Why We Ditched Corporate to Empower Women & Girls

4min read

As mothers of daughters, empowering women and girls has been at the forefront of our business agenda since our inception. We started as neighbors and longtime friends living in a small suburb outside of Boston, and our vision was born out of countless conversations that took place on the sidelines of our girls' after school activities. As anyone would, we did a tremendous amount of hands-on research before we officially founded our social impact company, Everybody Water.

We knew we wanted to align with a larger purpose, and were shocked to learn of the alarming statistics behind the clean water crisis. One out of three people worldwide don't have access to clean water and a working toilet. More than 2 billion people still lack access to water that is safe to drink. 4.5 billion people lack safely managed sanitation services. The stats behind hydration and sanitation are staggering. But we haven't even gotten to the impact the crisis has on women and girls. The lack of access affects them disproportionately because of the time spent collecting clean water.

Women and girls are tasked with walking miles for hours on end every single day in order to bring safe water to their villages. This time spent translates into the loss of opportunity to obtain an education and earn an income. As women and mothers of girls, it is unfathomable that our birthplace alone is really the only major differentiator that separates us from also bearing the burden of this global crisis. When we learned that an estimated 100 million children worldwide, mostly girls, receive no education at all as a result of water carrying responsibilities, we felt compelled to take action and make a measurable impact.

We knew we couldn't give Everybody Water our full attention if we were still working in our corporate careers. We also realized that our backgrounds were the perfect blend of expertise in executive strategy, operations, design and brand development. Once we put a business plan together, we invested our collective savings and set out to bring our vision to life. However, before we developed our product, we knew we needed to see the crisis firsthand, and identify a reputable nonprofit partner that we truly believed had sustainable solutions that could scale.

We took our first trip to the village of La Virtud, Honduras, in March 2018. We teamed up with Seattle-based nonprofit Water1st International, and together we were able to provide running water, toilets and showers in the homes of 350 people. The stories that the members of the community shared with us were heartbreaking and inspiring. In our travels, we met a mother of fourteen children, for instance, who told us that she has spent her entire life with a gourd on her head, traveling miles each day to provide water for her family.

Another woman shared with us that before La Virtud was granted access to the sustainable water source, there was almost no education available. She said that she felt hope for the first time, and that the whole attitude in the village had transformed by gaining access to such a basic need that we often take for granted. Watching members of the community work together to build more than 10 miles of piping from the top of a hill down into their village was remarkable. They were beaming with hope and pride. Children laugh and young girls are gleeful as they are finally able to drink clean water without walking for miles to collect it. We left Honduras with full hearts, and the validation we needed to move forward and establish exclusive ties with the Water1st International organization.

As we continued to build our business, we planned another trip as these travel experiences greatly influence our key brand decisions. Thus, in December of 2018 we headed to Bangladesh. Here, we witnessed the tackling water and sanitation infrastructure solutions challenged by dense urban living conditions. We met with strong women and young girls in slum villages organized and determined to change the course of life for their families and community by working to bring running water, showers and toilets to all dwellings. We were so impressed by their implementation of micro-loans and hygiene education programs for menstrual health, hand-washing, and street food vendor best practices. These projects clearly offer leadership opportunities for women in their own communities as they gain confidence in their successes and communication skills, further advancing these programs while also tackling other issues to improve their lives.

Photo Courtesy of Everybody Water

By the time we had returned from our two trips abroad, we were ready to formally launch Everybody Water. With a separate passion for sustainability and reducing the plastic footprint, our premium water is offered in a 16.9-ounce, eco-friendly carton. In partnering with Water1st International, we donate a portion of all sales proceeds to fund more life-changing clean water projects in developing countries around the globe.

After more than three years in business, this is just the beginning of the ripple for Everybody Water. Our next aspirational milestone entails our new, growing partnership program that enables companies to make a bold statement by exclusively carrying our cartons. It gives brands a chance to highlight their efforts to be more socially conscious and actively contribute to the clean water movement. We're empowering organizations like hotels, cafes, markets, corporate offices, fitness facilities and more who realize that making a social impact can be as simple as in the water they choose to offer.

We are confident that Everybody Water will open the door for more corporate giving—a simplified way to demonstrate a brand's dedication to global issues. This will ultimately help organizations connect more deeply with conscious employees and consumers alike—a win-win for all parties involved. Individuals can also join our community and subscribe to cases of water online to do their part. We believe that together, everyone has the power to make amazing change happen.

