Chronicles of a Toilet Crowdfunder

2016. It’s a new year for all, including Wish for WASH. Founded in December 2014, it has officially been 1 year of this social startup’s existence. And wow, what a whirlwind of learnings, growth, perseverance and creativity it has been! The continuous and outpouring support that we continue to receive from people and organizations around the world with whom we are related and whom we have never met is truly a testament to the mantra “it takes a village to raise a child”. In this case, Wish for WASH is an infant organization run by young passioneers who have worked tireless throughout weekends, between classes, late after work and in countries around the world to bring into fruition the social mission of improved sanitation in low resource communities. While we have a lengthy journey ahead of us, we have come so far because of our incredible communities of support.

We ended last year with a high energy and frequently marketed indiegogo crowdfunding campaign with the hopes of raising enough capital to fund our 2016 beta toilet pilot in Zambia as well as in a resettled refugee community in Atlanta. As a team who prides itself on valuing human centered design to fuel our product and service innovations, it is now time to bring our work into the field for critical feedback.

Does the toilet work?

Does it improve the user experience?

These are questions that will catalyze much of our work this coming year. As tough as it is to hear that something that is more or less your baby isn’t working as planned, it is necessary to receive this constructive criticism to continue iterating until it has the impact and value that is intended. It’s a long journey, but it is an exciting one for sure.

Emerging from my first ever crowdfunding experience with a 100% funded campaign that was rooted in an intense, almost guerilla-like, social media strategy has given me a completely new perspective of the sustained level of energy and passion required to be a fundraising professional. For me, November and December 2015 were months where I was almost exclusively fundraising for this Toilet Testing campaign, and it was- quite frankly- exhausting. I learned just how challenging it is to actively translate passion and excitement into a financial donation, especially since the SafiChoo toilet does not directly or tangibly benefit the lives of those who have donated. Luckily, our strong following and communities of support helped us cross the finish line after we developed consistent social media schedules, exciting new perk offers, creative ways to expand our reach through new media outlets, mentoring support from organizations that had been through their own crowdfunding hurdles before as well as learning a slew of other social entrepreneurial lessons. One of my favorite learnings that kept my spirits high despite the grueling hours spent mass emailing or facebook messaging hundreds of people was that much of the millennial generation is willing to support social missions in ways beyond financial contributions. I had friends from college, childhood and even people whom I have never met offer to write blog posts, share the campaign on their social media pages, connect me with potential partners/donors/media outlets to broaden our reach, donate a portion of their monthly pay check to our cause, create pieces of art that would be sold with a percentage of the money going to Wish for WASH, offer their website and digital media expertise pro bono, or host events where the proceeds went to Wish for WASH. As a huge fan of creative problem solving, I was amazed at how many unique ways that people supported our mission beyond solely direct funding. And despite the level of anxiety that spamming to raise money may have caused, I am incredibly honored to see how selfless people can be. Broke students and fellow entrepreneurs who are in the same penny pinching situation as Wish for WASH frequently shelled out $5-$10, and it was truly inspiring and catalyzed personal reflection.

In this reflection, I made the following realizations:

  • People genuinely care. Despite how tight their time or budgets may be, the people who feel your translated passion, regardless of whether the product or service directly benefits their day to day life, find a way to support you in a way that may lead to incredibly lucrative (both fiscal and personal) results which you may have never known was possible. Anything really is everything when it comes to supporting passion.
  • Fundraising is hard work. For the people who do it as a full time job, I am seriously impressed because it takes unbelievable time and passion as well as a heart that will not be deterred when faced with an inevitable slew of rejection. I learned throughout our campaign that if 3 out of 10 emails were answered positively, then that was a successful campaigning day. Having realistic expectations and not taking unanswered or rejection messages personally is crucial to be a successful fundraiser. So, hats off to all of the fundraisers out there for having an amazingly creative and resilient spirit!
  • Crowdfunding is a team sport. There is no way in the world that I would have been able to do this alone! Thanks to the Wish for WASH team, we had continuous creative graphics to post, new opportunities to pursue, new perks to offer, new student members that were excited to contribute and more passionate people to help reach out and respond to the mountains of emails that were surfacing. Additionally, having the support of my family to help spread the word and to keep me sane during peaks of frustration was, and continues to be, invaluable throughout this entire process. If you are thinking of launching a crowdfunding campaign, definitely ensure that you have a team that has your back no matter what the results of the campaign may be.
  • Anything is possible. So cheesy, I know, but I believe it now more than ever. If Wish for WASH was able to reach our goal of $25,000 for toilet testing in low resource communities in just over a month’s time, then anyone who is driven to make a difference can attract the kind of support needed to follow their dream to its furthest. This campaign was for a proof of concept test for a toilet that many people who donated will never physically see or get to use, but still through successful communication and advocacy strategies, they now care, and they helped in whatever capacity that they could. And for that I am extremely thankful.

