In one of his TED talks, the late Hans Rosling makes the case why the washing machine is the greatest invention of the industrial revolution. The washing machine vastly reduced the amount of work needed for household chores, and this gave especially women time to spend on education and to enter the labour market. This revolutionized the structure of society in western countries.
However, this progress was only made in part of the world, because the majority of the world population (estimated 5 billion people) cannot afford a washing machine. Because this is a chore that is mainly done by females, the majority of women and girls in the world is still spending up to 2 days of their week on hand washing of laundry.
Through our innovation, the Solar Soaker, we aim to substantially reduce the time spent on laundry, and to do this in an affordable way, so that also the poorest women can benefit from the solution.
Our Solar Soaker uses the heat of the sun to remove stains and dirt without a need for hand washing. The innovation consists of a plastic basin with a transparent cover. Using it involves dissolving detergent in water, submerging the laundry, closing the cover, and leaving it to soak in the full sun. The sun heats up the wash solution to the point where stains and dirt are removed without a need for hand washing.
The result is superior cleaning performance approaching machine wash.
We are working on this venture with a team that has the relevant experience to address the main challenges to bring this innovation to scale in the market: create a business model that is affordable for the end-user, while also creating a distribution and marketing channel that is able to reach people in remote (rural) villages.
Our scaling approach is to create a network of sales agents that sell solar soakers and detergent to home users and to domestic laundry workers (Dobbies). They will especially promote the solar soaker through women saving groups, by giving product demos during group meetings. For distribution & marketing, we work with local distribution partners. In Uganda we identified Healthy Entrepreneurs as partner for this (they have 1000s of community health entrepreneurs active in different districts).
During the past year, we have tested 100 solar soakers in Uganda, in both rural and urban settings, with home users, informal domestic laundry workers and health centers, and we tested a laundromat service. In just a few months, our users had washed more than 10.000 laundry items. These tests confirm that people are saving 2/3rd of their time, 90% of the effort, and water & detergent, for a better wash result, and are willing to for the solar soaker. For domestic laundry workers, the solar soaker increased their earnings by 50%, while saving time, and improving the decency of their job and even status and self-esteem.
Our next step is to scale up in Uganda, including setting up a local sales team, and locally manufacturing solar soakers. Until now this venture was incubated under Acacia Impact Innovation, but we are now founding a social enterprise (SolaSoka) for these next steps: www.solasoka.com.