Deborah Meaden crowns Northumbrian Water staff as winners of WaterAid’s Water Innovators Programme 2016


Dragons’ Den entrepreneur Deborah Meaden has named staff from Northumbrian Water as winners in WaterAid’s Water Innovators Programme 2016 for their inventive solutions to improve access to better hygiene in Cambodia.

The ONCE team, based in Durham, was crowned champions of the Solve – Hygiene Challenge title at the awards ceremony in London.

They were selected from over 30 teams from the UK and Australia who took part in the challenge to find water, sanitation and hygiene solutions for real-life projects in Cambodia.

The teams have spent the last eight months battling it out to devise solutions for their chosen field of WaterAid’s work.

During the process, they presented a Dragons’ Den-style pitch to key experts at WaterAid, developed project management plans, and refined their team-working and business acumen skills too. The employee development programme is backed by Deborah Meaden.

The Northumbrian Water team devised a way to increase use of a unique hand washing station, the LaBobo, which has been developed to break down the barriers to more widespread improvements to health through increased hand washing.

The team set out its plans to increase the appeal and uptake of the LaBobo, achieve more consistent handwashing behaviour and demonstrate how their proposals develop the station into an integral part of the wider hygiene practice in the home.

They also raised vital funds for WaterAid by hosting a gala dinner for Northumbrian Water and partner companies. The team invited along guest speaker Sugata Mitra, winner of the Ted Prize, who talked about his ‘hole in the wall’ experiment and his ideas to build a school in the cloud.

Lynda Carty from Northumbrian Water says:

“Worldwide, diarrhoea kills 315,000 children under the age of five every year. That’s a shocking number and one that WaterAid is fighting to reduce. So to get involved with a project that has great potential to change behaviours and cut the numbers of deaths, was something we felt was a practical way we could support WaterAid’s work.

“Washing hands at the appropriate times is the easiest and most cost-effective way to prevent diarrhoea, so the battle to get more people using the LaBobo and being able to put hand washing knowledge into practice, is worth getting behind.
“Most of all, we’d really encourage other businesses and teams to join in with this brilliant challenge next year. We found the whole experience invigorating and inspiring. We are elated to have won, but most of all, we’re so glad to be able to offer potential innovative solutions for the WaterAid team and partners working in Cambodia.”

At the awards, Deborah Meaden, said:

“Water Innovators provides an opportunity for teams from different businesses to not only stretch their imaginations and skills, but to help solve some very real problems for millions of people living in Cambodia without clean water and sanitation.

“The winners cleverly combined their skills and talents to come up with their design and concept and crucially, the solutions found are not only simple, but affordable and sustainable.

“By taking part in the Water Innovators Programme, these teams and businesses have had a unique experience to test and learn the qualities needed for business. They’ve also supported WaterAid’s work delivering safe water and toilets to the worlds’ poorest people in Cambodia. It’s life-changing. Now that’s a win-win deal for everyone.”

Isabelle Herszenhorn, Innovation and Strategic Engagement Lead at WaterAid said:

“We’re so impressed by this year’s teams! They demonstrate how, by taking collective action, we can move one step closer to universal access to water and toilets. Together the 2016 teams raised have over £139,000 for our work in Cambodia – this is phenomenal. I want to encourage any interested companies to step forward for Water Innovators 2017. I’m so excited to announce that the focus country will be Nicaragua!”

Taber Hand, Director of Wetlands Work!, one of WaterAid’s sanitation partners in Cambodia, commented:

“Through this innovative Programme, partners such as ours, gain access to global expertise that is otherwise completely beyond our reach. This is incredibly useful to us at ‘Wetlands Work!’, as we are isolated in a small corner of the developing world.”

In Cambodia, four million people lack access to clean water, while more than nine million have nowhere safe to go to the toilet – a fatal combination which means that people are dying every day from preventable waterborne diseases. WaterAid’s work there is vital to support the Government to ensure universal access by 2025.

Find out more about Water Innovators 2017 and how to get involved at or by emailing

For further media information, contact Paul White on 0191 3015325.

Northumbrian Water Limited supplies 2.7 million customer in the North East with both water and sewerage services, trading as Northumbrian Water, and 1.8 million customers in the South East with water services, trading as Essex & Suffolk Water.

