By spreading and advocating for 3D print education, we reach out to future designers who can create great 3D print products and help change the world through them. Today’s guest is creating social progress in the world through her product design and social mission. Tom Hazzard and Tracy Hazzard sit down with Jasmine Burton, a social inclusion and design specialist and the founder of Wish for WASH, a social impact organization that saves lives by bringing innovation to sanitation. Jasmine’s story is a great example of the way the product development 3D design process works, which began with education that transformed into prototyping and 3D manufacturing, and then to getting it out there in a more buyable business way to create a positive global social impact. She takes us into that amazing journey and imparts great insights on being in the social impact design space, highlighting the importance of incorporating real-world feedback throughout the process of innovating. There is more to innovating social inclusion than expected. It takes being humbled by the different realities that people face to find solutions to create positive change. Dive into this inspiring conversation to find the many opportunities there are to utilize rapid prototyping with real world feedback to create products with meaningful impact.
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Speeding the Innovation Cycle with Rapid Prototyping That Incorporates Real World Feedback with Jasmine Burton of Wish for WASH
We’ve got an interesting episode. I mean that sincerely. You’re going to like this especially if you’re anywhere in the education, to engineering, to design space, to social good space. Even if you’re not, everybody can relate to the subject of this episode. I’ll put it to you that way.
We’re going to talk about everybody pooping, but not literally. We’re not going to talk about that side of it. We’re going to talk about what’s being done to solve that. I was lucky enough to be introduced to a woman named Jasmine Burton as I was writing my column for Inc. Magazine. The article is How a Young Woman Designer is Changing the Way the World Poops. Her foundation and company is called Wish for Wash. It’s a combination of both nonprofit and for-profit arms. It’s got both within it. She fascinated me and I first interviewed her because of the design process of it. The fact that she was using 3D printing in her prototype and in iteration process. It’s not for the whole thing, but for parts and for starting to study whether or not the models were going to fit together and do things like that. She’s got various pieces of it that they’d use 3D printing over time. That’s how she came in front of my desk. I was fascinated by her program, but I was more fascinated by her passion and excitement for this as a young woman designer out of Georgia Tech. Let’s tell you a little bit about Jasmine and then we’ll get into the episode.
Jasmine is a social inclusion and design specialist with a focus on gender equity, meaningful and useful engagement, and innovation in the water, sanitation, and hygiene, which is what WASH stands for Water, Sanitation and Hygiene, and global health sectors in general. She is trained in product design and public health and is passionate about social justice and human rights. She has led iterative toilet innovation and pilots research across Sub-Saharan Africa with a design thinking lens and in resettled refugee communities as the Founder of Wish for Wash. It is a social impact organization that seeks to bring innovation test sanitation. Jasmine is the Toilet Accelerator Manager and Social Inclusion Lead at the Toilet Board Coalition.
She’s a Technical Advisor for the gender equity startup Equilo. She’s on the Board of Directors for Planet Indonesia in order to help lead their WASH and gender strategies. She’s a Design/Communications Associate for Women in Global Health and a former consultant for gender and women’s health research organization Atethemis and International Planned Parenthood Foundation. As a 2018, 2019 Women Deliver Young Leader, she spoke at the 2019 Conference about her work and vision for gender equity in the WASH sector. Jasmine identifies as a social impact designer who seeks to utilize design thinking and business acumen to build a more inclusive world.
That’s a heck of a bio. We’re talking about within a decade of graduation. It’s 5, 6 years, something like that.She’s still at the early part of her career. When you read this blog, you’re going to be impressed, not only with her as a person and what she’s accomplished in her short career thus far, but in all the detail of this project. It’s probably one of the more complete interviews we’ve ever done on WTFFF of a project and all the different aspects of a project. It’s a project that touches many different things.
That’s why we wanted to include this in the series. We asked HP if it would be all right for us to add it to the special series, even though this is not a project that they have anything to do with at least up until now. They may want to after this episode, but that’s totally up to them. We wanted to include it because it’s such a great example of the way the design process works. You can start to think about all the different aspects of the things we’ve been laying out in the series about the social and global view of the world, the trends, COVID. It’s taking a view of what’s going on there and then plugging in and saying, “How does education play a role in that?” You’ll hear clearly how that education plays a role with Jasmine and started exposing her to these things, and then how it also has supported her too, as she goes through the process of having a community. From there going into that transitional manufacturing and all of those stages and rapid prototyping, designing and all the design process that you have to go through in the iterations.
Going from there into the stage of market viability of bringing things to market and to moving into this now, manufacturing. Getting it finally out there to the market in a more buyable business way and how they’ve had to transition their business over that course of that time as well. That’s why we wanted to include it because it sets a nice and cap to understanding why everything we’ve laid before is critically important to both making sure that the ecosystem is building up and supporting designers like Jasmine. The supporting missions and businesses like hers as well. Let’s go to the episode. Let’s get to our interview with Jasmine.
