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The Washing Machine Project

Our contribution is the development of a single, standalone, portable and low-cost off-grid washing solution accessible for everyone.

Photo of Navjot Singh Sawhney
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What problem does the idea help to solve and how does your solution work? (2,000 characters maximum)

As it currently stands 70% of the world’s population do not have access to a washing machine (TED, 2010) and instead, have to resort to washing their clothes by hand in rivers, streams, lakes and buckets. Not only is hand washing extremely time consuming, taking up to 20 hours a week for some households (GiraDora, 2013) but also adds to the burden of unpaid domestic work carried out by women and can lead to chronic back and joint pain in the long-term. The specific people we aim to impact are women who constitute a larger part of the world’s poor and carry the responsibility for caretaking as well as household tasks, they are more dependent on basic services such as water, sanitation and health (UNICEF, 2014). Consequently, this leads to many women spending countless hours queuing to collect water, access a sink/shower or use a communal washing machine. The time spent time washing clothes can be incredibly disheartening for women as they could allocate this time to other activities. In addition, it will inevitably add to the already stressful experience of living in a refugee camp. Within a humanitarian context, the burden of handwashing clothes is exacerbated, temporary shelters are often situated in barren environments with limited access to water, electricity and washing facilities. People on the move often do not have the time or capability to take a washing machine with them on their journey to safety. The Washing Machine Project is aiming to create a portable, low-cost, off-the-grid washing machine. It will weigh less than 4kg and have a drum size of 5kg to only use 0L of water per cycle, making it better adapted to the water-scarce conditions. Research has found that the average family size is six persons with an average washing requirement of 15 kg per week. This equates to 3 X 10-minute cycles each, which is 30 minutes per week. We found that 50% of users spend up to 8 hours hand washing clothes, equating to 7 hours 30 minutes saved per week.

Geography of focus (500 characters)

We are currently targeting refugee and IDP camps in the Middle East but plan to expand into Africa in 2020. These communities are specifically targeted because it is within the context of a humanitarian crisis that the burden of handwashing is exacerbated. Within these situations availability to water is limited. This is a problem for the people we aim to help and also the host communities. The Middle East as a target location stems from the network of individuals that work for the Project.

Building Bridges: What bridge does your idea build between people on the move and neighbors towards a shared future of stability and promise? (500 characters)

Our idea has been initially focused on people on the move, as aimed at refugees within camps. While we aim to sell our low-cost washing machines to low-income populations (neighbours), integrating both people on the move and neighbours by solving the same problem that both sets of populations face. The device will enable both populations to improve their lifestyles while focussing greater efforts on other more important daily tasks towards both of development for stability and promise.

What human need is your idea solving for? (1,000 characters)

We are aiming to reduce the time spent hand washing could reduce social exclusion experienced by women in IDP camps who spend many hours in the week hand washing. Our study found that most started doing this for the family before the age of 16. The project, therefore, has the potential to free this time for young girls to encourage the continuation of education. For adult women, it will free up time for family, community-based or economic activities. Health-wise we aim to assist in the reduction of skin irritation and chronic back pain through the design of a machine that does not involve continually getting skin wet. By making it portable, we also hope it can be put a comfortable height for the user to reduce the need to bend over to use it.

What will be different within the community of focus as a result of implementing your idea? (1,000 characters)

Having conducted pilots in Iraq upon refugees within camps, feedback highlighted numerous actionable impacts on the problems that we are working to address. This includes Basic Needs of Sanitation, Good Health & Well-being as well as helping to reduce poverty. Our idea is also working to empower women through supporting women that are usually having to partake in washing clothes for families. Ultimately, allowing greater social inclusion for women and increases to life expectancy due to reduced health issues. Positive change over the course of the proposed project will directly be by gaining and assessing feedback from first-hand users with stakeholder satisfaction. This will be through surveys and direct interviews, utilising the information to understand whether it is having a positive change in their lives. Their feedback will be crucial towards assessing whether it has determined a positive change, as they are the reason why we wish to utilise our device for those in need.

