Parsons Students Win UNICEF Wearables for Good Challenge

When Amanat Anand, Junho Byun, Yogita Agrawal and Shubham Issar, BFA Product Design ’15, began researching their idea for socially engaged product, they made two crucial discoveries: children to make love arts and crafts, but they hate to clean up.

Kids will be kids, but bad hygiene shouldn’t be taken lightly. Consider this: Each year, children around the world collectively lose 443 million school days because of infectious illnesses which are spread, in part, by lack of personal cleanliness.

To confront this pressing issue, the Parsons alums designed SoaPen, a wearable and portable “soap crayon” that promotes hand washing habits among children by tapping into their passion for creativity. With SoaPen, kids can draw on themselves and each other—then, they can use that same soap to wash up.

The innovation in wearable technology and the designers behind it recently won the prestigious 2015 UNICEF Wearables for Good Challenge, a competition that challenged members of the global maker community “to design wearable and sensor technology that serves people in resource constrained environments,” according to the UNICEF website. The designers received a $15,000 “idea incubation prize” granted by challenge partners UNICEF, ARM and frog, as well as a mentorship.

“Its simple design is highly scalable and low-cost, which will allow the product to reach as many hands as fast as possible,” the students said in an interview with UNICEF. “SoaPen can be recreated anywhere in the world to help promote good hygiene through hand-washing in communities across the globe.”

Designers first took the product to municipal schools in Mumbai, India. There, they were met by enthusiastic children—and thankful teachers—who used the product to play and practice healthy hygiene.

“It was heartwarming to see the children rub off every part of the drawing on their hands, and even return to wash their hands for a second time if they found remnants of the soap drawing,” the designers recalled.

But the lessons in cleanliness aren’t confined to the classroom: children take home what they learned at school, which, in turn, educates parents.

“Working on SoaPen made us realize the importance of a two-directional ‘awareness flow’ from parents, teachers and elders to children and vice versa, in both urban and rural areas,” the designers said. “We believe that a grave problem can be solved much faster by making the solution fun and not-so-serious, and we’re excited to innovate further with this in mind.”