Jasmine, I’m glad we could do this follow-up with you. I’m glad there’s been so much progress that we have so much to talk about.
I’m excited to be here. Thank you so much for having me. I know it’s been a few years and there’s been a lot of changes, pivoting, and growth. I’m excited to chat with you about it.
Tell us how Wish for Wash got started.
Wish for Wash came out of The Georgia Institute of Technology. I was a freshman where I was beginning my product design career, learning about prototyping, creating products that could be cradle to grave. Things that can be decomposed and in a way that it is organic and natural. It doesn’t take a lot of space in a landfill. For me learning about some of these processes and these ways of thinking was a moment where I was like, “I want to be involved in the social impact design space.” I want to design things that aren’t going to be thrown away ultimately or hopefully not for a long time. I started trying to find out what that world looked like. Beyond that, I went to The Georgia Tech Women’s Leadership Conference where I learned that over half the world doesn’t have access to a safely managed toilet.
It was shocking, that statistic right there. When it was presented, was it just talking about social good and world economics? What was it that it was being presented in for you?
At this conference, when I learned about this issue, it was in the context of gender equity, where it was like women are disproportionately impacted by the fact that there are not toilets at schools, girls drop out of school when they puberty age. It impacts their economic livelihood and things that they can pursue for careers. There are a lot of stigmas that come with it. For me, as someone who had started college pursuing a product design career, I was like, “This is an incredible opportunity to use my design skills in the social space.” It’s not only improved this sanitation issue but also enable or help enable women for marginalized communities to finish school and achieve their career potential. That was my a-ha moment. I was eighteen. I called my parents and I was like, “I’m going to design toilets.” They were like, “What?”
You weren’t alone because the Gates Foundation and lots of others were starting to work on this as well around the world and raise awareness of this issue. You’re timed well into that process. I remember you won an award. Tell us about that.When you create a #3Dprint product that you're so passionate about, put it in front of real people first and get real feedback. @hp @zbyhp Click To Tweet
I realized this passion when I was eighteen. It’s a few years later when I was entering my Senior Design Capstone, I had the opportunity to work with three other incredible Georgia Tech women, engineers, and different skillsets. We had the opportunity to use our various skillsets to make a prototype of a modular toilet that was intended for a refugee camp in Northern Kenya. We did a bunch of interviews. We did a bunch of research. We did prototype and studio and we were like, “Great, we got to do a cool toilet project.” At the end of the semester, we were invited to participate in the Georgia Tech InVenture Prize competition. We ended up being the first all-female team to win the competition. That was $25,000 and a patent. We went from a bone prototype on stage pitching to judges, to being on the ground in Kenya, getting user feedback in a refugee camp within four weeks.
It’s with a 3D printed toilet. I love that’s what it went to do. It would be easy for you to have taken the money and gone, “Let’s build a website and we’ll build a little mission around it and like that, and we’ll stay in nice in our comfortable homes here in Georgia and we’ll go from there.” Instead, you went out in the field and said, “Let’s test this out. Let’s check this thing out.” What did you find when you were out there?
It was one of the most humbling experiences for me at least professionally. When you create something and you’re passionate about it and you’ve done all this research, you’re like, “Yes, of course, people are going to love it. This is going to help solve problems and make things better.” When you put something in front of real people and get real feedback, you are immediately humbled by different realities and world views and understandings. That was incredible as a young designer to realize that it is important to get that user feedback and to have people try it. A lot of people that we talked to hadn’t used toilets before or hadn’t seen a toilet like we were designing. It was a lot of education and a lot of us listening and also figuring out ways how to talk about sanitation. I talk about it all the time, but not everyone else talks about it all the time.
Moms of toddlers, talk about it all the time. Let me tell you or potty training your dog, we discovered that one. You’re right, it’s not a normal part of our language and our language is different than they may be using in whatever region you’re going into. That’s also something we have to consider because they didn’t have access like we do every single day at every restaurant, every mall, and every store. It’s different for us. I’m thinking about that though. How did it inform your prototype? When you took the feedback, what did you do with it? How did you decide you were going to make some significant changes to it?
When we were in Kenya, we were working with an organization called Sanivation. They turn human waste into briquettes for cooking. It’s this whole circular approach like, how can we upcycle human waste into a useful end product, particularly in resource-constrained communities? There were a lot of things that they’re still doing incredible work but there are a lot of opportunities to improve user touchpoints from the waste management side. A lot of us, when we think about toilets, we think about like, “Here’s the seat that we sit on.” There’s this whole backend system like, where does the waste go? Who manages the waste? What about their user experience? What about their dignity? There’s a lot of work around waste management service providers and plumbers in developing countries. How do we make that a dignified area of work for them that’s safe?
Those were some learnings for us as well to be like, “If this is a toilet that’s off-grid, that isn’t connected to a sewer line, how do we make this backend experience something that is contained, but it’s also something that enables the waste management people to do their job effectively and efficiently and in a safe way for them too?” That was a learning as well as immediate feedback from people who sat on the toilet and use the toilet and they were like, “This is too tall or this isn’t big enough.” There were different learnings over time. Once we develop that rapport with the community where they started to feel comfortable giving us that feedback about toilets.
