Meet Wendelien Hebly, one of the co-founders of Yoni, a company urging women (and men) to rethink periods. I recently watched her present at an event about the purpose economy. She made the audience feel uncomfortable; initially because of the topic of menstruation. As she continued, she took some of that discomfort away and replaced it with a much scarier topic: not knowing what we put in or near our bodies. Detailed labeling directives exist for food and cosmetics, but for some other personal products, like tampons, we’re mostly left in the dark. Her fight for transparency triggered me to request an interview. On a beautifully sunny Amsterdam day, over tea, we talked about profit, empowerment, and creativity.
Profit as fuel for a better world
“We started Yoni out of passion and frustration. Mariah was frustrated by the lack of organic products and the undisclosed ingredients in a product category as intimate as this. I was frustrated about not being able to use my creativity more, my passion for connecting things for progress. I was working at a big fashion company, where there wasn’t enough time to consider the impact the company has or could have. My personal conviction is that we should leave the planet behind a bit better than we found it. I believe sustainability is all about longevity; balancing people, planet, and profit in a way that creates a self-sustaining future. A future based on strong relationships between people. In the end, it is all about people growing together, without harming each other or the environment. In my vision of a sustainable world, profit is the fuel to enable that type of growth, not a goal in itself.
Empowering better choices through transparency
To achieve that kind of world, people need transparency to be empowered and to make more choices for the better. Yoni started due to a lack of transparency and a lack of choice. Mariah had a hard time finding organic tampons. Even within the eco-supermarkets that carried them, they were hard to find. And it was nearly impossible to find out what was in the “normal” tampons, pads, and panty liners. Ingredients are not listed on the packaging. And the manufacturers were not helpful in sharing them either. Analysis showed us that plastics and perfumes are often used in these products, yet they are not listed on the box. Strange, considering these are products that 50% of mankind use in an intimate place that is very absorbent. So we set out to kickstart a revolution. Raising awareness of the issue and offering alternative products, produced from organic cotton and with very clear labeling. Available in regular drugstores and supermarkets.
Creativity for change
We want to provide women relevant knowledge and a choice in her regular drugstore and supermarket. We need to be very creative to raise awareness and to get distribution in the relevant channels. It is much easier for smaller companies to be creative, as they’re independent and less set in their ways. With our creative communications, we make people more curious and aware about the products they use. We’re not looking to shock people, but rather to invite them to find out more for themselves. We’re tapping into the irrational mind. Facts alone usually do not drive change, people really need to be touched at an emotional level. We hope women will make a better choice empowered by the information and with the different products we offer. And, of course, we hope that the big brands and companies will follow to drive lasting positive change at a much larger scale.
Leadership for longevity
Two key elements of leadership have been essential in the success of Yoni so far: vision and inspiration. Vision to create a picture of where we’re going, translated into a concrete action plan. Inspiration to get people to think differently and to engage a much larger group of people. Together, these two elements of leadership empower people inside and outside of the company to be successful as part of the change, as ambassadors. In the coming years, Yoni will be expanding its geographic footprint, adopting and adapting the model from the launch in the Netherlands to empower women in other countries as well. This will require an additional leadership trait: the ability to scale up; to build the business and the organization. Mariah and I have made Yoni grow to far based on the first two leadership traits, and we’re currently exploring how we can best add the building trait to our leadership team for the years to come.”
For Wendelien, 2017 will be a special year. She’s not just expanding her company but also her family. She’s expecting her first child in April. For more information on Wendelien and her mission, check out her LinkedIn profile, the Yoni website and follow Yoni on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.
Interview by Marjolein Baghuis (@mbaghuis) for Change in Context. To read about other interesting people, book reviews and other posts about change, communications and sustainability, please subscribe.