Overall, I am incredibly re-energized by the results of this campaign and am excited to continue sharing our story as it unfolds. Regardless of whether this pilot is a “failure” in terms of traditional metrics of success, we will be able to share our learnings externally for growth in the sanitation community as well as continue iterating our work so that it one day achieves its intended impact as a meaningful and sustainable step in the direction of universal access to hygienic sanitation. Thank you to everyone who has helped us arrive to the place where we are today. We are forever grateful for you believing in us because #everybodypoops. Happy 2016!
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Pit Latrine Emptying in the Kanyama Compound

#Everybodypoops–and this is what it looks like!

Today I got to witness the pit latrine emptying process in the Kanyama compound with the incredible organization Water and Sanitation for the Urban Poor! Innovative toilets and sanitation technologies improve community health and we need another $1.5K in order to help in this process! Donate here today to help us pursue our #wishforwash!

 

World Toilet Day

November 19th may seem like just a regular day. Another Thursday. Another day of work. Same old, same old.However, for me, November 19th is THE day that helps remind me about why I do what I do. It is World Toilet Day. Now if you can imagine, toilet people are pretty unique. We are an eclectic bunch that is not afraid to use a well-placed curse word for more than just emphasis but for advocacy. The complexity of the sanitation crisis in our world calls for simplified jargon that everyone understands. I mean in what other field is “shit” considered a “technical term”?

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Toilet people are great. But beyond that, toilets themselves are great. Like we don’t even have to think about this so much in the western world, but the large majority of toilets that we are accustomed to gracefully and effortlessly get shit away from people. And that’s the beauty of them. In order for humans to be healthy, we MUST be separated from their shit and toilets help in this process. And that’s a fact.

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However, there are SO MANY people today that do not have the luxury of using a toilet that magically takes their shit away and are forced to confront it on a daily basis as a result of the wide spread practice of open defecation (or going the bathroom outside) and flying toilets (or going to the bathroom in bags that are then tossed on the ground or on someone’s roof) as well as the lack of sanitation education in many parts of the world. With this knowledge, World Toilet Day becomes an important day to educate about and advocate for a piece of technology that many people take for granted.

For my 2015 World Toilet Day, I attended an awareness event with my fellow GHC Poop Princess, Alexis, in the George Compound of Lusaka.

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Performances were held to grab the attention of the youth while ministers spoke to shed some light on the importance of toilets that was geared more towards the adults. Alexis and I met a bunch of cute new friends and we loved being in the field talking dirty about the importance of hygienic sanitation practices!

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HAPPY WORLD TOILET DAY because #everybodypoops!

 

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Hang on Tight

Where did the month of October go? From recovering from September’s weekly excursions, to traveling around the US to see family and to hustle for toilets, this month has flown by. And despite all the change and the movement, I have noticed that I am in a perpetual state of advocacy for health equity and social justice- which is evidenced by the series of campaigns and experiences that I have lead or been a part of during this month listed below:

  • After touching down in Atlanta following 24+ hours of traveling and layovers, I hit the ground running by attending the 2015 Atlanta Pride Parade with my little sister. Atlanta, a community that struggles to embrace its identity, is both a socially progressive city while also being entrenched in conservative aspects of southern pride. This conflicting reality makes events like Pride particularly intriguing. Weary spectators in everyday attire stop to digest the scene on the outer parts of the city, but as the parade advances to midtown, costumes are present, music is loud and the pride of the LGBTQIA Atlanta community reverberates amongst all those who are present.#FILA #ATLPride

