Welcome to Asepsis! Home to a new way of tackling sanitation problems across the world and more poop puns than you know what to do with. But before going any further, we want to tell you our story and let you know who we are. So pay attention. This shit’s important.
It all started in a classroom at the George Washington University. Asepsis founders Evan Young and Maz Obuz were in a class called Makeshift Innovation and Engineering in the Third World taught by Professor Mathew Wilkins (also now a member of the Asepsis Board of Directors). This class brought in an array of inspiring individuals from all across the world who had either started an organization or were taking part in amazing projects, all geared towards solving some of the world’s biggest problems (i.e. access to transportation, electricity, women’s’ rights etc.). While these speakers would come in and tell us their story, we were working on ours.
The entire course was built around teams identifying a major world problem and creating a detailed plan, model and/or system to solve it. This is when we saw the figures that would bring us to sanitation. 1-in-3 people around the world lack access to sanitation. More people having cellphones than toilets. One child dying every minute from a waterborne disease.
They were staggering statistics. But numbing ones, too.
Past a certain point, big numbers are just that; big numbers. It’s hard to visualize what 1-in-3 people lacking access to sanitation looks like because the magnitude and scale of that statistic, along with the obscure nature of what it means to “lack access to sanitation.” Even a child dying every minute because of a waterborne disease loses its significance when we don’t see it in our lives.
But we had our mission. Originally, we focused on high-density urban slums like that of Dharavi, one of Asia’s largest slums in the middle of Mumbai, India. From there, we set out to talk with some of the best engineers, public health professionals, and non-profit organizations we could find to understand the problem we were looking at. After months of brainstorming, interviewing, prototyping, and so on, we had what would become known as Project Dharavi.
By the end of the class, we not only had a design for a low-cost squat toilet with a method of collection that connected it to biogas (more on that some other time), we had a team and momentum. So we went for it. We threw our proposal into a couple different areas to see what stuck – the Clinton Global Initiative University, the GW Upstart D-Prize Competition, and the GW Business Plan Competition. And, to our surprise, they all did.
In March of 2015, the Project Dharavi team went to the Clinton Global Initiative University conference at the University of Miami, where it placed into the finals of the Resolution Project. Here, we were able to pitch to some of the foremost leaders in development and social entrepreneurship, while working through workshops with these same leaders and scores of our peers. While we didn’t receive the Resolution Project grant, we were given some amazing insight and a desire to do better.
A month later, the work paid off. We were awarded the GW Upstart D-Prize grant; a grant that goes to sponsor initiatives that help to distribute public health needs in sustainable, innovative ways. Then came the GW Business Plan Competition, where we were awarded the Best International Venture prize and Third Place overall. The success in these initiatives allowed us an amazing opportunity.
With some funding and a mission (or a dollar and a dream as Mr. J. Cole would say), Project Dharavi turned into something a lot bigger. We began to see that one solution would do little to address the larger systemic problems around sanitation. We also saw that we were in a unique position to make a change as students with a dense network of friends and colleagues who wanted to do good, and just needed direction. With these realizations, Asepsis was created.
But we had to learn more, so we shipped out to Nicaragua and India to meet with organizations and individuals working on the front lines of the sanitation crisis as well as the communities in the middle of it. These trips were unbelievable opportunities to see up-close what was going on and what we could do.
So here we are. Asepsis will work towards solving the global problems its founders saw inside of the classroom, and we are going to do it in two main ways. First, we are going to work at raising awareness about sanitation here in the US to mobilize support for organizations we see making great strides everyday, but that need extra help from networks like ours to make these strides go further. Second, we are going to assemble teams of great minds from a host of different backgrounds to come up with innovative, human-centered approaches to sanitation, just like we did with Project Dharavi.
We have a long road ahead and couldn’t be more grateful to have you with us. We want to help bridge the gap between well-intentioned people and the organizations they could support, between great thinkers and the world’s biggest problems, and between the numbers and the men, women, and children those numbers represent.
Let’s do this shit!