Who Knew That a Simple Washing Machine Could Make a Real Difference

Scientist with a heart, Nav Sawhney, tells Goodnet all about it!

Oct 11, 2021
Who Knew That a Simple Washing Machine Could Make a Real Difference | Scientist with a heart, Nav Sawhney, tells Goodnet all about it!

Meet Divya. This new product is just a simple, hand-cranked washing machine, but this invention is still a lo-tech wonder! This is because it’s giving back hours and improving the lives of vulnerable and displaced people around the world, thanks to its inventor, Nav Sawhney.

The washing machine he invented is a shining example of green tech. It has a large drum capacity of 5kg (11 pounds) but only consumes 10 liters (2.6 gallons) of water per cycle, compared to the 30 liters an average washing machine uses.

This is critical in settings like refugee camps where water is scarce. Powered by a crank-handle, the Divya doesn’t need an energy supply.  Our machine also dries clothes through a gear in the lid, saving people up to 75 percent of time and 50 percent of water compared to hand washing clothes, Sawhney told Goodnet.

Sawhney is a remarkable changemaker. He’s a young, bright engineering graduate, a community-minded person who gave up his promising career at cool design company Dyson (despite his beloved Mom’s objections) to focus on channeling his technical skills to helping society’s most vulnerable people. Rather than refining consumer durables for consumers leading comfortable lives, he wanted to help low income and displaced people lead better lives.

Sawhney started his new direction with Engineers Without Borders,  working on clean stove technology for safer meal preparation. But the difficulties faced by his host’s neighbors in rural India, particularly the mother who toiled at hand washing her family’s clothing, moved him to invent the new machine and found The Washing Machine Project charity. Its mission is to alleviate the burden of hand-washing clothes.

As a media release from the University of Bath, UK details, this product is named after Divya, the family’s young mother,  who told him that this type of machine could transform her life. 

As well as saving time, the machine minimizes skin contact with abrasive detergents. Importantly, it also encourages other members of the family to take responsibility for laundry, not just women. 

Or as Sawhney told Goodnet: One of my favorite parts of my job is to talk to people in the field directly and hear men say to me ‘even I can wash clothes now’ as we are trying to equalize the gender imbalance we see across the world. He hopes that this can free up time for women and young girls to pursue education.

Gender equality is one way Sawhney’s project is supporting the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Alongside good health and wellbeing,  partnerships are another goal that he pursues.  Sawhney explains that his approach fuses his team’s solutions-focused know-how with working with people on the ground with local knowledge:  

We work with 150 volunteers in six countries. The amazing people on our team are purpose-driven, frustrated with the world they’ve inherited but keen to change things for the better. We have young students and experienced adults from fields like engineering, marketing, legal support and finance on board.

To date, since the charity was created in 2018, the team has worked in 12 countries including Iraq, India, Cameroon, The Philippines, Lebanon and Uganda. 

Always conscious of the needs of future users, Sawhney told Goodnet that the team regularly interviews families on their clothes washing habits, and makes a point of listening  to experienced volunteer professionals too so all  their valuable feedback can be reflected in product refinements.

So what is spinning around in the mind of The Washing Machine Project’s founder for the future?

The projects I want to work on are purpose driven. We are here for a finite period of time so we should leave the world in a better place than we found it! I am just doing my part. Sawheny explains.

Right now, The Washing Machine Project is taking my full attention, and I am excited to be distributing 7.5 thousand of these washing machines in the next few years. In the medium term, I want to keep on with my mission of empowering people. We want to be a global leading organization in humanitarian innovation. We have a pipeline of products in the next 10 years looking at energy storage, lighting, food insecurity and child protection

And what does Sawhney’s mom think now? My family were nervous to start with, but now my mother is very proud and one of our biggest fans! I even caught her telling one of the Sikh priests all about The Washing Machine Project! Sawhney shares.

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Daphne has a background in editing, writing and global trends. She is inspired by trends seeing more people care about sharing and protecting resources, enjoying experiences over products and celebrating their unique selves. Making the world a better place has been a constant motivation in her work.