Social entrepreneur set to the end the stigma around menstruation
In 2010, Melbourne-based social entrepreneur, Jac Torres-Gomez embarked on a mission to alleviate the injustices women face throughout the world due to menstruation. Her non-for-profit organisation, Crimson Movement now works in social, cultural, financial, environmental and educational areas of action to address the stigma around this natural bodily function; running independent projects such as the Purse Pad project in Papua New Guinea, and working in partnership with other organisations such as the YWCA and Eco Femme in India.
In an exclusive Q&A with Shoe String, Ms Torres-Gomez discusses the genesis of Crimson Movement, the highs and lows of her journey as a social entrepreneur, and her vision for a better world for girls and women.
What inspired you to start your organisation Crimson Movement?
Jac Torress-Gomez: Crimson Movement (formerly ‘Crimson Campaign’) started as an idea between two friends in June 2010 to share information with women in Australia and the USA about reusable menstrual products. After we decided that ‘something had to be done’ to tell women that alternatives did exist (and that this knowledge could be life-changing as had occurred for each of us), we began to research what this actually might look like.
There was a light bulb moment when we realised that there weren’t just environmental considerations to think about, but also other barriers such as cultural, social, educational and financial considerations. Transport to the present and this ‘idea’ grew from a small campaign into what we call ‘Crimson Movement’.
Crimson Movement, through its Five Areas of Action, works to improve society’s understanding of menstruation, and create a space for open dialogue where people are able to talk opening about and address barriers relating to menstruation. What continues to inspire me are the wonderful conversations occurring across the globe by the most amazing men and women driving this work. It is a real honour to be working in this space.
Why do you think menstruation is a global issue?
Jac Torress-Gomez: Across the globe, the topic of menstruation is taboo and is visible in the associated negative euphemisms, such as ‘the curse’. The result is that many women are left behind in school and work, miss out on important opportunities to improve their quality of life, and possess a deep-rooted sense of shame about their bodies and what it means biologically to menstruate, often only due to a lack of positive information available.
Despite women globally sharing the experience of menstruation, they are faced with different challenges. It might be issues with access to clean water, lack of education teaching young people about what menstruation actually is, a lack of adequate bathroom facilities to allow girls to change or clean their products, and a whole array of different cultural issues particular to a certain community.
What projects is your organisation currently undertaking to tackle the issue?
Jac Torress-Gomez: Crimson Movement works to improve society’s understanding of menstruation, and create a space for open dialogue where people are able to talk openly about this. The organisation works using the constellation model – meaning that, Crimson Movement is an overarching umbrella movement and beneath it is sits a constellation of star projects relating to improvements in the areas of finances, environment, social conversations, culture or education for women and girls and their communities. Each ‘star’ within the constellation is a different project (either our own, that of someone else that we celebrate or a collaboration between Crimson Movement and another organisation or individual) that works in the long or short term to encourage communities to positively address the issues facing women due to menstruation.
Weaved throughout our five areas of action, we currently have several projects running:
• Cycling To Grandma’s House Children’s Book
• Fact Sheets
• Purse Pad Project
• Celebration Days For Girls
• Menstrual Product Registry
• Partners Registry
When you conceived of the idea, did you choose to raise money or bootstrap?
Jac Torress-Gomez: The organisation is primarily bootstrapped. I am a strong believer in following your dreams; and if something ignites your passion (and sense of injustice) you should jump right in and do something about it because hard work can lead to good results. Yet so many times over, I have seen these social champions burn out financially, mentally and physically due to the stress of running an organisation or following a dream. I have actively decided to work in a way that is more sustainable for my organisation, for myself and for my family – that is, consciously working within my means with this work.
In order to work within my means, when there is a need identified for a new project, I do a lot of planning to understand the financial and time implications to undertake the work; and if it is better for me to partner with another organisation already working in this space, I will work in that way rather than start a new project. When there is need for funding, I speak to different funders to see how it will fit for them, and the advantages they will have by supporting such a project – for instance, advertising.
People may say working this way is old-fashioned, but I believe it is really important never to put one’s family into major financial risk through such social endeavours.
Finally, I ensure that I include an income for my hours when submitting a budget to request funding. Even if it is funding for just five hours of my time, I still need to be able to justify spreading my time and energy, as well as knowing the importance of modelling to other women the importance of respecting your time and work.
How did you go about building the organisation?
Jac Torress-Gomez: I started with a basic business plan of what I was hoping to achieve. It actually took a while to pull my head out of the excitement of just wanting to making a difference and actually put to paper some tangible results of what I was hoping to achieve after one year, two years and five years. I think ensuring that we measure our impact in what we do, and evaluate where we have come from, where we are and where we want to go, is vitally important.
