Wish for WASH Pilot: The Build

 

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After over a year in the making, creating partnerships, raising funds, developing a strong team, and manufacturing our SafiChoo 2.0 for testing, the Wish for WASH beta pilot has FINALLY begun! Coming out of 2014, with just a foam prototype, one of my best friends and incredible teammate, Katie, and other interested people who wanted to contribute, the prospect of moving forward was daunting as I felt like there was no foreseeable light at the end of the tunnel. Consequently, coming out of 2015 following a 100% funded Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign, I was flooded with a host of emotions. I felt an overwhelming sense of social media burn out but was simultaneously filled with extreme joy to finally see that Wish for WASH, my baby, finally had the means– the funds, the product, the team and the partners— necessary to get a beta test started.

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Not to say that early 2016 was a cakewalk. Despite the Indiegogo exhaustion which was paralleled with an all-encompassing excitement that enabled Wish for WASH to hit the ground running in 2016, I had to quickly learn how to navigate customs regulations, international commerce fees, and transport logistics.  Once the toilet was in country, in addition to coordinating travel itineraries for the Wish for WASH team members who were willing and able to travel to start the build, I persevered each day to identify and follow up on the necessary steps to get approval for the pilot. This season of life was definitely proof to me that to be a social entrepreneur you must be willing to wear many hats, and often times, stacked on top of one another. From team visionary, to team travel agent, to team financial director, to team partnership relations developer, to team logistics officer, the past few months juxtaposed all of the skills that I have developed since the start of this Wish for WASH journey as a grand test of resilience, patience, and professionalism.

And by the grace of God, the Zambian toilet installation happened! 

Our incredible on the ground partners, Water and Sanitation for the Urban Poor (WUSUP), have helped me so much in terms of navigating cultural nuances and requirements while being amazingly supportive of our intention to use iterative and rapid prototyping practices in order to gain a minimum viable product that best meets the end user’s needs. Our manufacturing and shipping partners have brought our designs to life and enabled them to get where they needed to be at rates that we could afford. Our Indiegogo backers are passionate supporters who have enabled us to finance this toilet test and it’s been awesome to see how happy people are to receive their campaign perks as tangible proof that they are a part of our story.

And lastly, my incredible Wish for WASH team has continued to amaze me. Seriously, I am so blessed by them! They have taken off time from work, used school scholarships to help support their time in Zambia, had business meetings across 3 different time zones at weird hours to work out logistics problems, graciously responded to my slew of weekly emails, and patiently worked with me in the field to install the toilet despite the crazy and random obstacles that came our way.

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It is incredible to see an idea transform into a reality, but for me it is more than that. Despite what happens from here, I have learned to deeply appreciate the fact that the whole is always greater than the sum of its parts. As the founder of Wish for WASH, I am often the face of much of our work, but I am here to tell you that Wish for WASH is so much more than me; and for that, I am grateful. With my incredible team, partners and supporters, we created the 2.0 SafiChoo toilet, successfully fundraised for it, shipped it to Zambia (and have one also being built in Atlanta), installed it and now have amazing local people using and providing feedback on it. All I can say in retrospect is…Shit’s getting real and I couldn’t be more excited to see what happens next!

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3 Truths for Living Passionately

Passion is powerful. Defined as a strong and barely controllable emotion, once it takes hold, it fuels life. Whether it is for someone or something, within your personal or professional life or a mixture of the two, passion is a youthful energy that stimulates both innovation and attraction while also acting as a form of communication that transcends age, culture, and language in a pure and raw form. It is beautiful. However, the level of vulnerability that is required to be truly passionate makes it, at times, painful.

For the past year, Wish for WASH, LLC has been the heart of my professional life because during my first year of college, my worldview noticeably shifted after I learned that nearly half the world doesn’t have access to toilets. This shift resulted in a powerful rush of shameless and uncontrollable passion beginning with my 18-year-old self declaring that I would design toilets to my now 23 year old self who is scrambling to make entrepreneurial ends meet in order to take actionable steps towards helping solve the global sanitation crises. People frequently say that I radiate passion for this work and that they really want to find “their toilet”- or something/someone that they care about as deeply as I care for improved sanitation and health equity.

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The frequency of these questions demonstrates the powerful pull passion has for so many people. But when asked “why are you doing this?”, I have to intentionally think about what it means to live passionately and how to maintain that energy. Truly living a life rooted in passion, as I have increasingly found, requires extraordinary resilience. Crazy entrepreneurial hours, constant troubleshooting, repeated failures, perpetual naysayers, or being completely heart-broken. These are just some of the unfortunate realities that come with living passionately.

