Hebee: the non-profit startup aimed at mitigating period poverty
One of the greatest accomplishments of her life, or at least one the thing she’s most emotionally attached to and proud of, started as a college summer project, and turned out to be a promising non-profit startup aimed at mitigating period poverty: Hebee.
It is an ongoing project, as they are designing a free period product dispenser and a smartphone tracking application, thanks to the help of two technology interns that took up their cause, either thanks to Paige’s great convincing ability or to their belief in helping others and doing good.
Indeed, Paige Lyles is a great talker and performer, especially when explaining the passions that motivate her. Our interview turned out to be a deep 1-hour conversation, where I had the honor to dig deep into this reality, addressing disparate topics and expressing inspiring concepts.
I started with a basic question, to lay the foundations for the subsequent discourse:
Tell me the things you think I should know about your project.
The story begins one and a half years ago, when we were randomly assigned to a team for a summer program, which goal of the group was you need to come up with and I quote, like, a solution to one of the world’s most pressing problems. We all came from different parts of California, but as soon as Meghan proposed to tackle period poverty, we all felt like we were held close by a common vision of the world, common values and will to make an impact.
Initially, we were four, me, Meghan Chan, Ariana Dominicks and a guy, but when the project became more demanding he had to leave us due to the increased workload of his study.
We started with the aim of helping homeless people. The Alameda County, that contains both San Francisco and Berkeley has the highest unhoused population in the entire United States. And it’s ironic, because California is the wealthiest state in the country, and is becoming the world’s 4th largest economy by outperforming Germany, but all this wealth is not distributed at all, and too many Californians are left out of our state’s economic success.
Therefore, the impact on the female population left unhoused is really high. When you don’t even know where your next meal is going to come from, or where you’re going to sleep, the question of finding period products become marginal. Even though it is not marginal at all.
I watched a bunch of documentaries before coming into this project, and became conscious about all that rotates around it: issues like sanitation and cleanliness, and all the infections and health problems that can come from it.
I totally understand that, as a matter of fact our project “Working for Wasa” in Tanzania also deals with the period problems of the girls of the school. When women are uneducated about, or simply prevented from dealing with the consequences of bad period hygiene, this sets out consequences that concern not only personal health, but also self-sufficiency, independence and mental health.
But finally, you did not work with homeless people, how did this happen?
You are right. We recognized that the scope was too big to start with, so we decided to narrow it to students.
Because with startups, you have to iterate.
Our idea has always been, and will always be, non-profit, if you need funding, companies and donors aren’t going to put money into something that doesn’t come with profit for them. We live in a capitalist world, where everyone wants to make gains from anything.
Therefore, we understood we had to pivot to get grants that will enable us to build this product and flush it out.
How to exploit the society we are in, and its winners, to make good, and help its losers.
So we pivoted students. Our goal is to provide career products to students on campus. And so we still are helping those who are in need in terms of our outreach. We get donations, for example we were connected with a shelter that was closing down and had an excess of period products that we were able to redistribute.
We worked with the Berkeley Afghan Student Association and gave out around 100 packs of 100 menstrual hygiene kits, to handle people who recently relocated. We also partnered with UC Berkeley’s Society of Women Engineers.
Ok sorry, if I ranted a lot, but I’ll come straight to the point.
In short, Hebee is an IoT ( Internet of Things) system that streamlines access to period products for students. The idea is that you open up your app and you look at the interface and it has your location if you allow access to it, and shows you the closest dispenser and its availability of tampons and pads.
This in intended to ease a situation that for women, and in particular students, can most times become very complicated, due to the stigma connected to it, to the high costs, and to the technical difficulties not taken into consideration by the way our society is built.
In Italy the tampon tax has been reduced only this year from 22%, that is the one for luxury products, to 5%, recognizing its value and importance and after years of protests. But coming to the US I have experienced the true concept of “luxury product”. Buying ads can become significantly expensive, and when you have to account for it in grocery counting on relatively few money, and struggling to buy the basic things to reach the end of the month, it can make a big difference that not everybody has the “luxury” to afford.
So you were so motivated by this issue also because it was something that you felt on your skin, right? Do you think that you would have been able to pursue this project?
In the US we have the so-called “Pink Tax”, meaning the state sales taxes on feminine products that inflate the price of goods found on retail shelves and lead to women paying much more than men over time due to the adding up of multiple small price differences.
