The Power of Mentoring Women: How Anja Scaled Her Business in Both Profit and Purpose
Anja was inspired to launch her business after discovering that many girls in Malaysia are forced to miss out on school because they cannot afford the cost of menstrual pads. As a former college dropout herself, she felt passionately about the importance of education and decided to design a reusable pad that would empower girls to attend school regularly.
In 2013, Anja launched Blucotton Sdn Bhd (now Blubear Holdings Sdn Bhd), a company that employs single mothers to manufacture reusable sanitary pads. However, without any formal business training, Anja wasn’t sure how to market her product or grow her enterprise. She joined the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women's Mentoring Programme in June 2013 seeking support to write a business plan, gain investment, and increase sales. At the time, Anja didn’t realise that having a mentor was a key turning point for her and that three years later, she would still be involved in the programme!
Anja received pre-programme training on how to best use online tools through a partnership between the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women and Qualcomm® Wireless Reach™. For her first two years in the programme, she used these new skills as she worked with her mentors to create a business pitch, develop her business model to focus on B2B distribution, and find an angel investor. Afterwards, with a clearer understanding of her commercial offering, Anja felt more confident talking about her business and focused on raising its profile through a series of media interviews. In 2015, Anja decided to turn her business into a social enterprise so that she could use her sales to help underprivileged girls. For every pad sold, another is donated to a girl at an orphanage.
Now in her third year, Anja is working with Mary, a field operations manager for a non-profit health organisation in Nigeria with expertise in strategy and project management. Together, they have focused on engaging with partners and developing Anja’s business strategy by outlining sales targets, devising a timeline, and creating a clear action plan. Anja is also keen to enter new markets and has used her refined business pitch to approach potential partners in five countries including a hospital in Sweden that plans to include her pads in their maternal care packages.
And this is just the beginning. Anja strongly believes that adolescent girls need a safe space to talk about personal safety, self-esteem, puberty, and hygiene, so she has also launched a series of female empowerment workshops to address these issues. With Mary’s support, Anja has already developed a curriculum and hosted a successful, government-sponsored conference in Kuala Lumpur for 400 teenage girls. She has also launched a non-profit organisation, Sisterhood Alliance, which aims to build awareness, encourage social entrepreneurship, and give girls a space to articulate their goals and dreams.
Since joining the programme, Anja has seen her social enterprise grow exponentially. She successfully obtained venture capital to scale her production and her reusable pads are now sold in a chain of private hospitals across Malaysia. As the enterprise’s activities have expanded, Anja’s also brought on board two business partners, hired an employee, and last year reached a profit margin of 50%.
Mary said that the mentoring experience improved her listening skills and equipped her to guide others to make their own decisions. She values the strong friendship she has developed with Anja, saying, “Believing in someone brings out the best in that individual.”