UNICEF and Duke University to Team Up on Menstrual Hygiene

May 28, 2019

On World Menstrual Hygiene Day, a look at how a new partnership aims to accelerate innovative, sustainable solutions for children — starting with one of the biggest issues for adolescent girls. 

For many adolescent girls living in countries where UNICEF works, menstruation is a big problem — a source of stress, shame, embarrassment, confusion and fear. 

Many girls do not attend school during their monthly cycles. Frequently, they fall behind in their studies or stop going altogether. A 2010 study conducted in India showed that nearly a quarter (23%) of girls were dropping out of school once they hit puberty.

UNICEF has long worked to counter these trends by assisting girls in low-resource and crisis-affected areas with menstrual health and hygiene, supporting programs that provide critical health information, facilities and supplies girls need to manage their periods without stress or stigma and working with governments and other partners to advance girl-friendly policies and services.

These efforts are about to get a big boost through the Duke-UNICEF Innovation Accelerator, a new partnership with Duke University's Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative. Through the program, a select group of innovators will receive grants to develop, test and scale their solutions to some of the world's most pressing problems, with menstrual hygiene management as the focus of the first round of investment. Each project stands to benefit from UNICEF's programming expertise and global reach, and Duke's experience in social entrepreneurship and commercial ventures.

UNICEF USA board member and Duke alumna Selwyn Rayzor discussing the Duke-UNICEF Innovation Accelerator at the March 2019 UNICEF Summit in Washington, D.C. © UNICEF USA

At the March 2019 UNICEF Summit in Washington, D.C., Selwyn Rayzor, who serves on the Duke I&E board and is also UNICEF USA's North Texas and Central Region Board Chair, described the vision for the Accelerator as a way to drive meaningful, sustainable change. "There's not a lack of innovative ideas," she said. "There's a lack of human resources and capital to really grow those ideas."

Like all UNICEF Innovation work, Accelerator projects will be guided by the Principles for Innovation and Technology in Development. Participating innovators will be matched with other social and commercial entrepreneurs, corporate leaders, innovative NGO leaders and Duke faculty, staff, and alumni with expertise in specific areas.

This partnership is a tremendous opportunity ... to cultivate a new generation of humanitarian entrepreneurs.

“This partnership is a tremendous opportunity for Duke to help children around the world and cultivate a new generation of humanitarian entrepreneurs,” says Duke I&E Director Jon Fjeld. “Our expertise in social entrepreneurship will serve as a strong foundation for the Accelerator, and our hope is that the connections we facilitate among innovators, faculty, students and other partners will unite and mobilize our whole community.”

Menstrual Hygiene Day (MH Day) is a global advocacy platform that brings together the voices and actions of non-profits, government agencies, individuals, the private sector and the media to promote good menstrual hygiene management (MHM) for all women and girls. To learn more, visit menstrualhygieneday.org.

For over 70 years, UNICEF has been putting children first, working to protect their rights and provide the assistance and services they need to survive and thrive. 


Top photo: Adolescent girls in the Ramgarh district of Jharkhand state, India, participate in a body-mapping activity, part of a UNICEF-supported program to improve menstrual health and hygiene and help girls stay in school. © UNICEF/UN0214896/Vishwanathan