So, what are some ways to keep going when your once youthful, inspiring, and persistent fire begins to wane? I often find rejuvenation and inspiration by knowing these three truths for living passionately:

1) Define and remain true to your personal core values

Whether it is for your personal or professional life, you must understand the ethics and life experiences that have shaped your worldview and determine which of your core values are unwavering. Knowing these values and reflecting on them regularly allows you to maintain your strength, because when you stand steadfast in your beliefs, you are better equipped to regain the stamina that is needed to move past the next obstacle. Clearly defining and embracing your personal core values allows you to build a solid foundation of confidence. These values will remain true in all aspects of your life and to live passionately, you need both your confidence and your conviction. The backbone of any passionate pursuit is often rooted in deeply held personal values that you want to share with others. This is an incredible resource to help in defining your core values.

2) Align your values with your skill-sets to determine how to add new value

This is your unique value proposition that allows you to improve a relationship, a work environment or the world. By working to blend your core values with your acquired skills, you can more readily find a way that you can add new value such as providing a new perspective, acting as a change catalyst, or adding optimization strategy to a work place. Clearly defining your specific added value goal is essential. As you passionately seek to leave things better than you found them, your mission will develop a sense of urgency and purpose. With the ever abundance of ‘external’ naysayers, you need to insure that your ‘internal’ team, or your inner circle, respects and supports your values. I have found that surrounding myself with unabashed supporters inspires me to reach for new heights and goals despite the odds.

3) Periodically assess whether you are actually creating value

Despite your best intentions and admirable goals, you must evaluate whether or not you are executing your value proposition in a way that is making a difference to your intended recipient. If you find that you are not truly creating your targeted added value, re-examine your personal core values and skill set, reevaluate your relationship or work place, and realign yourself to get back on the path that is fueled by your passions. Living passionately is not about achieving personal goals and accolades; it’s about making a difference for someone or something else.

Passion is contagious and if you are truly living in it, everyone around you becomes aware of your drive and commitment. Building a career or a life with someone that continues to fuel your passion is unbelievably fulfilling, but can simultaneously be painful as your heart or work can be harshly judged by others. I have found that staying focused on attaining my intended long term goal of helping to creatively rectify the global WASH crisis and keeping myself accountable for smaller, short-term goals by surrounding myself with people that continue to challenge me to grow in my passion has kept my fire for this work alive.

In the end, Wish for WASH has opened my eyes to just how hard it is to live passionately, and as a young social entrepreneur, I am still learning the importance of taking time to reflect on my personal value development as a way to build up resilience and intentionality within my work. Despite the barriers our team has faced in project management, manufacturing, business development, and fundraising, we continue to persevere in our toilet hustle because we deeply believe in utilizing our collective business, research, engineering, and design skill-sets as tools in the fight for health equity.

What I believe is working for humanity is when people find their passion, and they fight for it in accordance with Howard Thurman’s sage advice: “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do it, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

As 2015 comes to an end and a new year begins, I encourage you to begin your search to find “your toilet” while also supporting ours here because #everybodypoops. (Find the original Huffington Post article here)

STEM in the Social Sector

Sanitation is a story that is often untold. It tends to be the elephant in the room during conversations about global issues; silenced by cultural taboos and disgust, despite the fact that of the 7 billion people in the world today- everybody poops. According to UNICEF and the World Health Organization, approximately 2.6 billion people in the world today do not have access to toilets, and many practice open defecation — or going to the bathroom in full view of other people — which leads to a host of both mental and physical health problems. The fecal waste often times contaminates local water sources leading to the spread of WASH (or water, sanitation, and hygiene) related diseases costing the lives of about 4,000 children every day.

In 2011, as a freshman at the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech), I attended a conference, and my eyes were opened to the enormity of this problem. I was listening to a dynamic speaker, Susan Davis, founder of Improve International, who spoke candidly about the extent to which the global WASH crisis has created health inequities around the world-particularly in developing countries. Her speech captivated the attention of my 18 year old self as she revealed that pubescent girls in the developing world often times drop out of school because their schools lack toilets. The information churned in my head as I realized that many girls are hindered from advancing their education because of the lack of something we often times take so much for granted- a safe and hygienic toilet. The anger and discontent that was spurred from that knowledge catalyzed the work that I do today.

I am now an alumna of Georgia Tech, an internationally renowned STEM university, and I earned a Bachelor of Science in Industrial Design, a degree rooted in engineering thought processes and hands on building. But beyond my degree and the prestige that my alma mater boasts, that 2011 conference and the words of Susan Davis truly transformed my life as I pivoted from worrying about design aesthetics to focusing my education on helping to solve social impact related issues with design thinking. Over the course of my collegiate career, I immersed myself further into the social sector via humanitarian oriented programs to better understand how to promote and produce sustainable projects in the developing world, while simultaneously founding my social startup, Wish for WASH, LLC– an organization that seeks to bring innovation to sanitation through culturally specific research, design and education. An interdisciplinary team of students and recent graduates from Georgia Tech have helped propel this company forward, and we have recently produced our first professionally manufactured prototypes.

