In the second annual Duke-UNICEF Virtual Forum on Social Innovation, representatives from academia, INGOs, business, and social enterprise gathered to deepen the conversation around the sustainable development goals and social innovation. 

This year’s focus was on Sustainable Development Goal 6, which aims to ensure the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all by 2030. Keynote speakers Tom Slaymaker from the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water, Sanitation, & Hygiene (WASH) and Kelly Ann Naylor, UNICEF’s Associate Director for WASH, highlighted the need for continued work increasing access to clean drinking water and sanitation despite much progress worldwide. With billions of people still lacking essential water and sanitation services, one in three people do not have access to safe drinking water, two in five people don’t have basic handwashing facilities, and more than 673 million still practice open defecation (figures from the World Health Organization). 

Naylor said, “Achieving universal coverage by 2030 will require a quadrupling of current rates of progress in safely managed drinking water and sanitation and basic hygiene services.” 

Progress toward SDG 6 is the focus of the Duke-UNICEF Innovation Accelerator, housed at Duke in partnership with UNICEF, which selects promising social entrepreneurs with game-changing solutions to challenges around the world. DUIA social entrepreneurs are showing how social innovation can save lives and create progress toward the SDGs—from simple hand-washing stations, to soap made from rescued and recycled industry run-off, to the last mile distribution of WASH products, to replacing open-defecation with household and public latrines. 

Among the other forum highlights below, be sure to hear directly from Duke-UNICEF innovators through their Innovator Showcase pitches. 

Highlights from the Forum 

Conversations throughout the week celebrated progress toward reaching SDG 6 and delved into remaining challenges and complications. 

In a panel discussing the impact of COVID-19, social entrepreneurs and major funders the Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation and the Toilet Board Coalition discussed how the pandemic demonstrated the critical importance of WASH for preventing and containing disease, but also had a crippling effect on the many organizations and enterprises providing those services. Eco-Soap Bank, a Duke-UNICEF Innovation Accelerator organization that reuses industry soap waste to distribute rescued and recycled soap globally, saw their entire supply chain “vanish overnight when COVID hit, in a time where soap was needed more than ever.” Initially targeting leftover hotel soap, Eco-Soap Bank pivoted to recycling the more than “25,000 metric tons of virgin soap waste thrown away by factories every single year.” Since the beginning of the pandemic, Eco-Soap Bank has provided nearly 16 million bars of soap to the most vulnerable in 15 countries.  

Another panel explored the catastrophic nexus of climate change and WASH, focusing not only on how populations must adapt to climate change, but how we can mitigate it. With rising temperatures and higher demands for water in hotter climates, extreme events become increasingly common. Experts and entrepreneurs shared how different solutions can improve our resilience to climate change on a grand scale, from discouraging single-use products to converting CO2 emissions into useful products. 

Finally, we welcomed guest speakers from organizations with tried-and-true solutions to WASH challenges—from the SATO toilet, to family-friendly baby changing stations, to urban sanitation solutions, all of which are accelerating progress toward the SDGSs.  

Review and explore the recordings of the full program lineup on our Resources page.