In an interview with Aqua for All, Diana Yousef, the CEO of Change: WATER Labs, shared the latest news from her enterprise and tips on overcoming challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Change: WATER Labs with its innovative toilet iThrone is one of the finalists of the 2021 Sarphati Sanitation Challenge.
– What is the iThrone and where can it ideally be applied?
– iThrone is a toilet that shrinks waste on sight, inside the toilet itself, by evaporating the water from it. It is especially relevant for crowded places where there is no access to plumbing infrastructure. There are a lot of options for sanitation in such conditions but they usually need a lot of space or have to be emptied every one-two days. So what we are trying to do is to come up with a more compact solution that more appropriately targets sanitation in places that are crowded or enclosed.
– What are the challenges for Change: WATER Labs because of the Covid-19 pandemic?
– I think Covid was our biggest challenge. When the pandemic hit, all travels closed down and people started to evacuate, while we were actually deploying our first pilot. My team was in Uganda when we had to pull out, and quite suddenly. We had to figure out how to continue operating when we could not come together to build things. So we decided to focus on creating more possibilities in the future. We took a step back and started to design products virtually while looking for new applications of our technology. Over the course of last summer, we innovated on a new version of iThrone that is specifically tailored for transportation applications. We also developed plans in case we cannot travel to remote locations, working with our partners who can deploy our products on our behalf.
– How would you describe your experience with the Sarphati Sanitation Challenge in terms of learning and training?
– We are aware that, operating from the United States, we are not immediately on the frontline where a lot of sanitation gaps are. There are, of course, sanitation gaps in the US, but it is much more pronounced in other geographies. So we know that we need to be humble and take input from people that live in the context of a bigger sanitation challenge. It was great to meet other teams that are on the frontline of that, to think about how we can collaborate and help them with their problems. I think it was really eye-opening for us.
– What is the latest news from your company?
– The biggest update is that we are getting ready to do our next pilot deployment, in collaboration with a construction contractor in Panama. We also upgraded the design of our iThrone from squatting toilet to sitting toilet. It was a challenging task, but we are going to deploy it in Central America in the next couple of months. This targets sanitation for low-income and indigenous communities that do not have access to plumbing and water in their homes. We are really excited about that. If it goes into full deployment, it can have a huge impact, and we are hoping it will happen within the next year.