What is the inspiration behind your idea? (1,000 characters)

Nav was born and brought up in London, but his family are from unpartitioned India. During 1947, Indian Independence, Nav’s father and his family fled their home from what now is Pakistan with only the clothes on their backs. This has always been the foundations of why he wants to help people fleeing conflict. Our founder, Navjot Sawhney, identified the need for a solution to the burden of hand washing while in Southern India as part of an Engineers Without Borders UK placement with the social enterprise Prakti, based in Kulipalayam, rural Tamil Nadu. Though Prakti focuses on producing clean and efficient cookstoves, Nav began his research into handwashing solutions after hearing from local women about the time spent on and physical burden caused by hand washing. He also observed the public health risks posed by hand washing in unsafe or contaminated bodies of water. Overall, understanding the importance of how our idea can impact communities of focus to enhance their lives.

Describe the dynamics of the community in which the idea is to be implemented. (1,000 characters)

We hope to start initially with distribution to areas of a humanitarian crisis. As it stands, 65.8 million people are displaced (refugee, IDP or asylum seekers) (UNHCR, 2019). After the pilot stage in the Kurdish region of Iraq, we aim to roll out the project within other humanitarian and development settings. While research is limited, it is estimated that 70% of the world's population do not have access to a washing machine (TED, 2010).

How does your idea leverage and empower community strengths and assets to help create an environment for success? (1,000 characters)

Strengths and advantages of communities that we wish to serve are that they have a strong sense of community with a strong structure. This will enable our device to be utilised within a structured environment where there is a demand for it.

What other partners or stakeholders will work alongside you in implementing the idea, if any? (1,000 characters)

Our current partners are Oxfam Iraq Innovation Lab that has given us a small grant to conduct pilot trials to develop the machine within refugee camps in Iraq. Furthermore, we have established partnerships with Engineers without Borders, Care International, IOM and World Vision. We aim to work with WASH-related partners and stakeholders in order to further the machine’s success within the environment of refugee camps as well as low-income populations. Our beachhead market is Iraq, in which, we are aiming to penetrate the Jordan, Kenya and Uganda refugee camps within the next 2 years. Thus, we are seeking stakeholders and partners specifically within these regions too.

What part of the displacement journey is your solution addressing

  • Arriving and settling at a destination community

Tell us how you'd describe the type of innovation you are proposing

  • Product: A new or enhanced physical product that creates value for end beneficiaries

Idea Proposal Stage

  • Pilot: We have started to implement the idea as a whole with a first set of real users. The feasibility of an innovation is tested in a small-scale and real world application (i.e. 3-15% of the target population)

Group or Organization Name

The Washing Machine Project

Tell us more about your group or organization [or lived experience as a displaced person?] (1000 characters)

Our team consists of 10 individuals with a passion for humanitarianism and sustainability. Currently, alongside their full-time jobs, each staff member contributes 20 hours per week. The team have a multitude of different backgrounds, in which, we form The Washing Machine Project to collaboratively develop the product we believe can impact communities throughout the world. To ensure this project is a success, fitting to each team members different role, we have utilised a structure of continuous internal deadlines for the entire team alongside daily coordination and updates of the progression of the project. This is an increasing commitment to the project, most evident by the founders taking long periods off work and committing personal financial resources to the project. We are connected to partners or communities via private networks as well as direct contact with organisations who have seen the potential of our idea and solution.

Website URL:

Type of submitter

  • We are a For-Profit Startup or Startup Social Enterprise

Organization Headquarters: Country

United Kingdom

Organization Headquarters: City / State


1 comment

Join the conversation:

Photo of Bremley Lyngdoh

Hi Navjot great to have your idea on the platform for the challenge. It's exciting and I really like your idea. As the ideas phase comes to an end today the 17th of August, we would encourage you to again have a look at the evaluation criteria here

Also, it will be exciting for your to check out other ideas on the platform, provide some feedback and explore potential areas of collaboration with them. Check out the Migration Lab Program