Recently named as one of 2017 Forbes’ 30 under 30, Vanessa Paranjothy (BSocSc 2012) deserves every accolade and spotlight thrown at her. Taking the path less trodden, Vanessa has ventured into a fairly taboo space of menstruation and periods; Freedom Cups is a ‘feminine hygiene’ start-up that creates reusable, silicon menstrual cups. For every cup purchased, Vanessa will donate one to women in underprivileged communities, perfect for women in areas where there are no toilets, running water or electricity. Whilst she is loath to name her company a social enterprise, this is an entrepreneur with a big heart and an even bigger desire to improve the lives of women in developing nations. Is it a wonder that this 28-year-old is one of Forbes’ 30 under 30?
You graduated with a Bachelor of Social Science in Political Science from SMU in 2012. How was your SMU experience? Share with us your career journey since graduation.
SMU was amazing. Beyond books and classrooms, I spent my 4 years playing football and hanging out, so I had a great time. I made some of my closest friends there, and learnt my fair share of out-of-the-box thinking and soft skills which have come in handy running my own venture.
I graduated in 2012, and proceeded to get a job in HR for about 8 months, before coming out and starting my own company.
Tell us about Freedom Cups and the inspiration for its birth.
Freedom Cups is inspired by the vision of making periods a problem of the past. An ex-SMU classmate had done an internship in Guatemala and told me about these menstrual cups that the women used there. I did some research and decided to make some for women in Singapore and in underdeveloped nations.
70% of women across the globe have no access to any form of sanitation during their monthly periods, and for the women who do - like us in Singapore – we experience leaks, stains, decreased mobility, high costs, and we create a heap of non-biodegradable waste.
To address both these problems, we started Freedom Cups, a company that sends reusable menstrual products to women. We work on a “Buy-1, Give-1” model where each purchase allows us to give a woman from an underprivileged community a Freedom Cup for free.
(Menstrual cups from Freedom Cups)
What led you to you being recognized as Forbes 30 Under 30?
Periods are one of those topics that no one speaks of – whether in the developed first world or developing third world. And as with most things that are not spoken about openly, there is a lot of misconception, stigma, and ignorance that surround it.
We have started a very important conversation. This conversation revolves around periods - the inconvenience, the cost, the lack of access to basic resources like water or toilets to deal with them, and the waste generated by traditional options. I think that is the reason why we were listed in the Forbes 30 under 30 list as people likely to ‘shape the face of Asia’.
(Vanessa speaking to school girls in Nepal)
How can the SMU community support Freedom Cups?
The SMU community can help in 2 main ways.
First, spread the word! An open conversation about periods is always a good thing, but it would be great for women who use the cups to be willing to speak about it amongst their friends.
Secondly, help us through community work. SMU has that 80-hour minimum requirement for community service which sees many of our SMU undergrads working on cool projects with underprivileged communities both in Singapore and the region. These groups can always get a parcel of Freedom Cups from us. Whether or not you are building a school, library or orphanage, or teaching villagers basic English or Math, the women in the village can be gathered and taught the basics of their body and reproductive health, and how to have clean periods using a Freedom Cup.
(Vanessa with her Freedom Cups team overseas)
What are your hopes for the future of Freedom Cups? What’s next?
What’s next is simple. We need to reach out to more women.
We are planning more projects in the developing world and with the urban poor here in Singapore. In fact, we just finished our first foray into Africa by completing 2 projects in Nigeria. We are also working on cool new projects like refurbishing half-used soaps from hotels.
We are also working with retailers both on home soil as well as in largest markets in Asia, so as to increase our base of Freedom Cup users.
What advice would you give you students and fellow alumni about making meaningful impact in today’s society?
My advice is to just do it.
Service and giving back to society is the rent we pay for our time on earth having been born into our privileged lives. Meaningful impact does not have to come in the form of a life-changing new business, or enormous monthly donations to charity.
Meaningful impact stems from wanting to leave your little corner of the world in a better state than when you entered it. All it takes sometimes is being a friend to someone who may no longer have friends and is cooped up in an old folks’ home, a smile to stranger on the train after a long day at work, not using as much plastic and disposable items, or cooking the homeless a meal at a shelter. This meaningful impact does just as much, if not more, for the ‘giver’ than the receiver.
Last updated on 13 Nov 2017 .