Duke-UNICEF Innovation Accelerator

Donate Now

What is the Innovation Accelerator?

UNICEF and Duke University’s Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative have come together to create the Duke-UNICEF Innovation Accelerator to identify, assess, develop, build and scale sustainable solutions to the most pressing challenges facing children and youth around the world today. Through this partnership, UNICEF and Duke are helping social innovation entrepreneurs acquire knowledge, tools and networks to achieve maximum impact for children and youth.

Housed at Duke University and in partnership with UNICEF, the Accelerator is an important hub for engaging faculty, staff, students and alumni around social innovation and entrepreneurship, global health, international development and civic engagement.

What Will the Accelerator Do?

With its overall goal to increase the effectiveness, sustainability and scale of impact of the innovations selected, the Accelerator will seek to achieve the following objectives:

1. Build a Pipeline of High-Potential Innovations to Better the Lives of Children

2. Strengthen Innovators’ Capabilities to Achieve Increased Impact

3. Contribute to the Development of UNICEF’s Innovation and Market Engagement Capacity

4. Engage Students and Faculty in Advancing Innovations to Better the Lives of Children

First Project Cohort: Menstrual Health and Hygiene

In its inaugural cohort, the Innovation Accelerator will work closely with a select group of social enterprises that seek to scale the impact of their innovations around menstrual health and hygiene (MHH).

As adolescent girls go through puberty and begin to menstruate, they face challenges at school and at home that can lead to stress, shame, embarrassment, confusion and fear. These challenges may include a lack knowledge about menstruation; insufficient access to menstrual hygiene materials; and inadequate WASH facilities for girls so they can change in a private place and discreetly dispose of used materials.

Because of its transformational potential, MHH is one of UNICEF’s five interlinked priorities for empowering adolescent girls in its Gender Action Plan (GAP) 2018-2021. The five priorities of the GAP, when implemented together and at scale, can dismantle some of the most stubborn barriers to gender equality and transform the lives of adolescent girls — supporting them to become healthy, educated and empowered women, able to direct the course of their own lives.

Facts About Menstrual Health and Hygiene

1. Discriminatory beliefs about menstruation cause stress and shame. Menstruation is stigmatized all over the world.In Kenya, girls fear of teasing from other students, especially males.2 In Nepal, the term chhaupadi refers to the discriminatory practices of isolating menstruating women from others due to the belief that they are “impure” during this time.3

2. Poor menstrual hygiene management can pose physical health risks. Poor hygiene has been linked to reproductive and urinary tract infections.4,5 Interventions that ensure women have access to private facilities with water for MHM and that educate women about safer, low-cost MHM materials could reduce urogenital disease among women.6

3. Girls may miss school due to menstruation if there is no safe space to change their pad, tampon or cloth at school.7 To help give girls the best chance at gaining an education, all schools should provide facilities so they can manage their period at school, education so that girls and boys understand what menstruation is and promote behavior change to form lasting healthy habits.

4. Girls lack accurate and timely knowledge about menstruation. Some girls think that they are dying or have a disease the first time they menstruate, as the pain and blood causes confusion and worry.8

1. Johnston-Robledo, I. and J.C. Carter, The Menstrual Mark: Menstruation as Social Stigma. Sex Roles, 2011.

2. McMahon, S.A., et al., 'The girl with her period is the one to hang her head' Reflections on menstrual management among schoolgirls in rural Kenya. BMC international health and human rights, 2011. 11(1): p. 7.

3. Central Bureau of Statistics and UNICEF Nepal, Nepal Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey 2014.

4. Garg, R., S. Goyal, and S. Gupta, India Moves Towards Menstrual Hygiene: Subsidized Sanitary Napkins for Rural Adolescent Girls-Issues and Challenges. Maternal and child health journal, 2011.

5. House, S., T. Mahon, and S. Cavill, Module One: Menstrual Hygiene - The Basics, in Menstrual hygiene matters; A manual for improving menstrual hygiene around the world, 2012.

6. Das P, Baker KK, Dutta A, Swain T, Sahoo S, Das BS, et al. (2015) Menstrual Hygiene Practices, WASH Access and the Risk of Urogenital Infection in Women from Odisha, India. PLoS ONE 10(6):e0130777. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0130777

7. Ten, V.T.A., Menstrual Hygiene: A Negelcted Condition for the Achievement of Several Millennium Development Goals, 2010, Europe External Policy Advisors.

8. van Eijk, Anna Maria, et al. "Menstrual hygiene management among adolescent girls in India: a systematic review and meta-analysis." BMJ open6.3 (2016): e010290.

More on the Duke-UNICEF Innovation Accelerator