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  • Stop 2 on my October advocacy ride was on October 12th. Colloquially this day is known as Columbus Day in America, celebrating the “discovery of the new world”. But as we all know, discovering this new world came at a high cost-destroying a large majority of the Native American community and annihilating a huge portion of its people. Beyond the one sided perspectives that American history books boast, this became personal for me. As I have become increasingly knowledgeable and proud of my Native American heritage and tribal traditions, the celebration of this day became hypocritical -like a mockery. So in honor of the resilience of the Native American culture, traditions, and people, I proudly celebrated Indigenous People’s Day on October 12th as a counter-celebration to Columbus Day because I am proud to forever be a Delaware. #nanticoke #turtleclan

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  • Next, my GHC and ZamFam sister, Reena, had me thinking about #whyAllGirls matter on the International Day of the Girl. This day of social media activism is intended to show to the world why ALL girls are valuable ALWAYS because as 51% of our global population and the mothers of our future generations, girls have and will continue to change the world. Check out this fantastic piece the Reena wrote in honor of this day here.

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  • Moving to October 15th; it was Global Hand Washing Day. As a WASH enthusiast and toilet talker, hand washing is of course in my direct scope of work and is crucial in sustainable change as it relates to the global water and sanitation crises. Washing your hands acts as a DIY vaccine by preventing the spread of some really nasty diseases so remember to get sudsy yall because #everybodypoops!

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  • Following this campaign came the incredible opportunity for me to become an official Huffington Post contributor for the segment “what is working”, which is blog intended to combat the “if it bleeds it leads” journalism mentality. Never having experienced such a vast and international readership, my first post (an iteration of the “Because I can + Because I Have to” post) was more or less torn to shreds by critics. The deeply pitted emotion that resulted from the onslaught of so much criticism on a particularly vulnerable piece for the first time, really had me questioning whether or not this was the work that I really wanted to do. #findingmyplaceinthefightforsocialjustice

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  • Last on my October advocacy ride, was the launch of our Wish for WASH Indiegogo campaign to support our beta toilet pilot in Zambia next year. With very little knowledge or expertise in fundraising, I have learned just how much work it takes to gain money for a cause that does not directly benefit the lives of the donor, which is how most commercial products/services that I have known attract funding; however, our creative and determined team chooses to press on and are thankful for all of the supporters that we have attracted and all of those that we hope to attract before December 2nd! Help us gain #1000strong supporters by donating because #everybodypoops!

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While this roller-coaster ride of advocacy has been incredible and will only continue to grow since all of these issues are irreversibly interconnected, I have realized that it is essential that I step back to think.

Does being an advocate mean fighting for every cause with all of your heart?

Does being an advocate mean getting attacked for presenting your personal views?

These are questions that I have been asking myself. Advocacy is essential in the movement for global health; however, it can be a slippery slope if you are not intentional with your words and actions. As one of my mentors has told me, in order to be a successful advocate for social change, you have to be smart in choosing when, where and how you fight for your cause in an effort to make the most meaningful impact. Many social advocates suffer from empathy overload- or being incredibly empathetic to seemingly every social problem in the world leading to a depressing and exhausting existence. I have learned that it is important to set personal boundaries for myself so that I do not become crippled with paralyzing sadness; ultimately, being overrun with sadness disables anyones ability to push the needle of change for issues about which they care. I am still new to this work and am very much still learning how to navigate this space, but I do know that those who choose to intentionally pursue communications and advocacy have an under-appreciated mental toughness and commitment in order to start many of these controversial, taboo, and uncomfortable social conversations. I have gained a whole new perspective and respect for this work because it is extremely hard,  but it is also necessary.

Long story short, this work requires a thick skin, an ability to brush off the haters, the capacity to reflect and say “how can I express my perspectives better”, and the overall strength to hang on tight for the exhilarating ride of being a voice for social justice. I am still very much learning all of these things and now realize that it truly is a roller-coaster.