Shaping the future: Our strategy for research and innovation in humanitarian response.

A global organisation that finds solutions to complex humanitarian problems through research and innovation..
Our purpose is clear: we work in partnership with a global community of humanitarian actors, researchers and innovators to improve the quality of humanitarian action and deliver better outcomes for people affected by crises.
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The steps to washing your hands seem simple. You see it on posters in bathrooms, on social media or in medical  waiting rooms. You just grab the soap, turn on the tap and follow the guidance.

But what if you don’t have soap, or any clean water? What if there isn’t any guidance on the best way to wash your hands, and you’re in an environment where the handwashing facilities are unfamiliar to you?

Sometimes it takes more than 3 steps to wash your hands. That’s why, following our  Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) sector Gap Analysis, we created the Handwashing Challenge in 2016. The aim of this challenge was to explore soap alternatives, create better handwashing facilities or find new and effective ways to promote handwashing that would result in behaviour change.

Two years on, these innovations have refined their creations and have been testing them in humanitarian and emergency settings to gain vital insight into their use. Here’s a glimpse at these handwashing innovations and how they are helping:

Hidden Incentive’s soap products

Incentivising soap use with toys

How do you make soap use more exciting for kids?

While many user-centred handwashing promotions focus mainly on health benefits, the Hidden Incentives  project centres on creating a fun-focussed approach with a soap that contains a small toy hidden at its core.

As you use it the soap slowly washes away, leaving you with clean hands and a fun gift. Better still, the aim is to manufacture these soaps locally, at low cost and tailored to the preferences of the community.

Find out more.

Handwash event in a kindergarten in Tamil Nadu, India, where kids were taught how to use Supertowel

Soap-free Supertowel

How do you approach handwashing when soap is in short supply? It’s possible to use the power of anti-microbial technology.

Real Relief’s Supertowel  needs very little water either – in their recent tests in Mumbai, volunteers used an average of 96% less  water compared to washing with soap, making handwashing even more accessible.

The Supertowel is light-weight, durable and has an anti-microbial treatment that, in their lab tests, have killed 99% of common bacteria such as Escherichia Coli and Staphylococcus Aureus.

Find out more.


A handwashing station with both promotion and practice in mind

Handwashing promotion can only go so far when the facilities available are confusing to use, difficult to install or maintain, or are messy due to things like lack of drainage. These are just some of the issues Oxfam have addressed with the design of their new handwashing station.

The low-cost station is made from a frame that can support different water containers, an easy-to-use soap dispenser and a mirror. The design is easy to install and height-adjustable, meaning it can be adapted for use by children or wheelchair users.

The tap has been in development for more many years and has been trialled in emergency settings in South Sudan and Liberia.

One of its important features is that it conserves water, vital in settings where access to clean water is limited, by dispensing only small amounts of water at a time.

“In refugee settings water is very important” explains Dr Foyeke Tolani, a public health adviser with Oxfam, in an interview with the telegraph “and clean water is often scarce so people need to conserve it.”

Trials of the kit are currently taking place in Uganda, after which Oxfam will be looking to start mass production so they can share the kit with the world.

Find out more.

A schoolboy with his finished puppet at Ndurarua Primary School

Puppet-powered behaviour change

Shows like The Muppets  and Sesame Street  proved to us that puppets are able to pull on heart strings, but can they also save lives?

In a world where an estimated 50% of diarrheal disease-associated deaths could be avoided by washing hands with soap and water[1], storytelling can be a powerful tool to address what can be a taboo topic.

That is what No Strings International has been doing with the creation and development of their puppet-based education project. Using a specially made film, and a variety of creative workshops for children and their communities, they aim to tackle sensitive issues to create long-lasting behavioural change.

Find out more.

The good failure of Moringa

In our drive to discover and share ‘what works’ in WASH humanitarian practice, we also need to share what doesn’t. That is what happened when Action Against Hunger Spain explored the possibility of using parts of the Moringa plant as an alternative to soap.

During lab tests, however, the plant appeared to promote the growth if bacteria such as E.Coli instead of kill it. But this failure doesn’t mean everything is lost. In a recent blog (originally published by UNHCR Innovation) our Innovation Manager, Cecilie Hestbaek, talks about what why this was a ‘good failure’ and what we can learn from it.

Find out more.

[1] World Health Organization. Water for health: taking charge. 2001.

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