Arunachalam Muruganantham, a southern Indian man and high school dropout, first became aware of these problems when, as a newlywed, he saw his wife handling some old rags that he "would not have used to clean his scooter" and asked why she didn't buy herself menstrual pads instead. After she explained that she could not afford both pads and milk, he chose to surprise her by buying her a pad to use. Noticing that they were made of cotton, a fairly cheap crop, he started to wonder if it was possible to produce an affordable sanitary pad that his wife and women in similar situations could use, and shortly set off to work on creating this affordable pad.
Muruganantham encountered many obstacles in his research; in order to test if the pads he created worked, he needed women to test them, but he learned that only a few of the women in the study filled out everyone else's feedback sheets, meaning these results could not be trusted. He then decided he would test the pads himself, crafting a homemade uterus by punching holes in a soccer ball and filling it with goat blood and wearing it beneath his clothes. He also had the idea to distribute his sanitary napkins for free and study the used napkins to understand how they were working. When he realized his pads did not work as well as the more expensive pads, he decided to shift his focus; pretending to be a millionaire, he wrote to the heads of the manufacturing companies to ask for raw samples, which led him to the key material - cellulose, a material from tree bark that typically is extracted using expensive machinery. However, after four and a half years of trial-and-error, he created an inexpensive machine that extracts the cellulose from trees and can produce packs containing eight pads each for the equivalent of $0.25, making them much more available to rural women. Currently, there are around 1,300 villages across India that have these machines in operation and they have provided thousands of rural women with improved reproductive health options.
In Collins and Amabile's essay on motivation and creativity, they argue that in order for creativity to be achieved, motivation must come from within an individual rather than from concern for what others think of their work. It would be difficult to think of someone who exemplifies this more than Muruganantham; in his initial research, the villagers in his town thought he was a pervert, his wife left him because of his reputation, and even his own mother became disgusted with his work. However, he continued his work regardless because he truly thought he could make a difference, and as a result, he was able to find an innovative solution for a pervasive problem, and his work will continue to benefit women for years to come.
More about his work in his own words:
Collins, M. A., & Amabile, T. M. (1999). Motivation and creativity. In Robert J. Sternberg (Ed.) Handbook of Creativity.New York: Cambridge University Press.