That took time in and of itself. I love that.
You bit off a huge task. I wonder if you realize that when you’re in school with this project. The passion is admirable. It is a worthy goal to go to help try to solve this problem, but you’re in design school, industrial design. Most of your fellow students, I’m sure we’re all about the form of things. I’m an industrial designer too. Yes, it’s always important but when you’re dealing with a product like this, that’s a system. It may not be the most important thing. It must have been quite an experience for you to come to some of that realization.
It was a drop in the bucket when we were like, “We’re going to design a toilet.” You realize it’s not just the toilet, it is the system, but then it’s also the culture around the system, stigmas, and where it’s placed in the community and who has access to it. Beyond the toilet, is there a structure around it with walls and with lights? It becomes this whole bigger conversation that has cascading implications. I had no idea at the time, but that’s why I’ve continued in this work because there are many opportunities to integrate design and design thinking to make meaningful change and to include lots of different voices that are often not included when the toilets are constructed.
A lot of times in development, people will be like, “People are pooping in a hole. Let’s give them this bucket. It’s better.” It’s like, “People still want to have a dignified experience.” Especially if they’ve seen traditional Western toilets, there’s an aspirational component to it, which I don’t think is oftentimes recognized. Design plays a big role in that. How can you create something affordable, but also something that’s aspirational and something that people will often say is, “I want my in-laws to be able to use this? I want to feel like they were coming to my house and have a nice toilet for them to use.” That’s true. I don’t know if we think about that often here, but if we had guests, we want them to feel comfortable, safe and hygienic in our home bathrooms. That’s a component that is sometimes missed, particularly in marginalized communities.
The design you’re working on, you need to make it desirable. People who want this toilet. I don’t know that I’ve often thought about wanting a toilet, although I take my toilet for granted every day.
You start to think as you said, guest bathrooms like, “I would like a toilet and the next time we put a new one in that flushes for us because our daughters never flushed.” These are the cushy things we think about here in America. It’s a totally different thing of like, “I don’t have anywhere to go and I have to leave school because there’s no toilet there.” That’s a different mindset and view. How hard was it for you and your team to put yourself in being able to think that way?
Going through the research process and submitting to the design thinking phase where we’re doing all this research, we did a bunch of interviews. We talked with people on the front end and we were like, “We know as much as we can know now.” Once you’re in front of the real people and getting the real feedback, that reality, you learn so much from seeing and listening to people. There’s also the nuance of what people explicitly are saying and what they’re not saying, but you can tell that they’re saying. Observing people and observing their behaviors because people would sometimes be like, “Yes, we love the toilet. This is great.” You could tell that they’ve never used it.
They’re like, “I don’t know what to do with this thing yet.” This is important, Jasmine. I’m glad you said that because it’s an early designer when you’re young and you’re a designer. They put you into this position and they’re like, “Here’s our research back we got from our market research.” You read this report and you have no understanding. It’s at the point when you finally get to observe that you see why that made no sense to you. It is critical to have the designers involved in the observation process. We’re big fans of that.
This is admirable, how you approach this and what you did. I’m interested to get to the other side of it. First of all, it’s excellent what we’ve heard so far that you’ve done and going there and firsthand learning about the problem and the cultural issues, on and on. At some point, you got to get to manufacturing something.
As you put, it has to be a low-cost alternative.
That’s one of the things that we have always done in our product design careers is we’re big proponents of, “You can’t design in your office and get it all right.” You’ve shown on the front-end research side, problem-solving side, in stage, how valuable it is to get out there into the real world. It’s equally important to get out there in the real world when it comes to how is it going to be manufactured. I’m interested to hear about that transition from concepts and research to prototype and then plans for going on to manufacturing.
Like a lot of young designers and people that create and like to make things, we were keen on making the thing that we thought was the solution at the beginning. We had this whole contraption that had this manual the day. We learned that some cultures prefer washing rather than wiping and that’s a norm. We have this manual the day that operated a super soaker, which was a little bit aggressive once you brought it to the real world.
I hear PSI is coming to play here.
We were always making prototypes. We were doing ergonomic studies. We did different mockups of seats. Our friends and families sit on them to measure different butt sizes. We did all of this prototyping. When we were in the field of this aspirational component as it relates to the product, it became a big realization for us as well. I know our original design the actual backend of the toilet was a little bit sleeker and slimmer. Some of the users were like, “We want the seat to be bigger.” We want to be able to fill out this perception of being wealthy and having enough money so that you can eat a lot so that you can gain weight. That was the train of thought where if you have a big backside, you’re making it in society, which in my head I had not even begun thinking about it.
We’re worried about how do we trim it down?