In summer 2014, our team participated in a multi-agency pilot to assess toilet designs in a refugee camp in northern Kenya after being the first all-female team to win the Georgia Tech InVenture Prize Competition, the largest undergraduate invention competition in the United States. After assessing user feedback and incorporating incredible ‘IDEO formulated’ human centered design principles, we have redesigned our Safichoo Toilet system and are preparing to launch a beta pilot in Lusaka, Zambia in 2016 (more of which can be found on our current Indiegogo page)

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My passion for toilets is weird, but it is also necessary because social impact designers, engineers, coders and makers are essential in creating products and services that innovatively advance mankind. However, beyond just WASH, my journey has led me to put out a call for more people from STEM fields to pursue social entrepreneurship and work in the social sector. In a world suffering from extreme poverty, malnutrition, violence, and inequity, we need more doers, creators, and makers working in this space in tandem with the policy makers, international development officers, and business professionals to create holistic and interdisciplinary solutions to more effectively make sustainable change. My generation, building on incredible learnings from generations past, has an increasing need to do work that leaves a lasting impact on the world in the most sustainable, solution oriented way possible. This is evidenced by the rise of incredible millennial run social organizations such as Code4Rights, Sanivation,LuminAID, TOHL, and Embrace in addition to many more. These organizations highlight the fact that Gen Y is seeking to do more that create socially oriented products and services but is also very actively testing the waters for different ‘for profit for good’ business models such as B-Corps and hybrid models. Because significant money is required upfront to manufacture and iterate new physical product designs, technical and product driven companies may benefit from avoiding the classic ‘non-profit’ status sought by traditional social enterprises and according to Harvard Business Review “selling equity to mission aligned investors [may make] good sense” via impact investing depending on the situation. In addition to these entrepreneurial ventures, many existing humanitarian organizations have a need for socially minded makers such as UNHCR’s Innovation team.

As a recent college graduate and blossoming social entrepreneur, I have a lot to learn; but for now, I stand by my call to my fellow STEM colleagues. You are needed at the table and in these humanitarian discussions; we need rapid prototypers, coders and engineers in addition to people with business acumen in these global conversations to help create the innovative solutions that will genuinely improve the lives of those who suffer most from systemic injustices and disparities. We need you to see this sector’s work as a valuable way to make the most out of those strenuous and costly degree programs. As a Georgia Tech graduate with a heart for humanitarian work, I know first-hand that increasing STEM professionals in the social sector will have a vital role in helping make our world a more livable and just place for everyone. Join me in answering the call. (see original Huffington Post piece publication here)

Hops N Johns

WE HAD OUR FIRST FUNDRAISER CALLED HOPS N JOHNS (beer + toilets)!

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So 8 months ago, I really had no concept about business or about finances. Luckily, we have been blessed by the incredible Georgia Tech community and have been financially supported through grants and competition winnings thus far in addition to in-kind donations from a series of incredible individuals! Seriously. We exist today because we stand on the shoulders of an amazingly supportive GT and Atlanta based network (also including people from around the world) that has made all of what we have accomplished thus far possible.

As we have advanced in our business development plan led by our incredible GT MBA grad, Alex Dorman, we have realized the need for understanding our long terms financial strategy. We currently exist as a for profit in the form of an LLC with the intention of being able to make greater impact faster and more sustainably. However, we are still very much in our research and design phase of development and are a social startup needing to sustain itself through our field tests in order to grow.

The reality of this “chicken or the egg” situation (where we needed money to continue proving our product but needed our product to qualify for more money) that we found ourselves came just as we were approached by our long time friends World Water Relief (I actually interned for them in 2012 and have grown to really love them) about having a joint fundraiser together tapping into our two different pools of supporters to help each other in our comparable missions. World Water Relief is committed to providing long-term sustainable water projects in the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

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This was an incredible opportunity for all of us to learn what is really takes to put on a fundraiser with the help of an incredible support team at World Water Relief. Between meeting all around the city to being flexible to student schedules and availability, it was such a great experience working with Donna and Christie. 

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After months of planning and advertising in press releases and koozies, April finally came and our event was a hit! We had a great food selection provided by Southbound Restaurant and drinks were sponsored by another Georgia Tech startup called Second Self. We had Miss Georgia 2014 and a GT male acapella group perform in addition to having a silent auction. I am so thankful for the incredible experience and for everyone that came out to support our WASH related missions.

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THANK YOU SO MUCH EVERYONE FOR MAKING OUR FIRST FUNDRAISER A SUCCESS!