Testing the Impact and Market for a Low-Cost Solar Washing Device The development economist, Hans Roslin, has made the case in his Ted Talk that the washing machine was one of the greatest inventions of the last century: freeing up time for women in North America and Europe to enter the labor force and to support their families. Washing machines remain unaffordable for much of the world's population and because laundry is done primarily by women and girls worldwide, they spend a significant amount of time hand washing each week. Preliminary surveys show that the active laundry portion of chores, excluding fetching water, may represent from 8-16 hours per week. Surveys have also indicated that laundry is seen as one of the most burdensome household chores and that there is some willingness to pay for laundry services, if available.
Maarten van Herpen, the former head of the Phillips Africa Innovation Hub, has teamed up with Leonard Flendrig, who has developed a simple washing device, the Solar Soaker. The low-cost tub is estimated to cost $6 per device to manufacture at scale and uses the sun and detergent to clean clothes. Initial tests have shown it can clean as well as active laundering with significant time and effort saved. The team is exploring a business model that will initially work through local distribution partners in Uganda to recruit micro-entrepreneurs to operate laundromats / launderettes to provide use of the Solar Soakers on a pay-per-use basis.
Given the low-cost nature of the product and the prospects of large-scale distribution through existing sales networks, the Solar Soaker presents a unique opportunity to affordably reduce the time and effort spent on laundry and enable women and girls to participate in economic, educational, or other activities. UP funding is helping to validate the Solar Soaker's potential impact and time-savings, identify any barriers to adoption and use, and test demand for the devices and launderette services. If successful, the team will explore a commercial business model to scale the Solar Soaker franchise.