Alumni Spotlight: Jasmine Burton
July 16, 2018
Our first Alumni Spotlight focuses on Jasmine Burton, a Rotary Global Scholar who graduated from LSHTM with an MSc in Public Health. Jasmine founded Wish for WASH, LLC, (W4W) a social impact startup that intends to bring innovation to sanitation after her senior design team won the Georgia Tech InVenture Prize Competition for their Safichoo toilet. Since then, W4W has conducted iterative toilet pilots and research across Sub-Saharan Africa and in an Atlanta-based resettled refugee community. Now it is working towards scale. Jasmine identifies as a social impact designer who uses design thinking to advocate for universal health.
Can you tell us about your area of work?
Over two billion people in the world today lack access to improved sanitation. What’s more, over four billion people lack access to safely managed sanitation. As a result, many people use unimproved pit latrines or holes in the ground that they share with neighbouring community members. These may be overflowing, poorly maintained and far from home. These latrines are also prone to collapsing during inclement weather, and can spread faecal waste into the ground and surface water sources. People living in densely populated communities without sanitation facilities often have to resort to open defecation .This can lead to a host of both mental and physical health problems.
Due to social stigmas and gendered expectations, women frequently wait until the nighttime to use the toilet or openly defecate which leaves them vulnerable to sexual assaults. Additionally, the lack of toilets in schools makes it challenging for young pubescent girls to manage their menstruation safely. Consequently, many miss school during their period every month or drop out completely. I believe that women can help tackle poor WASH systems in marginalised communities by providing both culturally specific and empowering infrastructure and services for their female counterparts. This is a movement what we are hoping to help positively contribute to through Wish for WASH.
How did competing in the Inventure Prize influence your path or prepare you for field work?
In 2011, I became keenly interested in sanitation and toilet design when I learned about how the lack of toilets disproportionately burdened career and educational advancements of women in developing countries. Additionally, in 2013, I took part in an interdisciplinary senior design capstone at Georgia Tech. I seized this opportunity to engage other Georgia Tech alums (Andrew Foote and Emily Woods) to create a senior design capstone project about toilets. Andrew and Emily founded Sanivation , a social enterprise that delivers clean and safe sanitation services for urbanising communities in East Africa. As such, they are leading groundbreaking work in the sanitation sector.
Our task in our senior design captsone was to design a mobile toilet intended for a multicultural refugee camp in Northern Kenya. Our team of four Georgia Tech women was particularly excited because of the creative and social impact opportunities involved in empowering women through improved WASH offerings. We ended the semester of research and initial product conceptualisation with the SafiChoo toilet.
Given that our project concept was a low tech, our team didn’t think that we qualified to take part in the InVenture Prize Competition. However, we decided to compete after we were offered a ‘Golden Ticket’ to the semifinals round of the competition at the Georgia Tech capstone expo in December 2013, which was an incredible and exciting opportunity for which I am forever grateful.
Competing in the InVenture Prize helped me boost my skills and self-belief. It validated my dreams of empowering women and advocating for health and gender equity. The competition really taught me to believe in myself, which led me to found Wish for WASH in 2014. It also pushed me to move to Lusaka, Zambia to undertake global health work and toilet testing in 2015. What’s more, I completed a Masters in Public Health at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine as a Rotary Global Grant scholar in 2016.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
As I continue to grow as a public health practitioner and WASH professional, I seek to continue bridging the multi-sectoral nature of this work. My aim is to enable a range of stakeholders from design-thinkers to end-user communities to be part of the global movement to accelerate access to improved sanitation for all. As Founder and President of Wish for WASH, I seek to test our toilet concept at a larger scale to contribute innovation to the low cost toilet market to spur increased diversity in product cost and cultural sensitivity.
Additionally, I work as the Communications Manager at the Toilet Board Coalition and as a Health Communications Specialist the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the Division of Global Health Protection to engage both private and public sector actors in collaborating and accelerating progress towards the 6th United Nations Sustainable Development Goal ; the lack of improved sanitation on a global scale is both expensive and dangerous particularly as it relates to infectious disease outbreaks. I work at the intersection of social enterprise, smart sanitation, private sector engagement, and global health communications to help bring more diverse knowledge to the WASH sector. My experiences as a global grant scholar gave me the opportunities to help drive the tipping point of change for this sector with the incredible colleagues with whom I work.
What advice do you have for any future students or soon-to-be graduates in the field?
Often starting the journey as a social entrepreneur can feel like the most courageous task. However, as Wish for WASH has grown and evolved, I have learned that the most courageous thing that a social entrepreneur can do is to keep going. Despite the doubt, working in the global health sector as an entrepreneur is like chartering unknown waters every day. Even if the mission that you set out to accomplish proves ‘unsuccessful’ , the learnings that you have and worldview that you bring creates a sector wide memory from which we can collectively grow, iterate and preserve. The story of your work is enough to create ripples of social change in society. To me, that is what it means to be a social entrepreneur.