I think the men don’t fully internalize that, but I also believe that they can understand it when helped by women that introduce them to a different point of view.
Maybe I had been with three boys rather than two girls and a guy this issue would not have even come up, but I am confident that in the case it did, they would not have been reluctant to actively work on it and try to tackle it. I want to believe in the cooperation between.
And , after all, I’m quite sure I would have been able to convince them anyways, either by deliver a full set of data to stun them with, or by a persuasive talk.
I have the last two questions and then I’ll set you free.
Our association, “Students for humanity” is a student association, as you can tell by the name. association is the same like we’re a Student Association, and, especially in our project in Tanzania, we have often found difficulties to gain respect of the adult world.
They mostly refuse to believe in the expertise of the guys, thinking that they are coming from a superior level, so I feel like we as young people we have to work the hardest to make our ideas come through. Have you felt the same with your project?
Because it’s better than here. Yeah. Yeah, I feel that happened to me a lot of times, just in life in general, being a woman.
But I also feel lucky, and it might be because I’m in the Bay Area. It is a bubble of very progressive forward-thinking individuals. There’’s a culture that overall protects us from that, the cancel culture, and everyone seems to have a very radical approach to it.
But this doesn’t mean I’m 100% protected from abuses of power and biases.
I had to learn how to respond to people who disrespect us or don’t believe us , but I think that when you really believe in your project you have a powerful tool in your hands: self advocacy, that really comes from your passion. I think it’s how you’re like yourself, I think it’s the confidence.
If you’re pitching a product, or you’re pitching your philanthropy project idea, you have to ask yourself questions like “Where would they think that this would fail?” And you need to already have an answer for it, and to be able to show others what you can see.
In conclusion, I would say the most important things are: passion, preparedness confidence, and advocacy.
It is very inspiring, and I hope to always find that force within me as well.
To wrap up, what is the part that you prefer about Hebee?
The best thing is genuinely helping people. We all come from so many different backgrounds, but the intrinsic value of giving back is such a human thing that ties us very strongly. It’s the most gratifying thing to see that you’ve been actively able to make a positive difference, and I think it relates to the idea of power. Sometimes in this big world, we do find we don’t have the power to make a difference when we see like so many things going wrong that we wish we could change but are unable to.
But when you realize that even the smallest little difference like that has a consequence, that makes it all worth it.
We got that advice from another. We were discussing future projects with the director of Dorothy Day House . She’s the one who actually gave us the period products to redistribute and she said “If you want to be able to connect with your community, you have to let them that they know that you care. I can tell you girls care, but does your community know it? Try to actually connect with those people, start from them, and in this way you’ll find the answer on how to go ahead.”.
You have to start from the small differences that you can perceive to avoid feeling overwhelmed by the inputs that come from everywhere.
There’s something that my mom used to say to help me finish my homework when I complained about it being too much, and it It’s so overwhelming. I’m like, well, there’s so much to do. And she was like,. Pick up Like my mom used to tell me to convince me to doing my homework, you just have to look at the stack of work, pick up the first thing, start it, and then you’ll finish it all. It’ll come naturally. Pace by pace you’ll be done.
To end with another quotations, since they make me feel very wise and are actually quite effective, little sticks make a damn. I don’t know where that came from, but I like it.
Yes, as they say “Little drops make the mighty ocean”. Thank you again, it’s been a really inspiring talk and a pleasure as a friend. We wish you all the best for the success of your project.
Little Things Poem
by Julia Carney, 1845
Little drops of water
Little grains of sand,
Make the mighty ocean,
And the pleasant land.
So the little moments,
Humble though they be,
Make the mighty ages
So our little errors
Lead the soul away
From the path of virtue,
Far in sin to stray.
Little deeds of kindness,
Little words of love,
Make our earth happy,
Like the Heaven above.
Francesca Romana Miti
 Dorothy Day House has been serving the homeless community in Berkeley for 29 years – providing shelter, food, and other services to those in need. https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=&ved=2ahUKEwjG6baDgKX-AhX5LEQIHaPSBIQQFnoECBMQAQ&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.dorothydayhouseberkeley.org%2F&usg=AOvVaw19b7K2TEivVLbyzcvuF7Ay
Little Things: A Poem about Small Acts of Kindness https://www.famlii.com/little-things-poem-julia-carney/