People want something larger because of this aspiration of if you can fill it out that means that you’re moving up in society. That was learning. In terms of the actual physical prototype, we started off like the foam core prototypes. When we went into the field, beforehand our concept, we wanted it to be made out of ceramic because that was all that we knew. We were like, “That’s what works here. It must be able to work there.” You’ll quickly learn that, particularly in marginalized communities, in developing contexts. Ceramic is not necessarily readily available. We were like, “Let’s use plastic.” We did ABS plastic. For our first production run, it was at Georgia Tech in the design shop, in the basement. We had a bunch of our peers and teachers. We were pulling ABS plastic over the mold that we created doing thermoforming manually. That was our first series because we were like, “We need this to stack and we need to be able to ship this to the refugee camps.” That was our pivot.
You had transportation issues in terms of your cost model too?
That too, as a young designer, you have all these aspirations, goalsand things, but then when money and logistics come in, you’re like, “Shipping is real. This takes up a lot of space.” Customs and being able to explain a toilet some way in the border. Those were some learnings as well being able to have the specs on hand, so you can talk to someone and you’re like, “This isn’t something strange. This is a toilet that we’re working with this organization.” That was learning that we actively had as we went through this process.
It sounds like you had a lot of help from the Georgia Tech community. They were coming in and advising material options and ways to make things. Was that the case for you?
Yes. I would say between alumni, professors, and fellow students, we were supported. We continued to be supported by the Georgia Tech community, which enables us to have those learnings and also learn with some cushion and support. In terms of legal processes for the patent, we had a ton of support in terms of what the actual steps are, which there are so many. There’s no way we would’ve been able to navigate that.
I want to touch on that because this is one of Tom’s favorite subject areas, but let’s get back to the transition into manufacturing. What stage are you at right now in terms of having it on the manufacturable scale?
We’re at an interesting place where we’ve proven that people like it, we’ve proven that it works. We have a few tweaks that we’re making because we want it to operate in any waste management environment. Whether you’re completely off the grid, you’re doing a compost toilet or you have a fully operating sewer line and you want to be able to connect to that. We want it to be able to connect to any waste management option.
That’s a broad goal too. You keep adding challenges for yourself, Jasmine.Getting your #3DManufacturing right from the beginning is worth that extra spend.@hp @zbyhp Click To Tweet
It’s like a convertible toilet.
It’s intended to be modular, which comes with a lot of challenges in terms of pieces and how they come together. That’s the place where we’re focusing a lot of our energy because this aspirational component of being able to increase your sanitation’s status over time has become big learning for us. People are like, “Maybe I can only afford this, but I want to be able to improve over time.” There are not a lot of options that enable people to do that. You have to wait until you have $5,000 and if you make $50 a month, you might not ever get there.
I can see purchasing this toilet when you achieved that goal, people have this fear of missing out of having that upgraded version. Your toilet can be upgraded. They’re not wasting their money. That’s a little marketing play there.
There’s a little smart strategy. I love that. That’s working for you. Let’s talk about the patent process because this is one of your favorites. They won a patent as a part of the program.
That’s the assistance and cost of a patent maybe.
Georgia Tech through the InVenture Prize supported us in writing it. It took a year and a half, but by the time that happened, we ended up getting a patent for our original.
That’s not that long.
You’re telling me from the time you filed to the time you got, was it eighteen months?
That’s not unusual at all. We have many patents. There was a time at which patents were taking a lot longer than that to get their first office action. That’s good news.
That’s not long and you should be thrilled.
That’s incredible and that’s a testament to Georgia Tech.
You should be thrilled that you had good help on that but having the patent is not enough. That’s what you discovered. You have to have business plans. You have strategies around that. You have to have manufacturing and now you need some capital too. I understand you broke the business up into two parts, nonprofit and the for-profit. Why did you do that?
We started off as this toilet and we still are much a toilet. We have this concept that we’re still finagling. We also realize that our value add was much broader than just a single product. We started exploring what was attracting partners to work with us? What was attracting opportunities for us to grow? It became clear because of our deep roots at Georgia Tech and because of our story coming out of undergrad, we have a ton of interest from Georgia Tech’s college, high school and grad students that want to plug into this work. That’s the nonprofit side where we’re looking to help diversify and bring in more people into the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene sector.
It sounds like a youth engagement model too, which is interesting.
The world has these sustainable development goals that the UN wants to achieve by 2030. For sanitation specifically, it was reported that the world is drastically behind all the targets that we were trying to reach by 2030. Part of our model is, maybe if we bring in some new minds and some diverse anchors from different sectors and young people, it could be high schoolers, maybe that will help disrupt the status quo of how we’re working as a sector. Maybe that will help us innovate better, more effectively and efficiently. As a designer, design thinking has been such a disruptive concept in a lot of the ways that we’ve worked compared to traditional Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene products where it’s more, “This has worked in the past, let’s scale-up. This is what we know to be true. Let’s scale-up.” You spend millions of dollars on something that’s not proven on the ground and then people will abandon it. They become glorified flower pots because people are like, “I don’t know what this is.”
