Hacking Toilets the World Over

I am a committed toilet hacker. Yes, I am fiercely committed to making better, smarter and more accessible toilets. In fact, I want armies of purpose driven people pursuing this same mission. The reason that I am so passionate about this is that it is unacceptable that 2.6 billion people have zero access to a basic toilet. Think about that number for a moment. In India, there are 3 cell phones for every toilet. Yes, you can call someone halfway around the world, but getting access to the most powerful health tool around is out of reach. Your options are the field, the street and worst of all the source of your drinkable water, the nearby river or lake. I am committed to taking on this challenge.

The question is, how do you tackle a 2.6 billion person problem? The magnitude of that number is mind numbing, the subject is shrouded in taboo and the number of people who are even aware of the issue are few. Everyone is focused on the sexy sister of sanitation, water. Yet, I am committed to the underserved, under-invested and under-innovated sister, the toilet and access to basic hygiene. The answer on how to tackle this is to create a perpetual hack-attack.

You might have seen the movie, The Social Network. You saw a group of college kids clustered around a bunch of computer screens churning out code in a fast and furious manner fueled by caffeine and plenty of pizza. This is called hacking. And it is part and parcel of the Silicon Valley culture. And when you bring a bunch of bright minds together to tackle a problem over a weekend, you get the makings of a hackathon.

At Eirene, the company I co-founded with fellow toilet hacker, Michael TS Lindenmayer, we decided to bring this Silicon Valley mindset into the world of doing good. We apply it across the board at Eirene. Our firm is a private for profit, for purpose and venture philanthropy endeavor focused on tackling problems that affect at least 1 billion people. This includes a focus on sanitation, caregiving and education. Named after the Greek goddess of peace and prosperity, we invest in and build transformational technologies and ventures that have the prospect to create significant impact at a large scale.

In order to tackle these challenges, we employ a collaborative spirit. We start or join partnerships and alliances of the best, the brightest and often non-traditional thinkers. And that is what we are doing this December. We are launching the first global Sanitation Hackathon. Eirene teamed up with the World Bank's Water Practice and ICT unit, in partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gate's Foundation to run a global hackathon. We also enlisted into the team the leadership at design power houses Gensler and IDEO.org. Add into the mix students from colleges like Columbia University and we are excited to get the winner's concepts into the field.

This collective hack effort will be taking place across 9 countries and seeks to bring together at least 1000 toilet hackers. We have dug into the problem at the most local level and have asked some of the greatest global minds to also tackle the issue as well. These toilet hackers come from all kinds of backgrounds. Engineers, material scientists all the way to street artists, micro-entrepreneurs and inventors of all stripes are all becoming toilet hackers. We are inviting these thinkers to constantly pursue the possibilities that will bring a toilet to every home. We are fiercely committed toilet hackers. You can be too. For us this is just the start. We want to foster a movement of innovation in this space, so join us this winter and help kick-start this revolution in modern sanitation.

John Kluge Jr. is the co-founder of Eirene. He is also a fellow at the East-West Institute. He is on the board of Fonderie 47 and the advisory board of the Stan Lee Foundation. John has worked on anti-poverty, hunger issues and cyber security to protect children. His efforts have helped bring food security to over 30 million people. He is the co-author of the Charity and Philanthropy for Dummies book, to be published in 2013.

Michael TS Lindenmayer is the co-founder of Eirene. Michael is the founder and chairman of the Caregiver Relief Fund. He is on the advisory boards of the Stan Lee Foundation and World Blu. He co-created the volunteer platform at Room to Read, which now has over 10,000 volunteers across 56 cities bringing literacy to over 6.6 million children. Prior to Eirene, Michael built a portfolio of wellness ventures across Europe, Africa and Latin America. He commenced his career in banking at Morgan Stanley. He is the co-author of the Charity and Philanthropy for Dummies book, to be published in 2013.