Creative Advocacy: Adrian Dongus “Menstrual Cycling” as an MHM Advocate
Photo Credit: Adrian Dongus
Biking from Kenya to the Netherlands, for Menstrual Health
Written By: Deborah Jordan Brooks
Edited by: Jenny P. (IMHER Research Assistant)
Given that is being posted on Menstrual Hygiene Day, it seems appropriate to examine creative approaches to generating community awareness about menstrual issues. As one example of that, Adrian Dongus is currently cycling across 14 countries – from Kenya to the Netherlands – to raise money for menstrual hygiene kits to be given to refugees.
While few people are likely to have the exact set of interests, skills, and resources needed to take on a challenge of this nature, it still provides an opportunity for anyone involved in MHM work to think of creative ways that they might be able to combine their own personal interests and personal hobbies – or those of others they happen to know – with the work of generating awareness while raising money for MHM-related work.
Expected to take roughly 80 days (plus some extra visa management time), Dongus’s trip is sure to to take him through some rough territory and physical challenges. This article from the Daily Nation provides further details about his trip.
His goal is to raise €10,000 for menstrual kits (including underwear, washable pads, and soap) through donations from people who hear about his adventure. People can follow his journey through social media channels such as his Facebook at MNSTRLCycle.
Beyond raising awareness and donations for through traditional and social media, Dongus will also be able to spread awareness about MH issues with those he meets along the way. Rather than aiming for a record-breaking pace at race-level speeds for the journey, his pacing seems like it has been designed to provide him with some time to connect with local people along his route.
Dongus as an MHM Leader
Those who were able to attend the Menstrual Health Management Symposium held in Johannesburg in May 2018 may recall Dongus’s insightful tips on the business side of menstrual hygiene entrepreneurship.
Founded in 2010, AFRIpads, one of the larger menstrual pad organizations, started – like most entrepreneurial ventures – with good ideas and no clear route for implementing them. As such, the organization has encountered many of the hurdles that tend to prevail in this space as it has grown. Dongus, who has served in many different roles at AFRIpads (most recently, as its Managing Director), has been on the front lines of many of these challenges.
At the symposium, he articulated the need for financial viability in order to be able to manufacture pads. Any organization has to survive financially in order to do its work, and Dongus conveyed a clear-eyed awareness of the many challenges that those trying to do that work are likely to encounter along the way.
Above all, in his advice to entrepreneurs at various sessions at the symposium, Dongus relayed his sense of the need to combine strategic planning and pragmatic approaches to tactics around products as a business enterprise with idealism around the mission of MHM work.
Many of the entrepreneurs I spoke to at the symposium remarked on the benefit and resonance of Dongus’s messages. Perhaps partly because such gatherings always involve a mix of organizations doing for-profit and non-profit work – and then because there are so many different approaches by organizations beyond that – much of the focus at MHM gatherings tends to center on discussion of a broad vision and goals, rather than the nuts-and-bolts processes required to achieve them. Many of the entrepreneurs who have struggled with issues pertaining to pricing, profitability, placement, distribution, intellectual property, infrastructure issues, production concerns, and other strategic matters found Dongus’s willingness to speak to both levels to be refreshing and useful for addressing some of the biggest challenges they tend to face in different parts of the world.
Not for Everyone…but Not a Problem
Biking across 14 countries is not an option for most people in practice. But its relative rarity is also part of its power.
Taking three or more months off of work is not something most people can afford to do, particularly in conjunction with the extra travel and equipment expenses involved in the journey. Distance cycling requires a high level of physical conditioning that very few have. And relatively few women would feel safe taking on a solo journey of this nature.
For better or for worse, the fact that most people cannot do this same kind of campaign is part of its power. Rarity and difficulty will tend to increase public attention and media coverage, which then provides educational and awareness benefits.
The fact that it is a man doing this journey on behalf of menstrual issues also helps to reach male news readers and viewers who may not otherwise be as likely to read or click on an article about a woman forwarding this issue. To be clear, that does not mean that women do not have power to reach people with such actions – they absolutely do. But male advocates sometimes have the ability to reach other men with messages about menstrual health that they might otherwise believe are not relevant to them.
Doing an awareness campaign of this nature is in no way required to do important MHM work. It is in “bonus territory,” in every way.
But wise entrepreneurs also learn to recognize opportunities when they see them, and to find ways to leverage them for their strategic goals when they see them.
Do you or a supporter of your organization have a particular hobby or interest that – once tied to a menstrual awareness goal – might garner some positive media attention?
Or do you know of someone not connected to your organization who will soon embark on a notable or physical journey of some kind who could potentially be convinced to do so on behalf of MHM?
Remember that it also does not necessarily take an achievement of this magnitude to draw the attention of some local media sources. More modest achievements can also sometimes be of interest to journalists, often depending on the volume of other news that happens to be in the mix for a given day or week. And any positive media attention for nearly anything associated with MHM – even if it might be through just a single local newspaper article or TV news broadcast – can help to increase community awareness about an organization and its broader goals, while also helping to normalize public discussions of menstruation.
For examples of traditional media coverage and social media strategies around awareness campaigns – and for some inspiration based on seeing the joys and challenges associated with this journey – follow Adrian’s adventure on Facebook at MNSTRLCycle.