Finding a way to fight gender discrimination in Africa, the second largest continent in the world, can feel overwhelming—perhaps impossible.
The question: How do women survive in a place where second-class citizenry, abuse, and female circumcision are so widespread?
The answer: education. Proper education empowers women, helps secure employment, promotes financial independence, and fights gender discrimination.
Many families in Africa, however, are often forced to make a crucial decision: feed the family or purchase proper hygiene products that enable women to go to school and work. In fact, one out of every seven girls in Africa skips school because she simply doesn’t have feminine hygiene products. That means each month girls miss one week of school.
Joon Kwon, Creative Director, Havas Seoul, is determined to fight this problem. Havas Korea has designed the Dream Ring—a cheap, safe, long-lasting, eco-friendly alternative for women, which costs just one-thirtieth of the price of a regular pad. Dream Ring has been named a Top Winner in the IDEA 2017 global design contest for its ingenuity and is now up for the IDEA People’s Choice award. Voting is open until August 11.
Here Joon Kwon talks about how his team used creative wit to fight gender discrimination and provide basic needs to women in Africa.
Tell us a little about your background.
I started my career at WPP Group. First at Grey Worldwide Korea and then Geometry Global. I have been the Creative Director at Havas Seoul for less than a year. Shortly after I joined Havas, we pitched for the BMW Korea lead creative agency and won.
I am a firm believer in forming a strong team spirit and having the right intracompany chemistry to create magic for our clients.
At Havas Seoul, I am fortunate to have colleagues whom I respect and have worked with in the past. I’ve worked with our Executive Creative Director, Usuk Li, for more than a decade. Many of us have worked together between six and eight years. We also have staff who are just starting their careers or came to Havas only a few weeks ago. The team is experienced and professional but also very fresh and new. I feel lucky to be able to work with such a great bunch of passionate, creative, and energetic colleagues.
Why is it important for ad agencies to create projects that have a greater social impact?
I am used to working for clients, or simply commercial profits, because I work at an advertising agency. As a creative person, however, I don’t want to always operate within those boundaries. It doesn’t have to be an advertising project to spark creativity. A product design concept with social impact can spark the same—or even greater—creativity. Social contribution projects and advertising projects go through similar processes. Both use a process that involves finding a problem and providing a solution. Both bring people together to throw ideas around and eventually create a single idea.
As a creative, I have a calling to use 80% of my talents for the company and the business and 20% to make society better. Working for clients and the company is primary. But what kind of mark can you leave on society? That’s an important question. The best scenario would be to work with a client to implement social impact projects and to change society for the better and, at the same time, improve a client’s image.
Our Chief Executive Officer of Havas Village Seoul, Joseph Rhee, has a great interest in social contribution. He is currently involved in a project in which professional chefs provide food and cooking classes for orphans. He is very passionate about and supportive of solving social issues. So my team is working in a great environment where we can focus and work on meaningful projects.
How did you first identify the challenge that so many African women face with lack of feminine hygiene products?
Dream Ring started as I was thinking of how to resolve the problems caused by sexism toward women in Africa. One of the team members lived in Africa for many years. Her experience in Africa helped me to get a realistic understanding of the situation that African women are facing. Countless women in Africa have low social roles. Female circumcision and violence toward women are common. They are discriminated against in poor working environments.
I thought about the reasons for these problems. My team and I realized that Korea went through similar struggles about 30 to 40 years ago. However, Korean women now can hold much higher social roles compared to the past. They can make this leap because of education. The fact that women can have the same level of education as men is leading to women having the same opportunities for secure employment and financial independence, and being empowered to fight gender discrimination.
I thought, why don’t women in Africa receive enough education? After doing some research, we learned that one of the core reasons for girls not going to school was because of their menstrual cycles. Impoverished girls choose not to go to school during their cycles because they have no money to buy feminine hygiene products. This means they miss school one week out of every month. African superstitions and attitudes towards this monthly cycle aggravates the problem. Missing school a week every month makes it difficult for them to keep up with the curriculum. Female hygiene products are, in fact, directly linked to their survival in Africa. With such little money, families often are faced with a decision to buy food or these sanitary products.
So I decided that women in Africa must have cheap, safe, long-lasting female hygiene products. Dream Ring is here to help African women.
How does Dream Ring address the needs of these impoverished women?
We developed Dream Ring to address the circumstances in Africa, specifically these two points: There needs to be a cheap solution and the products need to be hygienic and safe. To satisfy these requirements, we have divided the product into a disposable part and a reusable part. Leaving only the functionality of the now-commercialized menstrual cups, the rest of the parts were made of vinyl to reduce the price of the product. Using hygienic sugarcane vinyl, which is eco-friendly, we can provide the product consistently and at a low cost. Women can dispose the used part of the product and replace it with a new one every time.
