Our cause

My entry into the NPO sector started in 1994 when I realised that working for Corporate South Africa was not my calling.

In 1994 I started working for an NPO whose core mission was to work for the homeless and vulnerable aged people in our society. 

I enjoyed the feeling of going to bed every night knowing that my actions did make a difference – I was responsible for fund raising the money needed to provide food parcels to over 2,000 people every month. But as the years went by I realised that only feeding the elderly was not enough – who was taking care of their mental and physical wellbeing.

I didn’t want to leave the sector but had outgrown the way I was doing things, so in 2012 I enrolled at the Gordon Institute for Business Science to do Social Entrepreneurship certificate.  This was a wonderful opportunity to be exposed to the corporate sector and learn about their approach to Corporate Social Investment and meet other NPO’s. The experience opened my eyes to a whole new way of doing business and that there were so many opportunities available to me.

So now I had to knowledge and the contacts but had no idea what to do next.

A friend of mine approached me to assist him with funding for children – something totally different from what I was used to. It was a bit daunting but seemed like a great new challenge.  My first task was to speak to a group of young girls (between the ages of 9 and 14 years of age) and find out what THEIR needs were.  After chatting about their future career choses, their boyfriends, their backgrounds I innocently asked them whether they preferred disposable sanitary towels or tampons. When asked, they told me they were using socks filled with sand, toilet paper and/or newspaper

I was not prepared for their responses – although they were aware of these products, because they’d seen them advertised on TV, billboards and radio NOT ONE SINGLE GIRL had ever actually used them because they could not afford these products. I can never explain how horrified and angry I was:

  • Firstly, because someone with my background had no idea what poverty meant
  • I couldn’t wrap my head around the indignity suffered by these young girls

I will never forget the date (6th February 2013) nor I will never forget the impact this had on me.

And so, Dignity Dreams was born – immediately – no 9-month gestation period - just an overwhelming drive to start making beautiful, washable reusable pads and to make young girls feel special during their menstruation.

We have come a long way since then:

  • All legal documents obtained i.e. NPO number, 18A Tax Exemption Certificate, BBBEE status, SARS certificate of good standing, drawing up a constitution and finding exceptional board members
  • Getting SABS absorbency approval for our pads
  • Convincing Corporates that our pads were a better option –
  • In terms of sustainability (our pads last for more than 3 years)
  • And better for the environment – in an article published in the STAR on 16th September 2016 Ms Kholosa Magudu – a project manager at World Wide Fund for Nature - stated that it takes 800 years for ONE disposable sanitary towels to decompose
  • Because we keep revisiting our beneficiaries to conduct focus group and gather information through surveys, we keep improving our offering i.e.
    • we are currently working on prototype 8 of our pads – a more comfortable pad
    • we have tailored our talks to primary and high school
    • we are publishing a booklet “Menstrual Health Matters” – that can be used by boys, girls, parents, teachers, social workers and care givers
    • making a concerted effort to involved young boys and men in the conversation – it’s important that they are also aware menstrual health
  • Creating MICRO businesses:  the ladies who sew our pads were previously unemployed – we have transferred skills and we pay them per item produced – so they can earn decent wages.

Being the founder and CEO of Dignity Dreams has been one or the greatest joys of my life.  I have gained far more from Dignity Dreams than any beneficiary has. I’ve learnt so much about myself. When I started, Dignity Dreams I thought poverty meant not having a roof over your head and not enough food. Now I realise that poverty means not being nurtured and cherished, having no role models not being valued as a young girl and woman. I’ve learnt not to be judgemental about the things I hear and see – after all I have not walked in the shoes our beneficiaries.

The joy of seeing a dream come true, the determination that young girls will have beautiful, feminine sanitary wear made all the personal, family and financial sacrifices I’ve made have made the journey worthwhile.

Sandra Millar