Believing that you have the power to make a difference might sound like the ideals of youth, but putting those ideals into action is what separates designers that just draw from innovators that build. Jasmine Burton, Founder of Wish for Wash a social impact organization that saves lives by bringing innovation to sanitation through culturally-specific research, design and education is an innovator and a doer.
As a freshman at Georgia Tech, Jasmine was inspired to do something about the global sanitation crisis by a women's leadership conference by Susan Davis of Improve International. Nearly half of the world doesn't have access to a toilet; of those people, women and girls are disproportionately burdened and pubescent girls in the developing world frequently drop out of school as a result of the lack of toilets in their schools. Angered by this reality, Jasmine left the conference and called her mom to say, "I know what I am supposed to do. I am supposed to design toilets."
Three years later as a product design student, Jasmine had the opportunity to design a toilet for the Kakuma refugee camp as a part of an interdisciplinary senior design capstone at Georgia Tech that led to the birth of the SafiChoo toilet. The design is a sanitary toilet that can be universally and easily deployed by international aide organizations, while being culturally relevant with a toolbox of options that enables the end user to choose how to use the toilet to best meet their preferences: sitting, squatting or washing. Jasmine and her team were the first all-female group to win the Georgia Tech InVenture Prize Competition, the largest undergraduate invention competition in the United States.
Despite all the challenges of little design school preparation for product/business development and working in a social sector, as well as founding a start-up, being young, female and a minority, Jasmine remains excited by the future. "Innovation and social impact work is incredibly inspiring and exciting to see a movement of young people interested in building a better and more equitable future for their communities." Plus she has great mentors in entrepreneurs like Georgia Tech alums, Joy Buolamwini and Jasmine Lawrence who have gone before her.
In addition to these mentors, asking a lot of questions, and being a fast learner, she cites the following as key lessons learned so far from her challenges:
Gain a Hard Skill
Whether that's coding, designing, engineering, or even knowing a language, hard skills are imperative in effectively conducting social impact/humanitarian work. In a world suffering from extreme poverty, malnutrition, violence, and inequity, more doers, creators, and makers need to be 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.
Develop a Global Awareness
Make an intentional effort to increase your global awareness by watching the news, reading newspapers, and knowing about current humanitarian events/crises. From this awareness a passion can be born from which meaningful social impact work can emerge.
Invest in People
Aligning yourself with insightful mentors and partners who are seeking to make similar changes and with whom your work parallels. Social impact work requires developing meaningful relationships in order to gain traction and to do work that actually is making a difference.
Wish for Wash's 3rd generation design of SafiChoo will collect data this year in a pilot run in Zambia in partnership with a resettled refugee service organization and funded by a successful 2015 IndieGoGo campaign. Youthful ideals, strong belief in the power to make a difference combined with actions undeterred by challenge makes Jasmine Burton a designer with the capacity for making a tremendous worldwide impact.