Compared to a disposable pad, it is only one-twentieth of the price. Compared to the menstrual cups, along with initial purchasing cost, it is only one-thirtieth of the price. Made of disposable vinyl, the product is always hygienic and safe to use. A pad touches a woman’s body, so hygiene is extremely important. Because there are no water-purifying facilities in Africa, water is often contaminated with all types of viruses. So whatever is washed with water may be contaminated.
How are you able to get the product to those who need it most?
As I mentioned above, Dream Ring is in development from concept design. I am putting a lot of thought into how to actually manufacture and distribute this product on a large scale. We can try to manufacture and distribute on our own, but, realistically, that’s not feasible. We need funding. Some of our clients have shown great interest in Dream Ring. We have a possibility of making Dream Ring as a CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) business with a current client.
How are you spreading the word about this project?
I believe that Dream Ring is a promising project, and that the public and renowned institutions will recognize that. We submitted Dream Ring to the world’s most renowned Design Awards: IDSA, iF and Red Dot, and we received great news from IDSA: Dream Ring is currently nominated as a Top Winner at IDEA 2017, and up for the People’s Choice Award, where people can vote until August 11. We’ll find out if we receive a Silver or Gold award at the ceremony on August 19. Winning such an award in a world-class competition can not only show that this project is a successful creative, but also can make this project known to more people, at no cost.
Winning an award of this type helps the project immensely. It also helps communicate with companies’ CSR teams. Last year, we received awards from iF and IDEA (Gold) with a social project, Suncubator, a crib that absorbs the sun’s heat by day so that babies can be warm at night. The project immediately received a lot of attention from various global companies and journalists. The news about Suncubator spread throughout the world immediately. More than 200 articles were written about the project. I believe Dream Ring can also receive the same attention from the press without any cost to us.
How can others support this initiative?
We are still thinking about specific ways to help fund this project since it is only at the conceptual design phase. We still have a long way to go to implement this idea. I ask for consideration and encouragement, especially from our coworkers at Havas. Havas Villagers around the globe can vote for Dream Ring in the IDEA 2017 People’s Choice Award by August 11.
Do you have plans to provide help to women outside of Africa?
Dream Ring is designed to benefit the greater good. It considers society, the environment, and culture. Dream Ring not only solves the challenge of caring for a woman’s body during menstruation, but also addresses the problem of sexism in developing countries. In Africa 200 million women—and 600 million across the world—suffer from an inability to afford feminine hygiene products. The problem of women not being able to afford a pad or tampon is not unique to Africa or to developing countries—but to all women who live in poverty. More importantly, they are at risk of a serious infection when they use a piece of newspaper, rag, or mud as a replacement for a pad. In Africa, one-seventh of all women quit school because they cannot afford a feminine hygiene product. These women lose opportunities to change their socioeconomic status which leads to a perpetuating sexism problem. Dream Ring can be a solution that breaks this vicious cycle to protect the rights of women.
We are planning different ways to provide Dream Ring to regions in need. Again, Africa has 200 million women in need of pads. There are 600 million others around the world. In Asia, 100 million women suffer from poverty and sexism.
Dream Ring’s ultimate goal is to restore the rights and opportunities that are taken from women. It’s important to note that Dream Ring won the Asia Design Prize. It means that also in Asia, there is a need for a solution such as Dream Ring. It’s my mission to provide Dream Ring to women not only in Africa, but all over the world.
What do you hope that others learn from your team’s efforts?
After coming to Havas, I wanted to start a new social impact project with people with whom I worked for a long time. Usuk, Jihye, Insup, Seoyoon, and Chanhee showed commitment to work on a new social impact project.
When my team started engaging on ideas and concepts for Dream Ring, Havas Seoul had just finished a successful pitch for BMW Korea. It was an important pitch and my team was exhausted. Instead of taking time to rest, they chose to work on project Dream Ring immediately. In the end, the BMW pitch and Dream Ring both had successful results in competitions.
The CSR team from our new client, who found out about Dream Ring, is considering it as their new project. I attribute the success of these projects to the dedication and hard work of all members of my team. No one imagined that things would go this well. We simply gave our all to the challenge that was at hand without giving up. It was hard for sure, but after all the work, we made three great accomplishments. I am thankful and happy for that.
What is the ultimate goal for Havas Seoul?
My team’s ultimate goal of this project is to just embrace people with different ideas, change society, improve the standard of living, and, as a result, make a positive impact. My team is researching different ways to manufacture and distribute Dream Ring. I want to see the successful, widespread implementation of this project.
I am excited and thankful because I see that I am not the only one chasing after this dream. I look forward to working on various projects with those in Havas who are united by the same vision.