Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Carinne Chambers-Saini of Diva Is Helping To Change Our World

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Don’t be scared to take risks. The biggest risks we took, some of them didn’t pay off, but the ones we did are the reason we are here today. We once had an opportunity to have a billboard in Times Square. It was more money than we had ever spent on anything before. It ended up leading to our first mass retailer relationship with Shoppers Drug Mart, because the buyer had seen our billboard.

As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Carinne Chambers-Saini of Diva.

Carinne Chambers-Saini is the Founder and CEO of Diva, makers of the DivaCup. For twenty years, she has been an advocate for women’s health and menstrual equity, and in 2019 she executive produced Pandora’s Box, the first-ever feature-length documentary about how menstruation is experienced around the globe. She has won multiple awards for her entrepreneurship and innovation, including EY’s Entrepreneur of the Year, RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Award’s Woman of Influence of 2019, and was named Canada’s Top 40 Under 40.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

My mom, Francine Chambers, was a huge influence on me in choosing my current career path. Growing up, she never shied away from having conversations about menstrual health, which inspired me to change the dialogue around periods. I’ve always looked up to her. She’s been a very vocal advocate for women’s health her whole life, and she really inspired me to follow in her footsteps and continue to break barriers.

My mom had always dreamed of a better, safer, and more sustainable period care option, and after I graduated from university we joined forces to create Diva and the DivaCup. We had big dreams of transforming the menstrual care category, which didn’t even exist at the time. It was really not easy to bring reusable period care to the masses, but we knew we had something special so we never backed down. We really broke barriers to getting sustainable, reusable period care products on shelves. Now, you’d be hard-pressed to find a pharmacy in North America that didn’t have a menstrual cup in the period aisle.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

When my mom and I first started meeting buyers to introduce them to DivaCup, it was eye-opening how much period stigma existed even for buyers in the “feminine hygiene” category, as it was called then. I can’t tell you how many people couldn’t even look us in the eye, or who turned red when we started talking about our menstrual cup. My mom was always so good at breaking the ice — she’d bounce the DivaCup on the table, or juggle a few in the air, just to get people to laugh and relax. And once that happened, we were able to talk more frankly about how important and life-changing this innovation really was. We faced so much resistance and rejection in those days — we had some buyers tell us over and over that, it would never be a yes, that they will never bring this product on. But here we are. Not only is Diva on those shelves, but we have paved the way for other menstrual cups to be alongside us on those shelves. Things have certainly changed in just the last 10 years.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

One of the funniest that comes to mind is when we went to our first mass-market trade show — NACDS — in San Diego. It must have been around 2005. We showed up to the trade show with a roll-up banner and some DivaCups, and we had no clue that we were also supposed to rent all the furniture and décor for your booth. Up until that point we had only done smaller health fairs, but this was the real deal. There were two-story booths being constructed all around us and here we were with our little banner. My mom and I took a taxi to the closest Target and bought everything we could afford to make our booth look as welcoming as possible. A rug, a table with some chairs, I think we even got a house plant. At the end of the trade show, we had made a lot of great relationships, but we also learned that we still had a lot of work to do before we could expand into the mass market. It was a huge risk to participate in this trade show, and even though we were really not ready, I learned how important it was to put yourself out there, stand behind your ideas and innovations, and not be afraid to make mistakes along the way.

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

At Diva we’ve always been committed to donating DivaCups and educational materials and making financial contributions to organizations that align with our values and mission. But in 2018 we formalized our Impact program, which has really been a career highlight for me. Through this department, we address not only menstrual equity by supporting organizations that are on the ground expanding access to period care products, but we’re also focused on internal initiatives, like paid menstrual leave, to ensure that all Diva employees are cared for and valued.

