Let’s push things forward – how WaterAid innovates

Whether it’s brand new technology or thinking about old problems in a fresh way, innovation helps power up our vision of a world where everybody has access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene.

1 Mar 2016

Have you ever had a Eureka moment? It might have been while you were steeped in the bath, staring out the window in work or filling out a Sudoku over breakfast: a flash of brilliance where you realise there’s a better way of doing something in your life that’s just unnecessarily difficult.

When you have a goal as ambitious as we do – a world where everyone everywhere can access clean, safe water, sanitation and hygiene – ambitious thinking is the key to success: that’s why we’re always on the lookout for that next Eureka.

What do we mean when we talk about innovation? Maybe we should start with an example.

100,000 people live in the floating communities of Tonlé Sap, Cambodia. The community depend on the lake for their livelihoods, for fishing and for washing up – but with no other options, they also need to use it as a toilet.

You can probably guess what the problem is. Coming up with a solution is the hard part.

Two heads are better than one when it comes to solving problems, so we partnered up with the clever folks at Wetlands Work to test out a project that they had been working on: the HandyPod.

Everything you need to know about the HandyPod in one minute:

By cleaning up waste water through a creative combination of chemistry and botany, these clever contraptions are a practical solution to keeping Tonlé Sap safe and clean for those who depend on it.

The HandyPod has all the hallmarks of a good innovation. It’s sustainable and it’s environmentally friendly and most importantly, it's a specific solution for a specific context.

We like the HandyPod not because it’s an invention, but an innovation. Inventions create something people didn’t even know they wanted (just think about every Apple launch ever) – instead innovations are built backwards around what people need. That means involving the communities who'll be using these innovations most, helping them to test out new approaches alongside specialists. 

Learn more about the HandyPod >

New technologies are always exciting, but sometimes an innovation is just about finding new ways to support people (for instance, by creating better financial options for them or improving the services they already have).

We want to make all the wonderful donations we receive go even further: that’s why we push things forward. Read on to find out more about the incredible innovations we're proud to be part of, at home and abroad.

Eight more innovations powering up our work

The Gulper

Julius Chisengo, Group Operator UMAWA, 48 years old (right) and Cleophas Shinga, Group Operator UMAWA, 49-years old (left, empty the contents of a pit latrine in Kigamboni Ward, Temeke Municipality, Dar es Salaam City, Tanzania - February 2015.

When we flush our loos, we do so safe in the knowledge that our waste is being piped far away, never to be seen again. But in unplanned neighbourhoods like Temeke in Tanzania, toilet pits need to be emptied manually and taken away – messy, tough and not very safe work. The Gulper is a pump that makes this whole process easier.

Check out The Gulper >

Voices from the Field

In Nepal, locals helps Voices from the Field officer Mani Karmacharya after his car becomes stuck.
© WaterAid

We’re big believers in the power of film and photos to highlight people's voices in the countries where we work. That’s why we started the Voices from the Field programme. We employ talented local people like Mani from Nepal (above) to gather photos, film and stories from the communities we support – so you can see the difference your donations are making.

Meet our Voices from the Field >


Data visualisation tool, WashWatch.

What does the future of taps and toilets look like? This interactive data visualisation, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, lets you explore access to safe water and sanitation from almost every country in the world, starting from 1990 and projecting right up to 2030. See the extraordinary progress that has been made – and the big task ahead of us.

Explore the WASHwatch map >

Challenge: Water

© WaterAid

Innovation is all about designing a better future, which the next generation will inherit. Challenge: Water is a way for secondary school pupils to innovate, and put their creativity to work. Students are set the challenge of designing an innovative new water-saving product, and developing a campaign to change attitudes to water usage in their communities.

More about the challenge >

Data for good

© WaterAid/ Petri Autio

Imagine using Google Maps to find a post office, only to discover it closed years ago. A pain, right? To make sure everyone everywhere has access to taps and toilets at all times, we need a reliable map that tells us what's working, where. That's where mWater comes in: a simple, free mobile app that lets anyone update the status of taps and toilets near them.

Learn more about mWater >

Period talk

In many countries where we work, periods are a taboo subject. So how do you go from whispering about them to shouting so loud everyone can hear you? WaterAid Bangladesh found an answer: TV. With adolescent health network Shorno Kishoree, they used games and interactive discussions to challenge the stigma, and broadcast them on Bangladesh's only terrestrial TV channel, potentially reaching 80% of the population. 

Transforming well-being for women >

Empowering entrepreneurs

Vida Alebra, 32, at her home in the community of Pobaga, Ghana.

From independent fabric-makers like Vida (pictured) to waste management crews, we empower entrepreneurs to tackle water problems through training and microfinance programmes, leading to smart, sustainable solutions. 

The entrepreneurs we work with >

Plumbing vs. gangs

Ron, 21, Wesley, 20 and Lucy work on building a rope pump in Bilwi, Nicaragua, August 2015.

In Bilwi, Nicaragua, we offer young people like Ron, Wesley and Lucy (above) an alternative to gangs and crime: training to become fully-fledged plumbers. In tandem with technical training, the students learn to run their own plumbing businesses, allowing them to have a real impact on their community.

Meet Bilwi's newest plumbers >