Young women innovators lead change in the WASH sector

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the weaknesses of our current water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) systems in many places across the East Asia and Pacific region. Too many children and their families have faced ‘lockdowns’ in homes without running water, soap for handwashing, or private household toilets that are not shared with others.

The pandemic is far from over. Continuing to respond to  and eventually recover from it will require different solutions and new thinking to expand life-saving water, sanitation, and hygiene services to everyone who needs them.

This is where young people can be the region’s biggest asset. Their creativity, dynamism, and problem-solving ability have the potential to bring new solutions to old problems in the WASH sector. To accelerate this change, UNICEF launched the second edition of our WASH Young Changemakers Programme, which aims to support young innovators in the East Asia & Pacific region to address pressing WASH problems.

The programme, which will run from July to December 2021, will support young WASH innovators to scale their innovations by providing coaching, mentoring, group learning sessions, support to grow their networks and practice pitching to investors and other partners. The programme builds on a pilot programme (Video link, blog link) from 2020 that achieved great results in supporting eight innovators in taking the next step.

This year’s innovators have responded to the theme of “Futureproof WASH,” with solutions that address challenges such as climate change, water and resource scarcity, public health emergencies, urbanization and migration. Five finalists were accepted into the programme from more than 80 applications.

Though many studies have shown that the WASH workforce is overwhelmingly comprised of men, all five of the finalists selected for the programme are women. A women’s cohort creates an opportunity to tackle the gendered challenges faced by women innovators – such as stereotypes, discrimination, and limited networks. The WASH Young Changemakers Programme will raise the voices of women in the WASH sector, celebrate women leaders, create more women-friendly professional networks, and build online spaces where women feel safe and respected.

This year’s WASH Young Changemakers are: 

Varangtip Satchatippavarn (@Rung) is the co-founder and CEO of Ira Concept – a startup which produces organic and biodegradable menstrual hygiene products and delivers them directly to subscribers throughout Thailand. Despite starting less than a year ago, Ira Concept has over a thousand subscribers, and has distributed tens of thousands of pads to women in need, particularly in remote areas.

Wika Maulany Fatimah is the Chief Engineer of Lota+, and researcher at Bandung Institute of Technology in Indonesia. As part of the university’s Water and Wastewater Engineering Research Group, she researches urban sanitation interventions in informal settlements. At Lota+ she’s exploring how to localise the company’s off-the-grid, modular, affordable toilet to serve some of the 25 million people in Indonesia practicing open defecation.

Xu Liu is the co-founder and CTO of Food2x: an early stage company experimenting with ways of increasing the efficiency of co-treatment of faecal sludge and food waste to produce biogas. Her vision is to see food waste as an opportunity rather than a liability. Originally from China, Xu Liu is currently pursuing her PhD at Cornell University.

Erchissaran Ganbold is a Chemical Engineer for Tsever LLC, and is working to design non-sewered public toilets that reuse wastewater in Mongolia, where the prevalence of open pit latrines is spreading diarrhea and hepatitis A, polluting soil and groundwater, and causing further adverse social and economic effects. Tsever, which means “clean” in Mongolian, has a motto of “clean everywhere” – very much needed in a country suffering a severe COVID-19 outbreak.

Supapitch Juthamongkol (@Grace) is a co-founder from Term-Naam, a new startup that is developing a light-weight, water-soluble dish- and hand-washing powder to offset the environmentally damaging products that dominate the Thai market in a plastic-free, and truly sustainable packaging. Term-Naam was a runner-up in the 2021 Circular Innovation Challenge – a UNICEF-supported design sprint run in collaboration with UNDP, Indorama Ventures, SEAMEO, and Thammasat University.

We look forward to this year’s journey with the WASH Young Changemakers and invite you to follow along with our progress!

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