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.
Safe Hands expanded to Tanzania in April 2021 as “Smart Hands Tanzania,” a public health program and messaging campaign rooted in combating WASH-related diseases, including Covid-19.
The Smart Hands Tanzania (SHTz) coalition was founded to address a number of pressing public health and socioeconomic issues. From poor housing conditions in low-income Tanzanian communities, to overburdened health facilities, to the rainy season onset, to economic fragility compounded by the ongoing global pandemic — separately and in combination, each factor makes low-income households particularly susceptible to disease outbreaks.
After Dalberg Catalyst received funding from Novo Nordisk, Dalberg Advisors and Dalberg Implement brought together private sector competencies and capabilities with philanthropic funding and public health expertise to respond to the growing challenges. SHTz is comprised of collaborators including CEOrt, PwC, AMREF, UNICEF, Prime Fuels, and Chemi COtex — this diverse group of actors aligned by focusing on rapid scalability, sustainability, and providing maximum impact while reducing margins.
The group’s approach consisted of two main components. First, philanthropic funding and corporate know-how was used to fund the manufacturing and deployment of WASH products at close to cost. Second, a locally-focused communications campaign drove awareness and behavior change around current sanitation practices.
Dalberg and the Smart Hands Tanzania coalition set out to reach two goals. The first focused on improving access to hygiene and sanitation products among low-income households in Dar es Salaam. In its first round of distribution, SHTz reached more than 78 public health facilities in the Ilala, Kinondoni, and Temeke districts and successfully distributed hygiene and sanitation commodities to 94% of low-income households in the Kinondoni and Temeke districts.
The second goal was to mobilize resources for procurement and distribution of hand hygiene and sanitation products at scale. Driven by this ambition, the SHTz program raised more than $145,000 USD and onboarded nine organizations to help support the effort. In response to a successful first round of distribution, SHTz completed a second round alongside a mass behavioral change communications campaign.
In the future, the Smart Hands Tanzania model can be adapted for other public health challenges. This proven approach illustrates how private sector actors and philanthropic funders can blend their respective capabilities, expertise, and networks together as a first line of defense in the fight against WASH-related diseases.