Deep Bajaj is one of the country's most prolific innovators and successful businessmen. And his hygiene products have set women free in a way few others before them have. We talked to the award-winning social entrepreneur to understand what motivates him.
Deep Bajaj is the founder of Sirona, a company that works towards solving various women-centric problems related to hygiene and personal care. In a world that is against discussing topics like menstruation and women’s hygiene, Deep has been coming up with innovative solutions to make lives easier for women on the go. Sirona’s range of innovative products includes everything from feminine pain-relief patches to menstrual cups to sanitary disposal bags to anti-chafing cream to a revolutionary home pregnancy test to the now well-known PeeBuddy - India’s first female urination device that enables women to stand and pee in unfriendly toilets.
A graduate from the Australian National University, Deep returned to India to start his own event management company before fully getting involved with women’s health. His revolutionary work recently won him the ‘Social Enterprise Shield’ at the ET Start-up Awards 2019 and his initiative AAAN works with sex workers to give them alternative menstrual hygiene solutions. When asked how he got into this unique field, he explains the genesis of his trajectory as an innovator in women’s hygiene products. Apparently, back in 2013, he was already wanting to start doing something that would bring about positive change for society but didn’t have clarity about what he’d do exactly. But having organised large-scale events as part of his event management company, Deep was well aware of the toilet situation that women faced. “I used to travel for these events with my wife and she always had a problem with dirty toilets. Especially during her pregnancy, it became extremely difficult. But a road trip that I went on with my wife and a few friends changed everything,” he recalls, telling us how the idea for PeeBuddy was born. “This road trip, where the girls complained about the bad washrooms added the spark needed to go forward. A friend mentioned the makeshift bottle used to stand and pee that she had heard someone talk about in Europe. This stray thought stayed with me and I built on it with research and development,” he narrates. His invention - foldable single-use paper funnels that can be discreetly carried in a handbag and disposed of efficiently in public toilets - has made many women much more confident of travelling or working in environments where hygienic loos are unavailable, thus setting them free.
And that was just the beginning. “Once we started an initiative to solve one problem like dirty toilets, our customers started to share various other problems they faced. This opened up various opportunities,” he explains, adding that no one had bothered with solutions to so many issues since women’s problems are not usually discussed openly.” Talking about the reaction that he got at home when he mentioned wanting to do something in women’s intimate and feminine hygiene segment, he says, “In fact, my wife was the first one to test out the products. She was only one among a few other friends who supported me fully.” He shares how a lot of people were actively discouraging of the initiative. “When we started, BBC had done a story on us. One in English and one in Hindi. While the English version got a lot of appreciation, the Hindi one got me the best of gaalis,” he says with a wry smile.
When asked why men in our society shy away from talking about women’s hygiene, he says, “I think it is woven into our social fabric. That is how we have been raised. We don’t discuss these things at the dinner table. But now, things are changing. With well-educated couples working professionally, these discussions have become easier.” Though there is still a lot of taboo, Deep feels that media and online platforms have played a huge role. And then there are his grateful customers, who, he says, are his biggest motivators. Narrating an incident that boosted his motivation, Deep shares, “For one of the competitions that we had been part of, we had asked a few customers to come and share their experience. A wife of a retired Army Colonel shared how the product had helped her during her chemotherapy. This made all our work worthwhile.”
The future is bright. For him, as well as the women whose problems he is trying to alleviate. “There are a lot of other women’s issues for which we are trying to find innovative solutions,” confides the father of two girls, who are likely to benefit from his path-breaking work in the years to come in more ways than one....