"Waves of Change: Women Revolutionizing the World for Social Good" is a new and ongoing interview series featuring women doing impactful work in social good, social justice, sustainability, and overall making the world a better place.
Jasmine Burton is a design thinking, global health consulting, impact accelerating, and social enterprise founding hybrid-professional hailing from Atlanta, Georgia. Jasmine is also a member of Earth Harbor's Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity Council. Jasmine founded Wish for WASH, a social impact startup intended to bring innovation to sanitation through conducting iterative toilet innovation pilots and culturally specific research, all with a human-centered design, social inclusion and research lens. Her passion for hygienic, equitable, and sustainable sanitation fuels her work. She is also the founder of the Hybrid Hype, a woman-owned global consulting firm.
What inspired you to pursue a career in social impact and global health, and start your companies? How did you develop a love and passion for this career path in social impact and global health, and how did you start your journey in this field?
I’m a design thinking, global health consulting, impact accelerating, and social enterprise founding hybrid-professional hailing from Atlanta, Georgia.
I graduated with Highest Honors from the Georgia Institute of Technology’s (GT) School of Design with a Bachelor’s of Science in Industrial + Product Design. Rewind to freshman year - in 2011 – I was inspired to do something about the global sanitation crisis at a women’s leadership conference. I learned from a Georgia Tech alumna 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 was my call to action and I left the conference and called my parents 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. Three years later, my senior design team was the the first all-female team to win the GT InVenture Prize Competition, the largest undergraduate invention competition in the United States, for our invention of the SafiChoo toilet. Prior to graduation, I founded following several months of piloting the 1.0 version of the SafiChoo toilet, I founded Wish for WASH, a social impact startup intended to bring innovation to sanitation after my senior design team was the first all-female team to win the GT InVenture Prize Competition for our invention of the SafiChoo toilet. I have since led Wish for WASH in conducting iterative toilet innovation pilots and research in Kenya, Zambia, Uganda, Ethiopia and in the USA (Atlanta) all with a human-centered design, social inclusion and research lens. I continued to pursue my passion for hygienic, equitable, and sustainable sanitation as a Rotary Global Grant Scholar and MSc in Public Health graduate student at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
As a motivational and educational speaker, I have spoken on 100+ global stages - including as a TedxAtlanta and Women Deliver Power Stage Speaker - and have also been featured on 45+ media platforms including CNN Money, Inc., WIRED, Fast Company, and WSBTV.
I have since founded the Hybrid Hype, a woman-owned global consulting firm, following a decade of doing diverse freelance work with various impact organizations - with scopes that span the United Nations’ 3rd, 5th and 6th Sustainable Development Goal targets- such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Toilet Board Coalition, Equilo, Atethemis, Population Services International (PSI) and the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF).
And, as announced on Menstrual Health Day 2020 in Ms. Magazine, I am also a co-founder of Period Futures, which is a playful project that seeks to spark curiosity and conversation around the future of periods.
With 7+ years of various water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), global health, and gender equity experiences across 10 countries in research, communications, and management roles within the public, private, and social enterprise sectors, I identify as a social impact designer and storyteller who seeks to couple design thinking and business acumen with evidence-based science to accelerate access to universal health and sanitation for all because #everybodypoops
How would you describe your company Wish for WASH and the work you do?
Wish for WASH is a social startup (that now operates as a multipronged collective) that is intended to bring innovation to sanitation through culturally specific research, design and education. The genesis of my interest was actually 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 that according to the World Health Organization over two billion people in the world today lack access to improved sanitation and over four billion people lack access to safely managed sanitation. People often resort to using unimproved pit latrines or holes in the ground that they share with their neighboring community members that are often overflowing, poorly maintained and or far from home. These unimproved pits are also susceptible to collapsing during inclement weather and can result in spreading the fecal waste into both the ground and surface water sources. Often times, people that live in densely populated communities without sanitation facilities resort to open defecation, which leads to a host of both mental and physical health problems. The lack of toilets in schools makes it incredibly challenging for young, pubescent girls to safely manage their menstruation; this frequently results in girls missing school during their period every month, which often time leads to them dropping out of school completely.
I founded Wish for WASH in December 2014 following the initial pilot that my Georgia Tech interdisciplinary senior design team and I conducted in tandem with the CDC and the Norwegian Refugee Council under the auspices of Sanivation in the Kakuma refugee camp in northern Kenya. This pilot was made possible after my senior design team was the first all-female team to win the Georgia Tech InVenture Prize Competition for our SafiChoo toilet. 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. The SafiChoo toilet’s most current, patent-pending design is composed of separate, modular units, which enables the user to build the system to best meet their specific needs as it relates to the actual toilet and as it relates to the waste management options that are available in their community. The intention is to use a human-centered design approach to improve the user experience of both the end user and the community waste management servicing team. In 2015, we conducted an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign that was 100% funded to support their 2016 Zambian beta pilot. After securing funding, we manufactured, shipped, installed and monitored the newest version of the SafiChoo toilet in tandem with Water and Sanitation for the Urban Poor Zambia (WSUP) and the Lusaka Water and Sewage Company (LWSC). This 10-week beta pilot that was conducted in a peri-urban compound in Lusaka, Zambia received positive feedback from the project stakeholders and the community, which has led to an interest in scaling the SafiChoo toilet in the city. Additionally, we worked with a resettled refugee community in Atlanta to pilot a dry, compost version of the SafiChoo toilet in 2017 and are now working to test the true market opportunity of the SafiChoo toilet in both US and Zambian markets.
