Global Waters Radio: Nga Nguyen and Reshmaan Hussam on Incentivizing Handwashing Habit Formation

“Our interventions were all temporary, but we continued to track handwashing behavior — so this gives us a measure of persistence, which is basically whether or not handwashing is a habit-forming behavior or not.”

Nga Nyugen (left) and Dr. Reshmaan Hussam (right).

To celebrate Global Handwashing Day 2017, Global Waters Radio recently spoke with USAID’s Nga Nguyen and Harvard University’s Dr. Reshmaan Hussam about incentivizing handwashing behavior change, following up on September 2017 webinar on the subject co-hosted by USAID and the Global Handwashing Partnership.

Nga Nguyen is the Senior Water, Sanitation and Hygiene and Social Behavior Change Advisor at USAID’s Office of Maternal and Child Heath and Nutrition. She has more than 15 years of field experience in social and behavior change focusing on a variety of behaviors. In this podcast, Reshmaan Hussam, an economist and assistant professor at Harvard Business School whose research explores the intersection of development, behavioral, and health economics, speaks with Nga about the role of learning and habit formation in achieving sustainable changes in handwashing habits, and shares her insights about recent handwashing field studies her team has conducted in India’s rural West Bengal state.

“Across the board for these preventative health behaviors, the way people measure outcomes is usually either self-report — so you ask people ‘Do you wash your hands with soap?’ — or you have surveyors going in and checking whether people wash their hands with soap. And both of these sorts of outcomes are very noisy, they are imprecise, and they are not going to give us the statistical power to really think about habit-formation dynamics.”

Interested in taking a deeper dive into handwashing behavior change with Nga and Reshmaan? To listen to the full podcast, please click below.

To view or download the following Global Waters Radio transcript, please click here.

For more information on the research or organizations discussed in this Global Waters Radio podcast:

By Russell Sticklor

Global Waters Radio is a podcast series produced by the Water Team at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The series offers listeners insights from USAID officials, development partners, thought leaders and experts from across the water sector as they discuss current USAID water programming and cutting-edge research from around the world. Have a topic you would like to see covered in a future Global Waters Radio podcast? Please contact us at, and follow us on Twitter @USAIDWater.

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