We’ve experienced this couple of different times in our careers. Sometimes it takes a completely fresh set of eyes to be able to reinvent a product that is entrenched in cultures and in manufacturing. Manufacturing will always resist change because they want to manufacture what they know how to manufacture, what’s easier for them to do. I can’t tell you how many times that a manufacturer has them say to me, “We’d like to make this change.” I was like, “I know you’d like to, but we don’t want to make that change.” They say, “This is easier.” “Yes, I understand it’s easier but you want it to sell, don’t you? You want it to be adopted?” It can be a number of different reasons. These are some certain parts of your experience that are refreshingly Deja vu for me.
I want to make sure we don’t overlook it. This is a 3D printing show. I would love to hear you mentioned about thermoforming ABS. I wonder if we could take a little step back to that. Thermoforming ABS some of your original prototypes for samples makes perfect sense. I remember doing that myself in design school. When did you decide that 3D printing might be advantageous as you continue to prototype and test? I’m interested in some of the details there. What type of 3D printing did you use? Share some of that experience with us as our readers are interested in that.
Coming out of our pilot in Kenya, we had all these learnings and we came back to the drawing board. We came back to Georgia Tech and we made a lot of physical design changes based on the feedback that we received. Our immediate next step was, how do we rapidly in as cheap of a form as possible get this out in front of more people to see this is meeting the needs that we’re thinking that they’re meeting? Being in Atlanta, we didn’t have the resources to go back to the refugee camp, but there’s a ton of resettled refugee communities within the US that have diverse populations and understandings. There are some interesting nuances, particularly in Georgia resettled refugee communities with using ceramic seat toilets and people standing on them because they’re used to squatting and not necessarily understanding that can break the toilet and then the toilet shatter. There was an opportunity where we realized maybe we can get some of this feedback here and address some of the sanitation needs in the Atlanta area.
You can 3D print prototype it, bring it, get some feedback, that part works, that don’t work and bring it back. Were you doing it in pieces then?
In pieces and then also we did a bunch of scale prototypes. As we started moving into this modular toilet concept, we wanted to see if they stack the way that we thought they would stack. That was us seeing if the system works the way that we thought it did. We would put out pieces in front of users. There are a number of challenges in terms of getting approvals, particularly working with marginalized communities within the US. In terms of getting feedback, there will be focus groups or like, “What is this? Let’s talk about this.”
It’s seeing if people react to it the way that we thought they would. If people sat on it, the way we thought they would, even if they’re not using it because of protocols and protections in place, which makes sense. Seeing if people understand that it’s a toilet without us being like, “This is a toilet,” and if people sat on it the way that they were supposed to. When our original design looks the same on the front and the back. One of the issues with that, particularly for the type of waste management that we were trying to design around, it was waste separating. Urine was going one way, feces was going on another way.
If you sat on it wrong, you’d have a problem.
We need to make sure that in the event that’s the waste management preference and the community that people are sitting on it correctly.
This is such a good thing because often when something gets manufactured or we work with engineering and manufacturing, making comments, whole patterns, doing things, and sometimes doing something asymmetric is what’s needed so that the use is obvious to things. We’ve learned that over time that we have sometimes make products that get assembled wrong because the whole pattern was even because that was easier to engineer and plan.
You were able to install part 180 degrees either way. As Tracy said, we would plan it so that there’s only one way it would go together and it’s the right way.
You’re discovering the same thing.
You’re experienced some similar situations.
Tom had asked about what type of 3D printers. Did you have access to a lab at Georgia Tech or did you work with an outside makerspace? How did you do that?
We did have access to 3D printing at Georgia Tech that was the main methodology. There’s a digital fabrication lab at Georgia Tech as well. In addition to the small MakerBots that we were using, we also continued using foam cutter machines to get real size pieces to see that the 3D print would tell us if the snap fits were working. The foam full-size models were telling us if this is meeting where we think it’s going to meet on the human body to give us that full-scale toilet experience without having to spend all the money on the full manufacturing product yet.
Soon maybe they’ll be happy to add in there, in the labs, and then you can pretend to sit in it.
Moving more in line with some of these fourth industrial revolution technologies. We CNC a lot. That’s been our next generation prototyping. As we started to pilot full-scale toilet prototypes, we wanted to do it relatively rapidly. The cost is high. That’s the nature of the beast, but we didn’t want to invest in the molds for injection manufacturing without proving that’s what the market wants.
That’s smart. I’m glad you said that.
You were machining some prototypes at some point out of solid plastic and putting them together.#Rapidprototyping helps save time and manufacturing investment by testing out whether the #3Dprint products are what the market wants. @hp @zbyhp Click To Tweet
The CNC group that we’re working with are based out of China. I know there have been some changes in working with China in light of the realities of the world. We were working with them. Their process has been a series. It’s piecemeal like a puzzle where each layer fits together. It’s not a full plastic mold. It’s pieces together but the structural integrity is as it would be if it was a full plastic.
