Duke and UNICEF Announce Second Cohort for Innovation Accelerator

Partnership to Support Global Entrepreneurs in Improving Sanitation and Hygiene for Communities in Africa


DURHAM / NEW YORK (May 6, 2021) – Duke University and UNICEF today announced the selection of the second cohort of social entrepreneurs participating in the Duke-UNICEF Innovation Accelerator. Building on UNICEF’s legacy of innovating for children and Duke’s track record of success in entrepreneurial education, the Accelerator supports social enterprises tackling the most pressing challenges facing children and youth around the world.

Seven enterprises from six countries will join the Accelerator to develop and scale innovations that are addressing challenges in water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) in Africa. The innovators’ solutions – which range from soap bars made from recycled soap remnants, to innovative handwashing stations designed for children with disabilities, and more – all aim to strengthen access vital resources in underserved communities.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to strain health systems in vulnerable communities around the world, investments in water, sanitation and hygiene are more important than ever in helping mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and fight off other infectious diseases. Since the start of the pandemic, UNICEF and partners have been supporting WASH services in schools, households and community settings in countries around the world. The Accelerator cohort will build on this work and bring critical solutions to help keep communities safe and empowered to support recovery and rebuilding efforts.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the importance of community access to handwashing and hygiene to stop the spread of the virus and other infectious diseases. The innovations from this cohort will help to address gaps in scaleable solutions to sanitation and hygiene that are specific to the needs and contexts of the communities that need them most,” said Ann Thomas, Senior Advisor, WASH, at UNICEF.

The Accelerator’s second cohort of innovators come from diverse academic, professional and geographic backgrounds. Through the two-year program, the entrepreneurs will have access to a multitude of resources, including UNICEF subject matter experts, mentorship opportunities, Duke University faculty and students, monthly capacity building webinars, and a one-time grant to support scale.

In the Accelerator’s first year, the innovators’ solutions focused on improving menstrual health and hygiene for women and girls in East Africa. Throughout the Accelerator program, the inaugural cohort received critical support in scaling their solutions, even as the COVID-19 pandemic impacted communities and disrupted vital services across the globe.

“Following the success of the first cohort, we’re delighted to support another group of extraordinary entrepreneurs in partnership with UNICEF,” said Jon Fjeld, director of Duke’s Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative (I&E). “We look forward to engaging the Duke community to support these enterprises in maximizing their impact.”

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Notes to Editors

  • The second cohort includes seven social enterprises from both non-profit organization and for-profit companies. Their solutions include: hands-free handwashing stations for use in low-resource settings; non-sewered sanitation solutions; last-mile menstrual sanitation product sales and distribution programs; soap bars made from recycled, unusable soap remnants; child-friendly baby-changing stations for use in public toilet spaces; and sustainable menstrual hygiene kits made from recycled plastics.
  • Selected with the mission of supporting gender equity and representing inclusive, diverse solutions, four of the cohort members are female entrepreneurs and three are male. Additionally, five of the cohort members are from Africa, including Ethiopia, Tanzania, Kenya, Nigeria, Uganda; one is from the United States and one is from India.
  • Learn more about each of the innovators here.

To learn more about the Duke-UNICEF Innovation Accelerator, visit www.dukeunicef.org

About Duke University

Younger than most other prestigious U.S. research universities, Duke University consistently ranks among the very best. Its graduate and professional schools — in business, divinity, engineering, the environment, law, medicine, nursing, and public policy — are among the leaders in their fields.

Duke enrolls more than 16,000 students in its undergraduate, graduate, and professional programs, and its world-class faculty is helping to expand the frontiers of knowledge. The university has a strong commitment to applying knowledge in service to society, both near its North Carolina campus and around the world.

Situated on nearly 9,000 acres in Durham, North Carolina, Duke is one of the very few schools in the country, or the world, that combines academic and athletic accomplishment at the highest levels.

Duke’s Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative (I&E), which administers the Duke-UNICEF Innovation Accelerator, provides Duke’s innovation system with education, mentoring, resources, intellectual leadership, and community.


The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) works in more than 190 countries and territories to pursue a more equitable world for every child. UNICEF has helped save more children’s lives than any other humanitarian organization, by providing health care and immunizations, safe water and sanitation, nutrition, education, emergency relief and more.

UNICEF USA advances the global mission of UNICEF by rallying the American public to support the world’s most vulnerable children. Together, we are working toward a world that upholds the rights of all children and helps every child thrive. For more information, visit www.unicefusa.org.

For more information please contact:

Sarah Morrison, Duke I&E Initiative, sarah.morrison@duke.edu

Gabby Arias, UNICEF USA, garias@unicefusa.org