In the most recent survey by the Consumer Council for Water, Northumbrian Water was named the UK’s most trusted water company by its customers. 2016 also saw Northumbrian Water named the world’s most ethical water company for the sixth successive year.

Abbey Road, Pity Me, Durham DH1 5FJ. Telephone 0345 6047468. Website:
CONTACT: Lisa Martin: / 020 7793 4524
OR WaterAid press office: 020 7793 4537

Category Winners:

Overall Winner: (shared)

• Anglian Water, Team name: Apsara
• Sydney Water, Team name: La Bobo

Best Presentation
• Winner – Ernst & Young: PrecipEYtate
• Runner up – Anglian Water: Apsara

Best Innovation
• Winner – Mott MacDonald: Mottley Crew
• Runner up - Queensland Urban Utilities, Queensland Awesome Utilities

Best Learn
• Winner – Affinity Water: Sap Sewerage Savers
• Runner up – Portsmouth Water: Kingfishers

Best Fund
• Winner - Welsh Water: Arnofwyr
• Runner up – Sydney Water: Tuk Sa’at

Best Solve - Water
• Winner – (Combination of 3 Australian water companies) South Aussies Innovators
• Runner up - Skanska: Water You Drinking?

Best Solve - Sanitation
• Winner - MWH Global: Mere Water Heroes
• Runner up - Goulburn Valley Water (GVW)

Best Solve – Hygiene
• Winner – Northumbrian Water: Team ONCE
• Runner up – Yarra Valley Water: Hygienators

All 30+ submissions were reviewed by an expert team at WaterAid to outline a shortlist
All ‘solve’ challenges were reviewed by the WaterAid Cambodia team and their local partners.

About WaterAid

WaterAid’s vision is of a world where everyone has access to safe water and sanitation. The international organisation works in 37 countries across Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Pacific Region to transform lives by improving access to safe water, hygiene and sanitation in some of the world’s poorest communities. Since 1981, WaterAid has reached 23 million people with safe water and, since 2004, 21 million people with sanitation. For more information, visit, follow @WaterAidUK on Twitter, or visit us on Facebook at

• Around 315,000 children die each year from diarrhoeal diseases caused by dirty water and poor sanitation. That’s almost 900 children each day, or one child every two minutes.
• Over 650 million people (around one in ten) are without safe water
• Over 2.3 billion people (around one in three) live without improved sanitation
• For every £1 invested in water and sanitation, an average of £4 is returned in increased productivity.
• Just £15 can help provide one person with access to safe water.
• For details on how individual countries are keeping their promises on water and sanitation, please see our online database,

Water Innovators is an employee development programme where teams compete with each other, to solve a real problem from WaterAid’s work, undertake activities to raise funds, and learn new skills and leadership qualities.
This exciting programme gives teams the opportunity to help WaterAid reach more people with safe water and toilets while getting a unique learning experience.

Companies can get involved by visiting for more information.

Cambodia challenge information:

WaterAid Cambodia submitted three real challenges relating to water, sanitation and hygiene. Teams chose one challenge, and worked together to find solutions:

Water Challenge – WaterAid Cambodia are working with 10 hospitals to install filtered safe drinking water. Cambodians are used to bringing water with them when visiting the hospitals, as the tap water is not trusted to be safe to drink. The challenge was to design a new drinking water station that could replace the existing sinks, and develop a communications and marketing strategy to promote the safe water to people visiting and working at the hospital.

Sanitation Challenge – Tonle Sap is South East Asia’s largest freshwater lake and one of the world’s most productive fisheries. Over 100,000 people live in its floating communities. WaterAid and our partners have designed a household wastewater treatment system specifically for this setting. The challenge was to develop the design of this system and adapt it for an institutional setting of floating community schools – whilst also being affordable and technically sound.

Hygiene Challenge – Washing hands is the most cost-effective and easy way to prevent disease. Cambodians face a lack of access to water and effective hygiene behaviour. To address this, WaterAid Cambodia and our partners are working to develop and promote the LaBobo – a fun and portable handwashing device. The challenge was to develop the appeal and design of the LaBobo, based on specific user feedback and material restrictions.

The minimum amount each team needed to raise was £3,000 and WaterAid provided £300 seed funding towards this.

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