You’re making it in smaller pieces. We’ve done that a lot in China too. They do that because they don’t want to waste material more than anything. Material is more expensive for them than labor. To make something out of multiple pieces and glue it together permanently or somehow otherwise, the joined parts make total sense. With the right 3D printer that’s large enough, you could 3D print the whole thing or its different modular pieces, but I know if you didn’t have access to that, that might not be the path you took.
What’s the biggest challenge for you? We’re mentioning that working with China has been difficult and it is difficult for many companies and in various industries. There’s a supply chain problem in terms of materials too, recycled materials especially. What is the biggest challenge for you in terms of getting this to the market that you want and getting it into a position where this thing can be made in use?
We’re in a place now where we’ve been figuring out a number of things. We know that it works. We know that people like using it and we’ve done testing in the US. I also lived in Zambia. We did some additional tests in 2015 and 2016 in Zambia. There’s an interesting marketing demand there as well that we potentially could help fill. There’s this question, particularly in some of the Zambian market, about this willingness to pay component. We’ve figured out before we invest in large scale manufacturing, we need to make sure that there’s an actual willingness to pay. People have said, “We would pay $25 for this toilet seat or we’d pay $50,” but we’ve not seen a transaction for a lot of these particularly lower income people.
We talked about this all the time. It’s called market proof. The market proof isn’t just that the market will use it. That it’s like, “We like it. We’ll try it.” It’s that they will plunk down $1 for it or whatever the amount of money is because that’s through market proof that it’s viable and worth investing in the tooling and inventory that you need and going forward. Achieving that is one of the hardest things. The fact that you’re at that stage, and you’re doing it though before you have stocks of inventory in your warehouse somewhere, especially when it’s that big, that’s a smart strategy. I’m glad that’s the stage that you’re at, but it is also the most critical one. By the fact that you’ve identified a specific market that can pay and will pay, that’s an interesting model as well. That brings to me the other idea of thinking about if you’ve got a more affluent community who is willing to pay and buy, there might be a buy one, give one in the future model for you, because you do have the nonprofit arm too.
Buy one that was higher level hooked up to the sanitation that’s the more status level, and then you’ll give away one that an aspiring person there that has more serious need.
You’ve left yourself open to having that strategy, which is going to be great for investment as you go forward.
One of the things I’d like to suggest you consider if you haven’t already, because you have a lot of passionate about this project. There are certain philanthropic organizations or individuals who would be interested to also contribute and help. Maybe they have the same fear of not wanting to invest in it until you can prove people are going to pay the money for it. That’s fine, but in a limited way, you could get a smaller amount of money, put out a limited series of twenty toilets. Make twenty and you’re going to spend more on them than you’re going to make by selling them but you’re going to get the proof that the market is willing to pay that $25 or $50 or whatever it is. It doesn’t matter that you spent $200 on each one or whatever it ends up being. This is an investment in proving there is a market for bigger investment dollars that’s going to make it affordable.
If I had this, I can make it for this and that’s profitable, but I don’t necessarily have to make money from my first one. That’s a mistake that many inventors and product designers make. They think that it has to be made from day one, but market proof you’ll spend a load of money on marketing later like 10 to 20 times more if you get it wrong. Getting it right from the beginning is worth that extra spend. I love that you’re at that stage. It comes to think that gender equity is a very big conversation. It’s gotten bigger since you first were introduced to this idea. There’s got to be more organizations and you’ve worked on a collaborative model all along. How have you found that as working with other organizations to tap into that?
You reinforce our thinking. I appreciate that. I will say it is daunting when our competitor and a lot of these markets are free. It’s like free toilets are the competitor that we’re competing against. In terms of aspirational value, that’s something that we want to prove. We need to prove it before we invest in the next steps. The narrative though about the actual product and how it is intuitive and it is something. For our pilot in Zambia, we worked with a female head of household. She was relatively older and she was like, “This is amazing that I can upgrade my toilet. I can install the seat. I can make it into a seat toilet or I can change it to a squat toilet on my own without having to call someone to help me.” It’s a snap-fit. It’s not something that requires intense knowledge about toilet installation. That empowerment too is a good component, especially when we’re working with organizations that are in the gender equity space.
I’ve done some work with Women Deliver. They work on gender equality and work around the world. It is a good value add when we talk about how this product is intuitive for all people and how it’s easy for all people. Particularly for women, in a lot of contexts, women are often in charge of a lot of the bathroom norms in terms of cleaning, in terms of what’s happening in the household. If it’s something that the woman feels like she can manage, maintain, install and do whatever on her own, that makes it even a better buy-in for the community and sustainability, for ownership, pride and all these things too that are important to address.
You built a whole process around reinforcing the thing that you were first inspired by balancing and re-shifting the equity of gender norms across the world. Did you ever think as you got started here that this would be the case, that you’d still be working on this from the moment you started them?