For Social Media: Follow us on Instagram @everybodywater and Facebook @everybodywater using the #waterwithaheart hashtag.

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How This CEO Is Using Your Period To Prevent Chronic Diseases

With so many groundbreaking medical advances being revealed to the world every single day, you would imagine there would be some advancement on the plethora of many female-prevalent diseases (think female cancers, Alzheimer's, depression, heart conditions etc.) that women are fighting every single day.

For Anna Villarreal and her team, there frankly wasn't enough being done. In turn, she developed a method that diagnoses these diseases earlier than traditional methods, using a pretty untraditional method in itself: through your menstrual blood.

Getting from point A to point B wasn't so easy though. Villarreal was battling a disease herself and through that experience. “I wondered if there was a way to test menstrual blood for female specific diseases," she says. "Perhaps my situation could have been prevented or at least better managed. This led me to begin researching menstrual blood as a diagnostic source. For reasons the scientific and medical community do not fully understand, certain diseases impact women differently than men. The research shows that clinical trials have a disproportionate focus on male research subjects despite clear evidence that many diseases impact more women than men."

There's also no denying that gap in women's healthcare in clinical research involving female subjects - which is exactly what inspired Villarreal to launch her company, LifeStory Health. She says that, “with my personal experience everything was brought full circle."

“There is a challenge and a need in the medical community for more sex-specific research. I believe the omission of females as research subjects is putting women's health at risk and we need to fuel a conversation that will improve women's healthcare.,"

-Anna Villarreal

Her brand new biotech company is committed to changing the women's healthcare market through technology, innovation and vocalization and through extensive research and testing. She is working to develop the first ever, non-invasive, menstrual blood diagnostic and has partnered with a top Boston-area University on research and has won awards from The International Society for Pharmaceutical Engineering and Northeastern University's RISE.

How does it work exactly? Proteins are discovered in menstrual blood that can quickly and easily detect, manage and track diseases in women, resulting in diseases that can be earlier detected, treated and even prevented in the first place. The menstrual blood is easy to collect and since it's a relatively unexplored diagnostic it's honestly a really revolutionary concept, too.

So far, the reactions of this innovative research has been nothing but excitement. “The reactions have been incredibly positive." she shares with SWAAY. “Currently, menstrual blood is discarded as bio waste, but it could carry the potential for new breakthroughs in diagnosis. When I educate women on the lack of female subjects used in research and clinical trials, they are surprised and very excited at the prospect that LifeStory Health may provide a solution and the key to early detection."

To give a doctor's input, and a little bit more of an explanation as to why this really works, Dr. Pat Salber, MD, and Founder of The Doctor Weighs In comments: “researchers have been studying stem cells derived from menstrual blood for more than a decade. Stem cells are cells that have the capability of differentiating into different types of tissues. There are two major types of stem cells, embryonic and adult. Adult stem cells have a more limited differentiation potential, but avoid the ethical issues that have surrounded research with embryonic stem cells. Stem cells from menstrual blood are adult stem cells."

These stem cells are so important when it comes to new findings. “Stem cells serve as the backbone of research in the field of regenerative medicine – the focus which is to grow tissues, such as skin, to repair burn and other types of serious skin wounds.

A certain type of stem cell, known as mesenchymal stem cells (MenSCs) derived from menstrual blood has been found to both grow well in the lab and have the capability to differentiate in various cell types, including skin. In addition to being used to grow tissues, their properties can be studied that will elucidate many different aspects of cell function," Dr. Salber explains.

To show the outpour of support for her efforts and this major girl power research, Villarreal remarks, “women are volunteering their samples happily report the arrival of their periods by giving samples to our lab announcing “de-identified sample number XXX arrived today!" It's a far cry from the stereotype of when “it's that time of the month."

How are these collections being done? “Although it might sound odd to collect menstrual blood, plastic cups have been developed to use in the collection process. This is similar to menstrual products, called menstrual cups, that have been on the market for many years," Dr. Salber says.

Equally shocking and innovative, this might be something that becomes more common practice in the future. And according to Dr. Salber, women may be able to not only use the menstrual blood for early detection, but be able to store the stem cells from it to help treat future diseases. “Companies are working to commercialize the use of menstrual blood stem cells. One company, for example, is offering a patented service to store menstrual blood stem cells for use in tissue generation if the need arises."