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Towards mass customization of WASH hygiene kits for humanitarian action

Child with humanitarian aid kit© UNICEF
Through this project, UNICEF and partners seek to unleash the untapped potential of local businesses in producing and innovating better emergency products and services for affected populations.

What is the challenge?

While feedback on humanitarian assistance is part of monitoring and evaluation in different countries, current systems do not allow affected populations to share feedback on the emergency items they receive. Furthermore, local businesses and private sector actors do not have access to this feedback and thus miss out on opportunities to target or improve their services for better emergency response and preparedness. The benefits of local procurement such as carbon savings, resilience or economic development are overlooked in decision-making.

Water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) kits are critical aid products. They are usually generic kits that are sourced globally. This means that they are not tailored to each person’s needs, it does not support local markets and creates unnecessary waste from products that are not meeting the needs. Existing WASH items that have been shown to be highly effective are not currently being incorporated into WASH kits because they are not produced at the scale required by global procurement processes.

What is innovative about the project?

The project will apply the innovation of mass customization to WASH hygiene kits. Mass customization emerged in manufacturing 20 years ago and is now widely adopted in many consumer markets. It enables the customisation of products at scale for the same cost as mass production. Its benefits are yet to be realised in the humanitarian sector.

The project will ask affected people what they need and enable feedback on the items in their kit. It will introduce innovative WASH items, made possible by localising procurement with local businesses. This approach will provide WASH kit recipients with what they want. The aid will become more responsive, efficient and effective. Rather than generic kits sourced globally, the project will help to procure and prepare kits locally, increase supply chain resilience, reduce wastage, and support local markets.

What are the expected outcomes?

This project seeks to unleash the untapped potential of local businesses in producing and innovating better emergency products and services for affected populations. The project approach pulls together two existing mechanisms to create an innovative pathway for a direct and trustworthy dialogue between the disaster-affected users and local suppliers. People affected by humanitarian crises will receive more effective wash products, like surprise soaps, which means fewer cases of water-borne disease; less wastage and more appropriate means more people can be reached for same cost; local production means supply chain savings which means faster response, less suffering and more people can be helped for the same cost; also benefits in terms of people’s dignity (having a say on the aid they receive) and environment (less waste, lower carbon impact).

Indirect impact will be in local communities who experience economic growth, greater employment opportunities, environmental benefits and reduced dependence on global supply chains. Similarly, local business communities and entrepreneurs will be in a better position to compete for bids on supply-procurement for pre-positioning through business intelligence and capacity development to respond to user needs.

Who are the project partners?

This project is led by UNICEF in partnership with UNICEF Supply Division, UNICEF Office of Innovations, Humanitarian Logistics Association, Manufacturing Change and Internet of Production Foundation UK. They will also partner with the private sector.

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