Everybody poops, but there are currently 2.5 billion people lacking access to a hygienic toilet (yes, we mean the porcelain king). Social entrepreneur, Jasmine Burton, took a new approach to “hitting the head” by founding Wish for WASH, an organization bringing innovation to sanitation. At the ripe age of 18, Burton answered her calling to design toilets, after discovering that nearly half the world had no access to basic sanitation needs. From there, she founded Wish for WASH, and recently won the Georgia Tech InVenture Prize Competition for her team’s design of their mobile toilet, SafiChoo.
Wish for WASH is currently working with the 56% of the Zambian population who lack access to toilets – with plans to beta test SafiChoo in peri-urban communities in 2016. Hype wanted to hear all the dirty details so we got the scoop from Burton on how her organization is changing the world one toilet at a time.
What is Wish for WASH?
In 2014, my senior design team won the Georgia Tech InVenture Prize Competition, the largest undergraduate invention competition in the United States, for our design of an inexpensive mobile toilet, SafiChoo. Before graduating, from Georgia Tech’s Industrial Design Program, I participated in the Georgia Tech Women’s Leadership conference, the CDC’s Summer Public Health Scholars Program, Humanity in Action Fellowship in Poland and Industrial Design studio classes that emphasized ethnography and social impact work. I am passionate about improving community health via redesigning water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) infrastructure, which is why I founded Wish for WASH, a social impact startup that seeks to bring innovation to sanitation. This year I am serving as Global Health Corps Fellow in Lusaka, Zambia and am working as a design specialist at the Society for Family Health. I identify as a humanitarian design activist and, ultimately, I seek to use my creativity to make the world smile.
Wish for WASH, LLC is a social impact organization that strives to bring innovation to sanitation through culturally specific design, research, and education. We believe that human-centered design and the testing of prototypes with end users are key elements to developing a valuable product. The SafiChoo toilet, our first line of sanitation relief products, is a novel toilet system that takes into account the common preference of a squatting position for defecation in addition to genital washing as a religious and cultural ritual.The Safichoo toilet’s most current design is composed of separate, modular units, which enables the user to build the system to best meet their specific needs. This is a feature that we believe will be more widely appreciated by an array of potential end users.
What are you trying to achieve?
Of the 7 billion people in the world today, everybody poops. Yet 2.5 billion people do not have access to a hygienic toilet, and specifically 56% of the Zambian population, a demographic that we are currently targeting, lack toilets. Instead, they routinely use holes in the ground and latrines, which often reach such poor conditions that they advance the parasite cycle rather than terminating it. Open defecation is also widely practiced, causing its own set of preventable mental and physical health issues as human dignity is stripped and environments are left susceptible to fecal contamination. Without appropriately designed waste management and hygiene systems, disease can rapidly overwhelm a community. Wish for WASH seeks to design and implement culturally specific sanitation options that are comfortable and intuitive for the user while also adapting to existing waste treatment options (either self contained or connected to a biogas, solar treatment, and or external compost facility) and being easy and inexpensive to distribute. Access to sanitation is a basic human right and through our toolbox design approach we are hoping to make that possible specifically in marginalized communities.
Are you bootstrapped or funded?
Wish for WASH has largely been bootstrapped through a series of inkind donations as well as through Georgia Tech affiliated grants and competitions. Currently, during this season of giving, Wish for WASH has launched our first Indiegogo campaign to support our toilet beta test in peri-urban communities that lack basic sanitation in Zambia next year. Any and all support would be incredible since #everybodypoops. Learn more about the campaign and how you can support it.
What led to your pursuit of social entrepreneurship?
In 2011, as a freshman at Georgia Tech, I was inspired to do something about the global sanitation crisis at a women’s leadership conference. I learned from a Georgia Tech alumna and one of my current mentors, Susan Davis of Improve International, that nearly half of the world doesn’t have access to a toilet; of those people, women and girls are disproportionately burdened. Specifically, I learned that pubescent girls in the developing world frequently drop out of school as a result of their schools lacking toilets. As a product designer and woman in higher education, this reality angered me so much so that I left the conference and called my mom to say “ I know what I am supposed to do. I am supposed to design toilets.”
This declaration about my destiny was made at the wise age of 18 and was fueled by my design education. I was learning that many product designers design trend products that are fashionable for 5-10 years, but that are then thrown away. I knew I did not want to design something that would be thrown away when a new style becomes trendy. Three years later, I had the incredible opportunity to design a toilet for the Kakuma refugee camp as a part of an interdisciplinary senior design capstone at Georgia Tech, and that led to the birth of the SafiChoo toilet.
What’s next for W4W?
We have been waiting for the perfect time to launch a campaign and ask you to join our story. We have worked through early-stage kinks in our design and manufacturing and have now reached a point where we are sure your gift can be put directly toward furthering our research and design process: the SafiChoo toilet is ready for a beta test in Zambia!
For this to happen, we need help flying members of our team to Zambia in order to place them and our current toilet design in front of our target users in low resource communities near Lusaka. Our team at Wish for WASH claims that we believe in human-centered design; however, the only way for us to stay true to our word is to actually go where the need is and so that we can interface with real people who can offer real feedback and collaboration rather than just operating based on theory.
How does Atlanta weave into your story?
As a native Atlantan, I have an undeniable love for this city. The complexity of the city’s identity- from having the most widely traversed international airport, to housing some of the world’s largest corporation such as Coke and Delta, to becoming a hub for humanitarian work with CARE and Habitat for Humanity International headquarters, to being the North American headquarters of the TOTO toilet company (which is of great value to me) – Atlanta is a city of opportunity. Within this city, the startup movement has just recently begun to take off inspiring the intentional questioning of societal norms in the name of progress particularly amongst the millennial generation all while existing in a traditionally southern and largely friendly culture. High powered people from many of the aforementioned organizations often open their doors to young people to form mentoring relationships which is truly incredible. I love Atlanta, and I believe that the city and it’s amazingly supportive people and an enormous array of possibilities is the backbone to my story. I would not have gone down this road of social entrepreneurship had it not been for the amazing city of Atlanta making all of it possible.
If you’re interested in hearing more about Wish for WASH or making a donation to their cause, check out their indiegogo campaign – after all, it is Giving Tuesday. And be sure to follow W4W on Twitter and Facebook.