wafa and the Resurgence team are breaking down the stigma and continuing the conversation around menstruation on Facebook via a campaign, Let’s Talk Period.

“The stories started flooding in, even from middle aged men about how their moms and sisters never talked about menstruation. These men and women all were submitting their own pictures, which was covered in a lot of newspapers. So, that is how we are continuing to gain access to diminishing the taboo around menstruation,” Wafa said.