Published: 25 June 2019

WaterAid’s Fempowered project: Harnessing the monthly power of periods

WaterAid stepped bravely into new waters last month with the launch of its brand new monthly product subscription pack – Fempowered. A unique way for women in the UK to have natural, eco-friendly sanitary products delivered to their door each month while also helping transform the lives of women and girls around the world.

As with many inspirational ideas, they generally start with the need for a solution – in this case a desire to address the changing ways of charity giving and create fresh ideas to connect people to our work.

We knew three things when we started out: we needed an innovative business, financial and marketing model that would enhance our regular giving; we wanted to reach a new, younger audience; and we wanted to talk about an aspect of our work in a new way.

So how does an innovative product like Fempowered start?

A gym membership or Spotify may not appear a natural link with WaterAid’s work, but they did offer a clue as to how a younger audience likes to organise their lives. Through a range of focus groups, we busted many myths, including one that the younger group is not keen on giving.

It became clear we required something that provided a form of value exchange, replacing what some may consider a one-way conversation of traditional charity giving. We needed to go into the specific audience’s world rather than try to bring them into our own and had to provide an engagement with something innovative and cool.

We discovered our target audience is after choice, with environmental factors and women’s empowerment among hot topics for them.

From this, an idea started to form; a plan that met all of those three needs we’d identified and Fempowered was born – a monthly subscription period box in which you receive a high quality environmentally friendly product while also directly supporting our work. Depending on the box ordered, WaterAid will currently receive about 35 percent of the subscription costs, which will increase as sales increase and costs go down.

Using audience insight to build branding that raises awareness of all WaterAid does

People know WaterAid for its drive to ensure everyone has access to clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene, but our work around menstruation is less widely known. Therefore, this new product would also provide the opportunity for us to talk about our work in other areas.

The next phase was of course to ensure we developed a branding that felt fresh and cool to appeal to our younger audience, and for this, we used a range of focus groups, marketing tools such as quantitative research and smoke screen testing, which sees adverts going out before the product is ready to purchase to measure interest and begin communicating with potential supporters.

It was never going to be an overnight process. In fact, I would describe the 18-month journey from the initial meeting to the launch last month as an enjoyable and enlightening rollercoaster ride. Much of the learnings of which will benefit other areas of WaterAid’s work.

Photo: WaterAid/ Eliza Powell

Bringing the project to life

We agreed early on that the tampons or pads had to be organic, plastic-free, chemical-free with biodegradable packaging. I would say finding the right supplier was the most challenging aspect of bringing this project together, which we have with Kind Organic.

We had a limited budget and have been tight on staff time and capacity, but we managed the challenges, largely because of the very real excitement about the product itself, meaning teams have readily committed to bringing this to reality.

We launched on 28 May, Menstrual Hygiene Day, so it is early days in terms of feedback but comments on social media posts have been really encouraging:

Great way to get what you need and give back at the same time!” 

and:

This is phenomenal! Just a quick question about the enviro friendly aspect, is that all the products and packaging, it just the box? Regardless, wonderful cause and really look forward to knowing even more!”

And to answer her question, it is not only the box but the products and packaging that are biodegradable.

So what next?

We’re very excited to see where this is heading and we’re bringing Fempowered to Glastonbury this year alongside many other things we have planned for the year ahead.

We’ve received a lot of interest from social media influencers and digital media outlets who want to get involved, and many ideas for merchandise, so right now, it’s very much a case of watch this space.

We hope corporate partners will embrace the initiative too, and Scottish Water is already offering Fempowered products free to staff in all five of its offices.

Aside from the practical benefits, our bigger vision is that Fempowered will become something of a movement. We see it as a way of inspiring women to support women across the world as part of our wider work to end the silence, taboos, and discrimination around periods and ensure women and girls everywhere have access to the knowledge, support, facilities and sanitary materials they need to manage their periods well.

Main photo: WaterAid/ Eliza Powell


Nicholas Spandagos, strategic project manager (mass engagement & IGE), WaterAid

Nicholas is responsible for WaterAid’s new product development and innovation for mass engagement, and for managing WaterAid’s cross-organisational campaigns. He is passionate about integrated marketing and all things digital. Before joining WaterAid he worked in various corporate and charity roles including Greenpeace, UNHCR and Olympiacos FC in Greece.