I also carefully measured my capacity and that of my staff in taking on new projects. Sometimes it is better to say ‘no’ or commit less to certain projects and support in other ways such as sharing through social media or writing a blog about what a partner is doing rather than taking another project on board. While there are some many fantastic project ideas for Crimson Movement, I know that it is not possible to undertake them all at the same time. I think this is a smarter way to work; and when you can show that you have a measured approach to selecting and running projects, funders are more likely to take you seriously.
How do you fund your projects?
Jac Torress-Gomez: The key to running a small organisation is to be resourceful! While I have been very fortunate to receive several grants over the years to fund small projects within Crimson Movement, there has also been a large amount of in-kind support offered from organisations such as Think Out Loud Consulting. In return, for any in-kind support from our partners, I offer support such as to write a blog about their work or provide some pro-bono consulting work around community development projects – such as with Eco Femme in India.
There are also some fantastic ways to gauge support and team members when you need to increase your capacity. I’ve found companies such as Elance invaluable for seeking staff for projects. I also reach out to universities to see if they have students undertaking courses that require internships or practical experience in their field; and while I cannot pay these interns, I offer other rewards such as tickets to our or partner events, references or support in applying for work.
What is your greatest achievement with the organisation to date?
Jac Torress-Gomez: On February 1st 2014, through Crimson Movement, I will be publishing a children’s book called Cycling To Grandma’s House, which is considered one of the first of its kind globally – a gorgeous new picture book that gives parents and teachers a positive tool to begin a conversation about menstruation. Talented artist Erin-Claire Barrow illustrated this book.
Currently there is no known single tool like this for parents and educators to begin a conversation about menstruation; and as such, parents and educators can also feel limited in their capacity to speak to their children about this theme. My picture book allows children to become more familiar with the meaning of menarche and helps reduce any anxiety and fear related to this theme.
It also introduces children to some basic cultural celebrations related to menstruation. All this is supported by a ‘helpful tips and notes’ page at the end of the book for parents and educators to make starting this crucial discussion with children much easier. Knowing the impact this book will have has already given me an enormous sense of achievement, because I feel that through education, we will have a positive impact on the lives of our girls and women.
What is your proudest personal achievement?
Jac Torress-Gomez: Becoming a mother in August 2012. While I have been privileged to have some amazing experiences and achievements throughout my 32 years on this planet, bringing a child into this world, and working to provide for her and support her to grow into a well-adjusted adult is by far my proudest achievement. I love being a mother, and I love being Isabella’s mother. She is gorgeous and teaches me so much about living in the moment.
What has been the biggest challenge throughout this journey?
Jac Torress-Gomez: I think in terms of Crimson Movement, my biggest challenge has been to overcome my own fears around speaking openly about menstruation, and actually having the conversations myself that I want to see our society have while not taking on board other people’s negativity.
I remember when I was just starting out with Crimson Movement; I was sitting with a group of social entrepreneurs in a three-day retreat where we were workshopping our projects. While most of my group was quite open to the concept of my project, there was one man about 60 years old who crossed his arms when he heard about my project and shut me down saying gruffly ‘This topic is absolutely NOTHING to do with me. There is no way I can help you with this.’ I froze, feeling like I couldn’t continue speaking about menstruation in an open way with such a cold response as this.
Yet, I pushed through and asked him a little more about himself, and he indicated he had a wife and three adult daughters. He sat there quietly while the group moved on to brainstorm ideas, with that same grumpy look on his face and his arms crossed tightly over his body. Suddenly, he shouted ‘Wait! I know what you can do’. And he went on to explain how he wished there was information for fathers and sons about supporting the women in their life around menstruation, and that this kind of support would have made a difference to him in his parenting journey.
From that point, he was the driving force behind planning for my project during the retreat, showing such passion after realising that indeed, this topic was something he could talk about and something that did impact on him. Despite being very hard at the time, these challenges and ‘ah ha’ moments from the community are what drive my work.
What lessons have you learned from your challenges?
Jac Torress-Gomez: If you want to see change, you need to start with yourself, your language, your practices and your engagement with your own social networks. When you believe and embed this into your own life, others will come on board.
Also, I’ve learnt that being the ‘first follower’ of a leader with an ‘out-there’ idea is one of the best supporters you will have. Keep these first followers close and show them lots of love, even after everyone else starts following your idea these first followers will remain your best supporters and advocates.
What are your future plans for the organisation?
Jac Torress-Gomez: I have committed to donating 100 copies of ‘Cycling To Grandma’s House to different charities across the globe, and I would love to personally deliver ten books to one of these partners Eco Femme in India to actually see their projects in action and meet with them in person to plan some further projects together. So I will be seeking project sponsors to help fulfil this dream.
I will also be running some Celebration Days for Girls workshops, and also visiting schools to promote Cycling To Grandma’s House to speak to families and schools about what more they need to feel confident speaking openly about menstruation to their children. From this we will be doing some longer term planning for the organisation based on the needs that arise from the community.
For more information on Crimson Movement or to find out how you can support their overarching mission, visit www.crimsonmovement.com.