I don’t think so. For me, every day is a new adventure. I feel like sanitation touches everybody. Everyone, no matter who you are, where you’re from, what your background is, what do you believe, sanitation is a universal experience for everyone. That to me is such a cool part of it. People resonate with it. People are like, “It sucks when you don’t know where to go to the bathroom and you need to go right now.” That feeling is a universal understanding. That empathy that comes from that and the understanding that if you’ve ever used a nasty toilet, that feeling of disgust is a universal feeling. As I have started diving further into space, it’s such an exciting world to be in. With COVID, it’s changing the landscape of a lot of things but COVID is like water, sanitation and hygiene related disease. The nature of the sector as it relates to public health there are many interesting implications that the world is going to move towards. There are some interesting things with smart sanitation. How might we use biosensors in toilet technologies to be preventative health diagnostic tools?
You’re right about that. We have this issue. We’re in Orange County, California, which is South of LA, but there’s a problem all the way up the Coast here with a homeless population. It is a sanitation problem that each mayor of each city around here is struggling to figure out a safe and clean solution. It’s not just somewhere around the world that I’m not familiar with. It is in our backyard as well.
That is an important point because oftentimes people are like, “Go somewhere else and do the great work.” We have some stuff we can fix here too. When we look at just the product of toilets, the diversity of things like toothbrushes or chairs and then we look at toilets, there’s only a limited number of product designs that exist. There’s a need to disrupt that or dig into that more. Even if we’re looking at everything the general population, there’s not a lot of innovation that exists in that space.
That’s what I was thinking here. I was thinking the mayors almost need to talk to you because while your product may not be a perfect application, what you’ve learned, which is human behavior. It’s the women in those communities who needed more privacy, which makes it more difficult. What you’ve learned about social inequity, that is also a big player in it. It’s why you can’t take a toilet and say, “We put some in over here, go use them.” That’s why it’s not working. That’s an interesting model. Wish for Wash has a bigger, broader, future ahead of it. I hope that doesn’t feel daunting. I hope that still keeps you energized as you go forward because you have as much energy as when I interviewed you a few years ago. In fact, you’re even more excited now.
I’m glad to be here and to reflect on the journey since then, and hopefully future path where we’re continuing to go. There is so much opportunity in terms of design, manufacturing, and access. Innovation at large, there’s so much that could be done. My heart for a lot of this now is how can we get more creatives? How might we get more engineers and designers into this space that think this way? Not thinking like, “Let’s do what we’ve been doing. Let’s think about something new and how we can address a lot of these problems that exist.”
We have readers out there who are all in those creative worlds and in those fields. They are always excited to tackle new problems and issues and get excited about things. I hope that we do that here, but is there anything else? What can our readers do to help you in your mission?
We have a number of things. For our nonprofit arm, we do a series of community-based education initiatives where we use design thinking. We call them Design Jams. It’s a 2 to 3-hour workshops talking about sanitation in our community and how we can use design thinking to help address it to unlock people’s thinking. That’s an opportunity to plugin. We also have a fun coloring book if anyone’s interested. Educational and fun for people of all ages. Also, in terms of going back to the market viability, we are in this place where we’re looking to secure funding for 10 to 20 pilots run for a market viability test.
Supporting in that way would be incredible as well. Subscribing to our newsletter, letting us know if you’re interested in collaborating. We’re always looking for partners. We’re excited to continue growing in our product design area, but also in our education and research. We’re also looking to publish some papers about what it looks like to use design thinking in the sanitation space a new framework that will hopefully transcend beyond us and make further implications and impacts in the world. Those are some ways to plugin.
We’ll make sure everybody can connect up with you and help your mission at Wish for Wash. JasmineBurton, thank you so much for joining us. Congratulations on getting as far as you have in this. I look forward to seeing what happens in the next years for you as well.
Thank you so much. I appreciate it.
Speeding the Innovation Cycle with Rapid Prototyping That Incorporates Real World Feedback with Jasmine Burton of Wish for WASH — Final Thoughts
There are many things to think about, consider and discuss about that interview. One of the things that I respect and relate to is how this started as a student project at Georgia Tech University in this Industrial Design department. Anybody who’s been through a program like that or is involved in education and a program like that, sometimes students choose a subject for a project that is bigger than they are and might be getting in over their heads. It happens all the time. Jasmine didn’t realize that she was diving into the deep end of a large Olympic sized swimming pool. Maybe even 2 or 3 times Olympic sized swimming pool with this project.
She could have approached it from one perspective and not gone full-tilt into the whole project. It could have been a student project that was a nice aspirational thing. You get your grade and you move on and you don’t do it again. You go get a job in whatever the real world here in the United States is and leave it, but she went all in. She came to realize the project is so much bigger than she first realized, but she’s taken that on as a challenge. She’s like, “There’s more to it. Let’s figure out what that is and let’s consider everything and come up with the best solution possible given all the considerations.” That’s admirable.