In 2018, we started building out our educational portfolio by conducting a Design Thinking for Toilets course with an Atlanta based high school and launched our first educational coloring book. In 2019, we coordinated and conducted a series of community-based design thinking workshops that sought to not only proliferate the design thinking methodology to the Atlanta public, but to also inspire our community to use this methodology as it relates to local water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH)related issues. Additionally, we launched our Wish for WASH Merch Store were each piece uses designs from Atlanta based and women artists that support the Wish for WASH mission. Additionally, the proceeds from our merchandise goes to support our innovative sanitation initiatives. In 2020, we launched our WASH-related educational initiatives that are rooted in design thinking and instructional design with the Girl Scouts of Atlanta and the International Rescue Committee in Atlanta.
In addition to these educational initiatives, we have a been working towards publishing some of our research findings on both academic and informal platforms to further proliferate, advocate and showcase the power of and opportunities unlocked when WASH research uses design thinking and social inclusion approaches. In July 2020, we had our first academic manuscript published called Smart Sanitation – Biosensors as a Tool in Sanitation Infrastructure.
Over the past 6 years, we have demonstrated our commitment to our mission by creating a multiplier effect whereby we recruit, equip, train, empower and meaningfully engage 100+ people under the age of 30 and largely based in Atlanta to lead work in reaching ~170+ people directly with innovative sanitation pilots (such as design thinking pilots with our patented SafiChoo toilet design) in both Atlanta and in Sub- Saharan Africa. These young leaders then recruit, equip, train, empower and meaningfully engage new Wish for WASH members with an innovative and inclusive lens. Collectively, we have also reached 15000+ people indirectly with our 100+ community and global events, talks, 3 learning reports, 5 workshops and 45+ press/media features. According to an Impact Analysis conducted by a One Young World Consultant, Wish for WASH has a 1:3 Social Return on Investment ratio.
Some of the greatest challenges that we’ve seen include the lack of diverse thinking of diverse voices that is often pervasive in the international development, public health and design spaces when in reality sanitation is a part of all people’s lives and should therefore be designed for dignity and inclusion for all people. In 2018 the UN wrote that the world is off track to reaching the 6th SDG – I believe that professionals from various sectors, backgrounds, countries and industries and who are different ages has the power to truly disrupt in the status quo of the WASH world to really help drive sustainable and inclusive innovation. n response to this reality, our growing mission is to amplify more diverse voices and inclusive innovations in the water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) and global health sectors through the lens of research, design and education
Ultimately, as a young, Atlanta-based social collective, the Wish for WASH team is committed to practicing design thinking and social inclusion methodologies in the WASH sector in order to help the world reach the United Nation’s 6th Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Targets by 2030 because #everybodypoops.
How do you define advocacy and how do you practice it?
Advocacy to me is about both amplification and education. For me this looks like amplifying the voices of and shining a light on both causes and people that are underrepresented and or undervalued. I tend to move in this work by way of impactful and inspiring narratives based on empowering and educational histories, realities, and possibilities related to innovation and inclusion in WASH. I believe in the power of storytelling and communications and use that as my tool for inspiring sustainable and equitable collective action towards SDG 6.
What’s one small step we can take each day to help fight for social good, create a more sustainable world, and have a positive impact on the world? What advice do you have for someone who wants to get involved in the work you’re doing, but doesn’t know where to start?
These are some words that I wrote for the Huffington Post in this article that are central to my practice and what I recommend for others:
“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 workplace, 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.”
What daily self-care rituals help keep you grounded and do you have any favorite beauty rituals that are part of your self-care practice?
While I am still in a journey of fully leaning into and making space for my selfcare regimen, I have learned that you cannot pour from an empty glass. In order to keep my glass full and my fire for this work aflame, I have to feed my mind, body, and spirit– through meditation, cardio-based fitness, and religious practices such as prayer and worship. I also love to “treat myself” every other week or so with soaking in lavish facemasks – especially the Earth Harbor Blue Crush blue green algae mask - painting my nails, and trialing new body butters and oils. It’s important to remember and maintain a process of self-love and respect and these are some of the ways that I have learned (and am still learning) to do so.
What mantra helps light your inner fire?
The challenge is to be yourself in a world that is trying to make you like everyone else.
What is your end goal (or vision for the future) for the social impact work you’re doing?
I would love to see the world not only reach the 6th SDG by 2030, but also to fully realize the untapped value of the Sanitation Economy – with scaling and normalizing the Circular sanitation economy, digital health implications of the Smart Sanitation Economy on both the individual and aggregate levels, and true human and planet centered product offerings for WASH products such as toilets, handwashing stations and menstrual health products. This would enable the world to create sustainable and innovative businesses, products, and services that represent the diversity and better preserve this world and its people.
Stay in Touch with Jasmine:
Jasmine's Website: https://jasminekburton.com/