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Gary E. Frank headshot

60% of the World Spends Hours Handwashing Clothes, The Washing Machine Project Aims to Help

By Gary E. Frank
The The Divya machine from The Washing Machine Project.

The Washing Machine Project's machine only needs to be hand cranked a few times to start a 30-minute wash cycle, which saves up to 75 percent of the time it would typically take to wash a load of laundry by hand. (Image courtesy of The Washing Machine Project.)

Navjot Sawhney, an aerospace engineer by training, was working as a volunteer in southern India for Engineers Without Borders when he saw something that altered the arc of his life — and has now changed the lives of thousands of families.

Sawhney noticed how much time and effort a neighbor he befriended spent washing clothes for her family. What he saw was a local manifestation of a global condition: 60 percent of the world’s population relies on washing clothes by hand in local water sources or with buckets of water. An estimated 70 percent of households worldwide rely on women and girls of all ages to collect water and do the laundry. These families spend as much as 20 hours a week handwashing laundry, directly limiting the ability of women and girls to work and go to school.

A person handwashing laundry.
The Washing Machine Project aims to help the 60 percent of the global population that relies on washing clothes by hand in local water sources or with buckets of water, which can take up to 20 hours every week. (Image courtesy of The Washing Machine Project.) 

Sawhney saw this problem as an opportunity for action. He designed a hand-cranked washing machine, named “The Divya” after his hard-working neighbor. Then, he founded a grassroots social enterprise, The Washing Machine Project, to produce and distribute it to people in low-income and displaced communities.

The machine only needs to be hand cranked a few times to start a 30-minute wash cycle, which saves up to 75 percent of the time it would typically take to wash a load of laundry by hand, according to the enterprise.

“I was born and brought up in a female-led household with two older sisters,” Sawhney told TriplePundit. “So I know how hard it is sometimes for women to navigate society, and I know that when women thrive, the world thrives. Those are the reasons why I’m so passionate about this mission and vision, and I’m really excited to see how we’ve created impact.”

Since its founding in 2019, The Washing Machine Project conducted research in 13 countries and interviewed more than 3,000 families across 10 countries to learn how they wash their clothes. The project has impacted nearly 30,000 people by distributing Divya washing machines to families and communities in India, Iraq, Lebanon, the United States, Mexico and Uganda.

“There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to washing,” Sawhney said. “How people wash clothes in a certain region compared to another region is totally different.”

The factors at play in these communities include the size of the family and where they get the water from, such as whether it’s from a source outside the home, he said. 

“Those are some of the challenges that we face on a day-to-day basis,” Sawhney said. Then, once you get through all of the challenges, how do you scale this up? How do you make a good quality product a hundred thousand times over and make sure it’s repeatable and scalable, and finally, make sure that it gets to the end consumer in the most efficient way possible?”

Navjot Sawhney, founder of The Washing Machine Project.
Navjot Sawhney, an aerospace engineer by training, founded The Washing Machine Project. (Image courtesy of The Washing Machine Project.) 

The Washing Machine Project’s ability to scale its efforts was significantly enhanced through a new collaboration with the Whirlpool Foundation to deliver thousands of Divya washing machines to communities and households across the world over the next five years. The work is expected to impact 150,000 people. 

“We greatly admire the mission and work of The Washing Machine Project and see an opportunity to help impact more lives collectively than either of us could individually,” Pam Klyn, Whirlpool Corporation executive vice president of corporate relations and sustainability, said in a statement. “Whirlpool Corporation employees are lending their time and talents to help make this long-term vision a reality, recognizing that this initiative goes beyond washing clothes. It is about reclaiming time and improving lives for these individuals who will now spend much less time doing laundry which opens the door to new opportunities.”

The partnership is set to provide machines to underserved populations in rural and urban areas across India, Mexico, Brazil, the Republic of the Congo, Kenya and Uganda. The effort will be customized to the unique cultural, economic, and environmental conditions of each region to ensure it is effective and relevant.

“The Whirlpool Corporation has been making washing machines for more than a century. They invented the first [automatic] washing machine, they are the experts, and they’re amazing at what they do — which is create products and distribute them at scale,” Sawhney said. “The Washing Machine project has been around for five or six years now, and we have been distributing our machines in refugee camps, schools, and orphanages in low-income areas around the world. We do that really well.”

Gary E. Frank headshot

Gary E. Frank is a writer with more than 30 years of experience encompassing journalism, marketing, media relations, speech writing, university communications and corporate communications. 

Read more stories by Gary E. Frank