I also want to highlight Georgia Tech in creating a model for inspiration within their community because not only did they inspire her, but they knew how to nurture it. There’s InVenture Program, which is this award ceremony and it brings money, vitality, and mentorship into that process for them. It gave them the view of what it was going to take for them to dive deeper into this. The fact that she worked in partnership, that she has partners, that she’s collaborating on a constant basis. That’s more real-world what it’s like to be out there as a designer. This interaction between the technologies isn’t all. The engineering skills and the engineering knowledge isn’t all that it’s going to take. It’s knowledge of how to communicate with people, how to communicate your ideas, and how to get research and get information back. How to go about and then translate that into the next model. How to do things like digitally manufacturing, utilize all the tools, find resources and helpers in that process, whether it’s corporations or vendors or whatever it might be in the process of that.
The fact that they created this environment where that could nurture and teach her that and provide access to that along the way, that’s admirable. We thought Georgia Tech was a great school. We used to live in South Carolina and I was always impressed with the grads I met from that area. Now, I see why. I see what that is. Sometimes we as designers get an inspiration point time. We get something that goes like, “That sounds cool.” I like to tackle as we talked about PE, Personal Equipment for all of what’s going on in COVID and health. Until we start diving into that, we don’t realize we’re opening this can of worms. We are making a face mask. We’re making it something that has to go through approvals. It has to go through durability. It has to be comfortable. It has to be able to be put on easily. It has to safely protect. We don’t realize the can of worms. We hear something that excites us and we dive in. You’re right about that, and then too often you’re like, “That was way more than I thought I was going to be.” You don’t take it forward.
It highlights the difference between an idea, a design, a project or a product. I’ve had the father of a lifelong friend of mine say, “Tom, I had an idea for you.” He knows I’ve got patents. He’s like, “Tom, you need to do this. Why hasn’t somebody done it? You should do it.” Somebody like that has no perspective of in order to do it right, you would have to throw yourself into it. That’s what Jasmine’s done here. She’s like, “Toilets have been around for centuries here. If we’re going to reinvent this wheel, it’s a serious project that deserves passion, dedication, attention, and focus.”
Jasmine sent me an email and ironically that was right after we had seen the docu-series, Inside Bill’s Brain, which is about Bill Gates. They talk in that series about their world toilet initiative. It’s a project that was to create a new toilet especially for underdeveloped communities that didn’t need water. It’s waterless toilets.
It was supposed to be waterless. They had criteria and they had a full mission and program around it. The interesting part was that what sparked their conversation and decision to get involved in it from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation was that Melinda had been reading an article. It was The New York Times Magazine. She read this article that was written by a journalist. It was talking about this world sanitation problem, what it was creating this gender equity problem. It was creating all educational problems. That was part of their mission. It was creating health sanitation and educational problem. It fit within the mission that they had as an organization.
When they read it, they said, “We can do something about this. This is complex. It requires focus, investment, and collaboration and we can do something about that.” I thought that was an interesting model to take. That ties to what Jasmine has done here and what the community of workers and mission people surrounding her community that she’s developed for Wish for Wash, that they all have that same passion and excitement. While they didn’t have the broader ability to have what the foundation had, they certainly had created it for themselves within their community, people that they invited in and the people that they worked with.
They created that mini-ecosystem for themselves to help it grow. Is it growing fast enough? No. That’s why everyone else needs to get involved, and why we’re going to have all the ways to connect and support their organization, Wish for Wash. It’s also why I’ve been impressed with everything in this series from HP. They look at those things as a bigger mission. Whether it’s on the education front or we want to create access to digital manufacturing. We want to create access to that for communities that are disenfranchised or remote. We want to create those things that they’ve been looking at that from we have the ability and the opportunity to bring in collaborators in the process. We can get access to the higher part of the community. We can get into the organizational structures of the government.
We can get into it for the university level. We can effect change from that top-down. We can affect change from getting funding, missions, and bringing awareness to that as well. When they’re looking at doing it, that has been the differentiator to me. We can sit back as designers and have great ideas and missions about what we want to create and the change we want to make in the world. If we don’t reach outside of ourselves, if we don’t reach and start to collaborate with others and looking at it as collaboration instead of a competition, then we’re not going to make the bigger, broader changes we need in the world. Jasmine Burton and Wish for Wash has learned that early on. That’s why they have the ability to make so much good change in the world.
Don’t forget, there are also some videos and pictures of various things and some other things. As always, if you go to 3DStartPoint.com/hp, if you want to go back through, you’ll be able to see the listing of the episodes because we’re at number 24. We’re almost done with our series. You’ll be able to see all of them there and be able to pick and choose or go all the way from the beginning and make sure you’re hitting the entire series in order. We planned it specifically for you to lead up to where we are. Upcoming, we’re going to talk about our own experience using the MJF printers with our own projects, which we’d never gotten to test before in the history of this show. That’s going to be fun and that comes up next. I sure hope you enjoyed this episode as much as we did. It was a real pleasure to do. We’ve got another episode, stay tuned for that. We’d be back soon for another episode.
Get Even More!
- Wish for WASH
- Zambian Beta Pilot
- Tracy’s Inc. Article on Jasmine Burton
- Materialise: Moving from Prototyping to End-Part Production
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