Power of people: two organisations helping refugees

It is often thought that charities fill the gaps in a society overseen by the government. Breadwinners and The Washing Machine Project are no exception. Both organisations noticed a gap in societies and have worked to fill it and alleviate the conditions for refugees and people seeking asylum. Breadwinners provide work experience for refugees and young people seeking asylum and The Washing Machine Project is working to create a washing machine that can be used in refugee camps and areas with unreliable electricity. Both organisations demonstrate the power of people – a collective human action that is so powerful for creating social change.


Breadwinners is a grassroots social enterprise that provide work experience for refugees and young people seeking asylum in London. There are three programmes that young people can get involved with: selling bread at London market stalls, managing the market stalls, and running the online customer support and delivery service.

Alongside this, refugees and young people seeking asylum receive employability training, which has continued online throughout the pandemic. The social enterprise also plays a central role in enhancing feelings of belonging in the UK. Everyone on the programme is offered 1-1 mentoring and mentees often keep in touch even after the programme has ended. 

While waiting for their asylum application to be accepted, people seeking asylum cannot work. This makes it very difficult to gain work experience for later employment if they are granted refugee status. The unemployment rate for refugees and those of refugee background is more than 4x higher than the national average. Breadwinners provide employable skills which make finding a job easier for young people once they are granted refugee status.

Breadwinners are one of the 240 groups that oppose the Home Office’s current ban on people seeking asylum being allowed to work. They instead support the #LiftTheBan campaign, which demonstrates that freezing talent out of work is harmful both to the asylum seeker and the country’s economy – if people seeking asylum were allowed to work, it could make £97.8 million each year.

Georgia, a Newcastle University graduate who is part of the Breadwinners’ team, told me – ‘it’s incredible to be part of such a strong team that strives to support young refugees and asylum-seeking people achieve their amazing potential. We love to have fun and create a really positive and supportive community!’

The bread is supplied by local independent bakeries.

To date, Breadwinners has supported 94 refugees and young people seeking asylum, of which 93% have progressed into further paid work.

If you live in London zones 1-4, Breadwinners will deliver your order! You can browse (and order) their bread selection here. 

Alternatively, you can support Breadwinners’ crucial work by donating.

And you can find out more here.


The Washing Machine Project

The Washing Machine Project is a social enterprise that is creating ‘a single, standalone, off the grid washing solution.’ Whilst Nav Sawhney, the founder of the organisation, was working in rural India, he noticed the high number of women hand-washing. He wants to create a hand-crank washing machine that would reduce the time, water, and physical exertion that the current hand-washing consumes. The project aims to give people greater agency in their lives – currently, 40 litres of water are used per hand wash – this is 50% of water allowance in a refugee camp for 1 family. Handwashing also takes 20 hours a week, which equates to 2.5 working days.

The hand-crank washing machine is named after a neighbour, Divya. Sawhney lived next to Divya when he volunteered with Engineers Without Borders in India. He recalls how Divya would hand-wash her family’s clothes, which took around 20 hours a week – she would have sore hands from the detergent and chronic back pain from the hand-washing.

The organisation is rooted in the people that it is designed to help: around 500 people were surveyed in five countries – Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, India, and the Philippines. Here, the Washing Machine Project asked about their experience with washing clothes and how a washing machine would help. From this research, they realised that washing can be a social activity: some of the women said that they often hand-wash together as ‘women from different families will usually go to the river or spring together as a group.’ So, The Washing Machine Project ensures that their product would not detract from this social event.

The 2020 Pilot saves 75% of the time and uses half the amount of water. Yet the organisation is not stopping there: they are constantly intending to improve it based on the users’ testimonials. 50 Divyas were taken to Iraq for users to try. While some of the women were pleased that the ‘machine is innovative and practical’ and that it is ‘fast to use’, others commented that the ‘wood is heavy’ and that it ‘should accommodate sitting position.’ So, the next pilot – Divya 3 – will be adapted to address these improvements.

Crucially, the washing machine must also remain within the buying power of women – and the Divya is targeted at 1/3 cheaper than the next best competitor product.

The Washing Machine Project’s social impact target is to save 1 million litres of water and 750 hours annually per house, as well as to impact 100,000 people.

To support the organisation, you can donate and share their JustGiving page, volunteer by emailing your CV and cover letter to recruitment and follow their Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.


Both of these organisations – Breadwinners and The Washing Machine Project – place the user at the centre of the project and are always willing to improve based on the feedback. Both organisations ingeniously fill gaps to improve the treatment of refugees and people seeking asylum. Both organisations are great examples of the power of people.



All unreferenced statistics directly from The Washing Machine Project, 2021.

Image: Sigmund on Unsplash

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