We actually just released our annual Impact Report, which outlines all the ways we’re giving back and what we’re doing to advocate for menstrual equity. In the last twenty years, Diva has donated over $3M in product and financial gifts to community organizations. And in 2021–2022 we partnered with over 90 community organizations including PERIOD., No More Secrets, SIECUS: Sex Ed for Social Change. We have also been committed to education around periods and menstrual equity, so when Pandora’s Box: Lifting the Lid on Menstruation was released, we made sure to organize free screenings around the world, and in January 2021 we made the documentary available for free on YouTube in English, French, and Spanish.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

It is so difficult to pinpoint a single individual — we could tell thousands of stories. We hear from our partners all the time about the impact that donated DivaCups have on addressing menstrual inequity in communities across North America. In the last two years alone, throughout the global pandemic, we have seen more than ever a need for people to access period products that they can rely on. Unfortunately with schools and community services shut down, not to mention the current tampon shortage, some of our partner organizations, like PERIOD., have been facing a huge uptick in demand for their support. As a menstrual health organization they have acknowledged that reusable period care is an effective approach to addressing period poverty. It’s economical. It’s long-lasting. They have described having a menstrual cup as having empowerment in your pocket, and I couldn’t agree more. The thought that a donated DivaCup can relieve someone of the anguish of deciding between food or period care is immensely gratifying.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

We really need to create a space for this dialogue. Menstrual health will continue to be a taboo topic so long as we keep it behind closed doors, and the change starts with us. Listen to the people who menstruate in your community, how you can help them understand their bodies better, and how you can create policies that will help them take time to take care of their health.

We also need to make period products more accessible. Invest in nonprofits that help bring period products to those who might not have access to them otherwise.

And perhaps most importantly, we must invest in menstrual health education. It all starts with education. Invest in educational resources that can help the community as a whole learn about periods and better understand how they can support people who menstruate.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Leadership to me means trusting your team to do the job they were hired to do. It’s so important as a leader to understand that you don’t need to be the expert on everything. But you need to surround yourself with talented people who can help drive the team and the business towards its goals. It is so hard in the early days to do this — you kind of need to be doing everything. But as soon as you can, bring in amazing talent that can help take your business to the next level.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

Get a mentor. It is so valuable to learn from someone who is where you want to be. I wish I learned this sooner.

Don’t get discouraged by the setbacks. You’re still moving forward even when it doesn’t feel that way. Sometimes it felt really discouraging because we got so many Nos and faced so many challenges. We were trying to change an industry, and trying to change peoples’ ideas around menstruation. We kept having to remind ourselves that we had come this far, we couldn’t just quit. We always decided to keep going.

Set realistic expectations. Don’t compare yourself to others that are on a different or more advanced path. You don’t know how many steps ahead of you they are. Things take time, don’t be hard on yourself. So many business fold and give up within a year. We were cautious, and we grew slowly.

Having said that, don’t be scared to take risks. The biggest risks we took, some of them didn’t pay off, but the ones we did are the reason we are here today. We once had an opportunity to have a billboard in Times Square. It was more money than we had ever spent on anything before. It ended up leading to our first mass retailer relationship with Shoppers Drug Mart, because the buyer had seen our billboard.

Don’t forget to prioritize your own health. Learning from having severe burnout, and developing other health issues — I didn’t have enough help and I tried to be superwoman, especially after having kids. I take a walk every day, and I really prioritize nutrition — when I don’t do that, I notice right away that something is off. You are worthy of taking care of yourself.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I want everyone around the world to know about menstrual equity. If you’ve never worried about how to manage your period, you might be shocked by how many people struggle with this around the world. Everyone deserves to menstruate with dignity.

I’d love to erase menstrual inequity in my lifetime. I’d love for people to speak openly, without stigma, without facing discrimination, about periods and all the things we experience as a result of our cycles. It does all begin with a conversation, advocating for people who menstruate and for those who might not have the same access to the same resources. The only way to move this conversation forward is to stay informed about the issues that people who menstruate face around the world. A perfect place to start is to watch Pandora’s Box for free on YouTube. If you’ve never heard the term “menstrual equity”, the documentary will be hugely eye-opening to you.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Desmond Tutu said, “Do a little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.” Sometimes doing good and pushing boundaries can seem impossible, but when I look at the huge community of DivaCup users, of the family of partner organizations on the ground addressing menstrual inequity every day, it’s hard to ignore the incredible momentum we’ve all created together.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Carinne Chambers-Saini of Diva Is Helping To Change Our World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.