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Product, Service & Design Innovation
How Whirlpool, Washing Machine Project Are Bridging ‘the Global Washing Divide’

The Washing Machine Project and the Whirlpool Foundation are scaling distribution of a hand-cranked washing machine to help women and girls in remote areas reclaim time for education, work and personal growth — ushering in a new era of laundry that eliminates persistent social barriers.

Imagine washing clothes by hand for up to 20 hours each week. This is a reality for more than 5 billion people worldwide. In remote villages and settlements — many lacking electricity or running water — this chore drains time and perpetuates gender inequalities as women and girls shoulder the work.

This "Global Washing Divide" is reality for the more than 60 percent of the world who hand-wash clothes daily. In developing countries, the time spent on this task can equal 1,000 hours each year — the equivalent of a year’s worth of schooling or a part-time job — a loss that cripples the potential of individuals, families and entire communities.

Against this backdrop, The Washing Machine Project — founded by Nav Sawhney, an engineer moved by the plight of a neighbor — has joined forces with the Whirlpool Foundation. Together, they are scaling distribution of Sawhney’s innovative, hand-cranked washing machine to help women and girls in remote areas reclaim time for education, work, and personal growth — ushering in a new era of laundry technology designed to clean clothes and eliminate persistent social barriers.

The genesis of The Washing Machine Project

Sawhney began his engineering career at Dyson, designing high-end appliances. Despite landing what he thought was his dream job, he felt unfulfilled and left to join Engineers Without Borders in India. There, he met a neighbor — Divya — and experienced firsthand her reality: hand-washing her household’s clothing for hours a day. All around him, women and girls faced the same toil — washing clothes at home and in often unsanitary rivers and lakes.

“I was struck by the consistent application of effort that Divya put into the chore,” Sawhney said. “She washed for hours — sacrificing the health of her skin and body to provide her family with clean clothes. It was both a source of pride and pain for her.”

Sawhney also understood how this disproportionate burden of unpaid domestic work prevented women and girls from pursuing meaningful opportunities — so, he left India determined to find a solution.

Sawhney returned to the UK and pursued an MSc in Humanitarianism, Conflict and International Development at The University of Bath. He founded The Washing Machine Project in 2018 in his mother’s London flat. Starting with a prototype inspired by a salad spinner, the project gradually evolved — with Sawhney naming the machine "The Divya" in honor of his inspiration and friend.

Through partnerships with organizations including Oxfam, The Washing Machine Project began distributing machines to communities globally, gathering invaluable feedback to refine the design. A boots-on-the-ground approach helped gain input that would help inform future iterations of the machine, but one question remained: How could they scale manufacturing to start bridging the global washing divide?

Strategic synergies

The Divya Washing Machine | Image credit: Washing Machine Project

Around the same time, a related question was asked in the Whirlpool Corporation’s home of Benton Harbor, Michigan. For years, Deb O’Connor — Managing Director of the Whirlpool Foundation — and her team had been exploring utilizing Whirlpool’s extensive manufacturing expertise to solve this global issue, as part of the Whirlpool Foundation’s ongoing work.

“We had thousands of talented employees and world-class manufacturing facilities,” O’Connor said. “Yet, to close the global washing divide and help as many people as possible, we needed a solution to scale our reach and impact.”

When Sawhney's initiative caught their attention, the Whirlpool team reached out for an introductory conversation. Recognizing each other's strengths, they joined forces to scale the production and distribution of The Divya.

Unlocking 17M hours for women and girls

In April 2024, the two organizations announced a five-year global effort to help women and girls reclaim millions of hours of lost time. With a robust plan to build and distribute 10,000 Divya machines over the next five years, the collaboration aims to impact more than 150,000 people worldwide.

“This innovation is more than a washing machine; it's an educational and economic empowerment engine, especially for women and girls in developing regions,” Sawhney said.

Whirlpool employee volunteers are an important piece of the collaboration — volunteering their time to assemble Divya machines; assist in sourcing and developing materials; and help scale production in places including India, Mexico and the Republic of Congo.

“Our employees have responded to the Divya program beyond our expectations,” O’Connor said. “When they learn about the burden from hand-washing clothes and the impact of the machine on recipients’ lives, building the Divya becomes very personal. There is a long waitlist to participate in the construction of the machines, which we’re working to scale rapidly to meet demand.”

Impact through innovation

Members of The Washing Machine Project and the Whirlpool Foundation teams present two Divya washing machines to the Kuilapalayam community | Image credit: Washing Machine Project

In addition to being hand-cranked, the Divya is the world’s first packable washing machine. This feature reduces shipping costs and enables women and girls to assemble their Divya from the start, giving them a better understanding of how it works. The machines are also built with off-the-shelf parts, making local repair feasible if necessary.

The first machines built by the two organizations were designated for delivery to Divya herself in India.

As Whirlpool and The Washing Machine Project continue to expand their transformative collaboration, several insights have fueled their progress:

  1. Identify shared vision and expertise: These are the foundation of successful collaborations and can help amplify impact and drive meaningful change.

  2. Leverage resources and networks: Collaborators can achieve more together than individually. By leveraging each other’s strengths, collaborators can scale initiatives, access new markets and reach a broader audience.

  3. Co-creating solutions with local communities: Engaging communities as active participants in solutions fosters ownership, resilience and lasting impact — driving positive change from the ground up.

By continuing to focus on collaborative strength and community empowerment, The Washing Machine Project and Whirlpool Foundation are revolutionizing laundry practices and creating lasting benefits — one wash at a time.


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