Global programme for University of Bath student’s pioneering low-cost and time-saving washing machine

April 18, 2024

More than 10,000 innovative washing machines based on a design by a University of Bath student that uses no electricity and very little water are to be distributed to poverty-hit communities across the globe.

In a move described by its inventor Nav Sawhney as “compassion meets technology”, the appliances are to be distributed to families in India, Mexico, Brazil, Republic of Congo, Uganda and Sudan, helping around150,000 people. 

The collaboration between Nav’s Bath-based social enterprise The Washing Machine Project – which he formed to exploit the potential of his ‘Divya’ hand-cranked machine for humanitarian purposes – and the domestic appliance manufacturer Whirlpool’s foundation will also empower women and girls as they will spend far less time washing clothes.

According to the World Health Organisation, 70% of households worldwide depend on women and girls for water collection and laundry while more than half the global population wash clothes by hand, which can take up to 20 hours a week.

Nav and Whirlpool Foundation’s five-year project will unlock around 17m hours for the women and girls taking part, improving their quality of life and giving them opportunities to work or study.

The world’s first flat-packable manual washing machine, the Divya allows users to wash their clothes without electricity or a connected water source.

Nav came up with the idea after hearing the stories of families living in refugee camps struggling to hand-wash clothes. 

The machine takes its inspiration and name from a woman in Southern India who first sparked the idea.

She explained to Nav, an MSc Humanitarian, Conflict & Development student and an engineer by background, how such a washing machine would transform her life.

Nav came away inspired to design an appliance that could wash clothes almost anywhere and help people living on the margins of society.

The Divya’s drum has a capacity of 5kg but needs just 10 litres of water per cycle – a third of that used by the average electric washing machine. It is also powered by a crank handle.

Both are crucial in water and electricity-scarce humanitarian settings such as refugee camps, where the device has already been used.

Nav said he was honoured to partner with the Whirlpool Foundation to massively increase use of the machine.

“This collaboration is a testament to what can be achieved when compassion meets technology,” he added.

“Together we are set to revolutionise laundry practices globally, paving the way for a more equitable and prosperous future for hundreds of thousands of people.”

Whirlpool Corporation executive vice president, corporate relations and sustainability, Pam Klyn said: “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.”

Before launching The Washing Machine Project, Nav was an engineer at Malmesbury-based appliance firm Dyson.

He then studied at the University of Bath to understand more about humanitarianism and build connections in the field.

The university’s director of studies for the MSc in Humanitarianism, Conflict & Development, Dr Oliver Walton, said: “My most lasting memory of Nav is his incredible commitment. On our field trip to Jordan, he spent all his time networking with humanitarian agencies.

“He’s a coordinator, a motivator, and a ’super rep’ for the course.”

During his time at Bath, Nav received a £12,000 grant from the University of Bath Alumni Innovation Award to help him realise his project, including virtual membership of SETSquared, the multi award-winning, University of Bath-based business incubator. 

Pictured, top: Nav distributing his pioneering washing machines with Whirlpool in Kuilapalayam, Southern India



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