How four hours turned into a humanitarian innovation

People living in displaced-persons camps around the world have to deal with many complex issues. Each day, they face barriers to healthcare, inadequate housing, lack of access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene, safety issues, gender-based violence and numerous other intersecting challenges. The individuals and families who have fled violence in Myanmar for Bangladesh are not immune to these many issues.
In order to engage youth and create innovative solutions to address this and future crises, the Canadian Red Cross held the Social Innovation Challenge on January 27, 2018. At Red Cross offices in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto and through online submissions, teams enthusiastically participated in the challenge to showcase their innovative thinking.
The winning team from the Social Innovation ChallengeWith just four hours to brainstorm, create and present an innovative solution to support the current Red Cross response in Bangladesh, teams had to work quickly. The innovations created by the top team from each location were selected to move on to the national competition. Of these four teams, the solution created by the semi-finalists of the Toronto challenge was selected as the national winner.
Team Social Justice Warriors, national finalists, is a group of four Global Health students from York University. Drawing from their diverse skills in critical thinking, program planning and project evaluation, they created the social innovation called SafeWALK. The team  chose to focus on gender-based violence and WaSH (Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene) issues.
Fear of gender-based violence can be a significant barrier to accessing latrines in displaced-persons camps. These camps can be dark at night, with no running water or electricity. One of the consequences of not being able to access a safe and clean latrine is open defecation, which can lead to an increase in water-borne illnesses like diarrhoeal diseases and then even increase malnutrition and dehydration.

What is SafeWALK?

SafeWALK seeks to provide increased safety for latrine visits through a “buddy system,” in which a trained SafeWALK volunteer is partnered with a latrine user in their vicinity at any time of day or night. The volunteer has a solar lamp, a safety whistle, as well as a vest or arm-band that indicates they are a volunteer, and will walk the latrine user to the nearest latrine, and home again. Volunteers are peers in the camp community, and the innovation seeks to foster a sense of community engagement and empowerment.
To complement the volunteer engagement, a simple health information system can be built for monitoring and evaluating health and safety issues that SafeWALK volunteers may encounter. With the use of mobile technology and the creation of a simple database, SafeWALK can keep records of safety incidents as well as monitor the condition and maintenance of latrines. The mobile phone can then alert supervising staff and other on-shift SafeWALK volunteers in the event of a safety event while on a latrine visit. In doing so, incidents such as this can be recorded into the system and could inform future decision-making regarding safety in the camps.

A few words from the Innovators:
We are honoured to have presented our humanitarian idea to the Canadian Red Cross during the Social Innovation Challenge. We believe that this idea has practical potential to positively impact the health, safety, and hygiene of people in displaced-persons camps in Bangladesh, and other contexts globally.


More About the Innovators:

  • Abigael Pamintuan, Honours BSc in Global Health, eHealth candidate at York University
  • Amirtha Karunakaran, Honours BSc in Global Health, Health Promotion and Disease Prevention candidate at York University
  • Leanne Wood-Smith, Honours BA candidate in Global Health at York University
  • Ranjana Nagi, Honours BSc in Global Health, Health Promotion and Disease Prevention candidate at York University


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