Appearing on stage at pioneering women’s co-working space The Wing in Washington D.C. on Friday, industrial engineer Shubham Issar was named one of Toyota’s Mothers of Invention for her work creating the SoaPen, a portable soap with the potential to save lives across the world.
Issar, a native of New Delhi, met her SoaPen co-founder, Amanat Anand, while the two women were studying industrial design at Parsons School of Design in New York. Issar, a firm believer that industrial designers are meant to be problem-solvers, says they created SoaPen to help make an impact on child mortality. Each year, 1.5. million children under the age of 5 die of infectious diseases. When Issar learned that as much as 50 percent of those deadly infections could be prevented by children regularly washing their hands with soap, she felt compelled to find a way to make a difference.
The idea was to make soap widely and cheaply available, easily transportable, and — most important — fun for children to use. By putting the soap in a pen, children can draw shapes on their hands before rinsing themselves clean. The product is also convenient for school teachers managing large classes, as is common in India. Teachers can have the students draw on their hands and then check for traces of the soap after the children wash them.
After Anand and Issar’s invention won UNICEF’s Wearables for Good Challenge, they used the money to seed development of the SoaPen, an arduous process that took more than two years. After overcoming a number of obstacles — not least of which were manufacturers that thought they could overcharge or manipulate two young female inventors — they officially launched the SoaPen in November 2018. Already, Issar says, they’ve begun selling the product worldwide and giving it away to schools across India that are reliant on soap donations.
“The Toyota Mothers of Invention honor is a total game changer for us,” says Issar. “It could not have been more timely. It’s only been a couple of months since we launched SoaPen to the market, so to continue this momentum with an award and grant on this level is a massive opportunity for us as we take it to the next level.”
In addition to preventing infant deaths in the developing world, Issar believes that developed countries could also stand to benefit from the SoaPen. Their product, she says, would be a massive improvement over American schools’ current widespread use of sanitizers, which may actually reduce children’s natural immunities.
See Issar and Anand talk about their award-winning SoaPen below.
More Toyota Mothers of Invention