When Covid-19 hit Africa in March 2020, it was unclear whether the continent’s public health systems would be swiftly overwhelmed by a rapid rise in cases, particularly in densely populated urban areas with limited access to water and sanitation — and where social distancing would be near impossible to enforce. What was clear, however, was that lockdowns would have a devastating economic impact on the continent, with governments unable to finance the social safety net support required to ensure people did not have to travel to work.
A solution was required to enable people to continue working safely — without jeopardizing their health or infecting others.”
That solution evolved into Safe Hands, a mission-driven alliance of African companies and community-based organizations focused on providing a first line of defense against Covid-19. Rather than bringing external capabilities to Kenya, Dalberg quickly realized the need to rapidly pivot local knowledge, talent, and idled capacity towards tackling the pandemic. Dalberg’s Nairobi team served as the operating basecamp, while Dalberg Catalyst, a U.S. non-profit under the Dalberg Group umbrella, served as the fiscal sponsor for Safe Hands Kenya.
To date, Safe Hands Kenya, Ethiopia, and Tanzania have collectively reached millions of citizens by rapidly deploying sanitation products and critical public health information to protect vulnerable communities while also sustaining livelihoods.
For years Dalberg’s Executive Director, James Mwangi, has urged African firms to look beyond profit and tackle issues like poverty and climate change by working with governments and nonprofits.”
– Thomson Reuters Foundation News
Safe Hands Kenya (SHK) sought to provide protection against Covid-19 in a country where only 550 intensive-care-unit beds exist for 50 million people, and where over 90% of people in most counties lack proper hand-washing facilities.
SHK was driven by more than 30 private and public sector organizations to deploy free soap, hand-washing stations, and masks to the most vulnerable Kenyans, and to disinfect public spaces in low-income communities. Together, the companies used agile methods to design data-driven interventions, including a geospatial supply and a demand allocation map that bypasses traditional supply chain flows for quick crisis mitigation.
The alliance worked on every part of the value chain — from optimizing idle manufacturing to providing youth employment opportunities to consumer education — and each company agreed to forgo their profits to ensure vulnerable Kenyans had access to sanitation products at no cost.
As part of the Safe Hands Kenya program, a high-profile behavior change campaign, “Tiba Ni Sisi” (Kiswahili for “We Are The Cure”), was also designed and launched to motivate people to adopt and use the products and services effectively. By advocating for regular handwashing with soap, SHK sought to create public health benefits that pay dividends long after Covid-19.
Within the first 5 months, more than 550 jobs were directly created by the Safe Hands Kenya program within community-based organizations and through procurement of locally-sourced inputs. These locally-based jobs produced more than 123 tonnes of soap, 500,000 reusable masks, and distributed 1,750 locally-manufactured handwashing stations.
Safe Hands Kenya reached 2 million of the most vulnerable Kenyans with rapid mass sanitation products and services in the first few months of the pandemic. The “Tiba Ni Sisi” campaign also reached over 3 million Kenyans with messaging to inform people about the risks of coronavirus and to motivate them to adopt behaviors such as handwashing with soap, mask-wearing, and social distancing to reduce their risk of infection.
Notably, Safe Hands Kenya’s impact was recognized as an honoree by Fast Company as part of their 2020 Innovation by Design Awards.
Safe Hands Kenya concluded after four months of delivering life-saving products and information to the Kenyan people.
Safe Hands Kenya inspired action across the continent with the scalable nature of its model, including a coalition anchored in Ethiopia’s manufacturing sector and another alliance rooted in Tanzania.
In Ethiopia, Dalberg and Roha Group organized private sector capacity and competencies, along with NGOs, to add measurable impact to Ethiopia’s national Covid-19 response through its Safe Hands Ethiopia (SHE) project. The Ethiopian government also played an important role by providing assistance in removing critical bottlenecks and regulatory hurdles, as well as leading distribution to communities.
The Safe Hands Ethiopia initiative sought to support both businesses and citizens living in high-risk areas beneficiaries as the pandemic continued to ripple across the region. For businesses, concerns related to retaining employees amid a lack of buyer demand were particularly troubling. In response, SHE helped drive product and service demand through an innovative business model (e.g. temporary business profit suspension, retention of employees, and third party auditing for a period of time as the effort scaled) which allowed local businesses to keep their manufacturing operations afloat amid the public health crisis.
For citizens living in high-risk areas with limited access to critical protective supplies and equipment, Safe Hands Ethiopia provided sanitation at scale. The initiative focused on sustainable supply of sanitation and personal protection products to vulnerable communities as the awareness and demand for such products increased. In addition to deploying hygienic products to vulnerable communities, this element of the coalition also helped to preserve health services for critical cases by reducing the traffic to district health facilities for preventive care.
I endorse this initiative – keeping hands clean by washing with soap and water, or by using hand sanitizer is an effective way of stopping the transmission of Coronavirus.”
– Dr. Ahmed Ogwell, Deputy Director, Africa CDC
In September 2020, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) announced their intention to join the Safe Hands Ethiopia alliance. As part of its partnership, UNDP provided 18 million Birr ($500,000 USD) through Dalberg Catalyst to support the cost of producing and disseminating sanitary and communication materials to at-risk populations in Addis Ababa. UNDP’s continued funding and PPE support will also help to sustain jobs and livelihoods.
As the Ethiopia program continues to scale, this public-private partnership is expected to lead to a nation-wide program with the inclusion of other diverse partners, and the goal of reaching 1.2 million people across Addis Ababa with critical life-saving products.
The pandemic has caused small- and medium-sized businesses in the coalition to increase production and shift from survival to resilience. Programs like Safe Hands highlight the adaptability of SMEs and their commitment to working together to create and implement innovative solutions that work for their local context.
Tanzania’s private sector has built upon the Safe Hands body of work through its soon-to-be-launched Smart Hands Tanzania (SHTZ) initiative. The program was formed under the umbrella of the CEO Roundtable — which is the apex body for over 150 CEOs of leading companies in Tanzania — with support from Novo Nordisk Foundation, the Dalberg team in Tanzania, and Dalberg Catalyst.
Smart Hands Tanzania has been working closely with the Ministry of Health to align on both the commodities to be donated and messaging for a mass behavior change campaign. They have also built a broad-based coalition to complement government programs that are currently ongoing in its WASH sector.