The Entrepreneurs' Organization (EO) is committed to building the world's most influential community of entrepreneurs. One way we encourage and support young entrepreneurs is through the EO Global Student Entrepreneur Awards (GSEA), EO's premier competition for university students who own and operate a business. The competition culminates with the Global Finals, where "studentpreneurs" from 50+ countries compete and make connections with both seasoned entrepreneurs and their fellow competitors. The 2019 EO GSEA Social Impact Award winner, Naziba Naila Wafa, represented Bangladesh in the intense, international competition. We asked Naziba, co-founder of Resurgence, about her entrepreneurial journey. Here's what she shared:

Tell us about your company.

Resurgence is a social enterprise that is revolutionizing menstrual hygiene in disadvantaged and refugee communities through low-cost, biodegradable sanitary pads made with water hyacinth, an aggressive plant species. Our entire workforce is made up of women from underprivileged communities.

What inspired your business?

Growing up, no one ever discussed menstruation with me. There was social stigma as far as hiding hygienic products from boys in school. It seemed normal at that time. As I matured, the entire situation seemed ridiculous, and I started questioning it.

I learned how the social stigma around menstruation caused suffering in low-income and refugee communities that lacked education and knowledge. It was unsettling that a natural bodily function--menstruation--was considered disgusting.

Also, since sanitary pads are expensive, women were using rags and unhygienic cloths that caused infections and other health challenges.

When I found out that girls were married off as soon as they started their periods, I was appalled! That's when my three best friends from childhood and I decided to take action.

How is your company making an impact?

For the past two years, we've worked to ensure that women can take proper sanitary measures during menstruation. We do this by producing biodegradable pads that are affordable for women in disadvantaged communities. Additionally, we hire women from those same communities. Our business model provides a 40 percent sales commission to distributors, which encourages the entrepreneurial spirit among women.

Resurgence hosts awareness campaigns about pregnancy, sexual education, menstruation and consent. We introduced "Period Education" in our country, and are working on the first-ever messenger bot in Bangladesh that will answer every possible question about sexual and reproductive health and rights.

I'm trying to fill the void of education that exists among women and girls regarding such "controversial" topics, along with improving sanitation and employment conditions. We've reached 3,500 women so far and stopped 12 child marriages.

Lack of awareness is the root of the taboo around menstruation. We explain the entire concept to help both men and women understand that menstruation is a natural phenomenon.

It took us a while, but we persevered. After multiple visits to refugee camps and disadvantaged communities, we finally got our message through and convinced women to use the sanitary pads we provide.

Tell us about your experience in the EO GSEA program.

I had participated in the international Hult Prize competition, so when I learned about GSEA on Facebook, I was interested.  

Nothing could have prepared me for the experience at GSEA Global Finals in Macau, China. The student entrepreneurs from all around the world were beyond talented, with splendid ideas. I was amazed how the mentors, judges and EO members were humble, down-to-earth, helpful and kind--putting us at ease from the very beginning.

I learned so much from the other student entrepreneurs--about their cultures, struggles and journeys. The entire experience gave me a huge boost to come home and work extra hard to achieve my goals. I felt lucky to make incredible memories with new friends. It was like a dream that one wouldn't mind seeing multiple times.

How is EO GSEA different from other pitch competitions you've been in?

GSEA prioritizes who we are as people along our entrepreneurial journey. While it also emphasized our business idea, there was a strong effort to get to know the competitors as entrepreneurs.

GSEA made me aware that entrepreneurs are unique in many ways--we are much more than just our business model. My overall takeaways from GSEA were humility, encouragement, determination and friendship.

What effect did winning the EO GSEA Social Impact Award have?

While I have faith in my business, I've always lacked confidence. GSEA Global Finals marked the first time that I represented the company by myself. I found it incredibly daunting! When Stephen Shortt announced my name as winner of the EO GSEA Social Impact award, I remember thinking, "I made it!" Getting the award was a huge blessing and accomplishment not just for Resurgence--but also for me.

The EO GSEA Social Impact Award got us global recognition, and we've been able to form many collaborations, both at home and abroad. Our future plans include increasing our workforce, adding production machinery, acquiring more factory space--and toiling until there exists absolutely no taboo around the topic of menstruation!