These lessons can help anyone innovate through a crisis

A couple of issues I realized through the pandemic: What stay-at-home orders imply for individuals who don’t have housing. The way to make a handwashing station out of a trash can. Why “set it and overlook it” is a recipe for irrelevance. And when the flight security instruction “put your personal oxygen masks on earlier than serving to others” applies on the bottom.

LavaMaeX, the group I lead, teaches individuals and organizations to convey cellular showers and different care providers to the road. We additionally immediately serve unhoused individuals within the San Francisco Bay Space and Los Angeles. When COVID-19 hit laborious in March, we needed to droop road applications whereas we up to date our protocols and sourced private protecting gear (PPE).

We felt defeated, unmoored, and fearful. However all of us agreed on one factor: We’d not depart the individuals we serve—our company—behind.

New methods to serve: studying from the lockdown

One in every of our crew members had a easy thought: Now we have a warehouse stocked with hygiene provides for bathe service—cleaning soap, conditioner, razors, toothbrushes, toothpaste, socks, and extra. Why not assemble kits and convey them to locations the place unhoused individuals congregate?

A hygiene equipment distributed in Los Angeles [Photo: courtesy LavaMaeX]

Two weeks after we suspended bathe service, we started delivering about 250 kits a week to every of our places in L.A., Oakland, and San Francisco. We spent most of our time canvasing the streets, asking primary questions: The place have our company gone? What do they want? And most of all, how are they doing? What we discovered was heartbreaking. A lot of their go-to assets for naked requirements like meals, clothes, and drinkable water had disappeared in a single day.

We listened to individuals’s wants and sought out in-kind donations in order that we may add vital gadgets to our kits. We additionally educated our company on COVID-19 by putting public well being pamphlets within the kits, together with notes of affection and help. However we had extra work to do in translating our observations into motion.

Life-saving innovation on a budget: creating a DIY handwashing station

The academic supplies we handed out suggested frequent handwashing, however how do you retain your palms clear when you don’t have entry to operating water? That amenity—laborious to entry earlier than the pandemic—disappeared for individuals on the streets with the closure of libraries, fast-food eating places, and lots of parks.

Handwashing stations constructed utilizing 32-gallon trash cans [Photo: courtesy LavaMaeX]

We discovered that large-capacity handwashing stations had been both back-ordered or price $2,000 to $3,000 a month to lease, in the event that they had been accessible. We determined to create a DIY handwashing station and fund organizations to convey items to their communities.

“We had a design session and sketched out a prototype and refined it over a few days,” recollects crew member Sam Reardon. “Inside the week, I used to be on the ironmongery store buying provides and establishing our first handwashing station unit at our warehouse.”

Our refined design makes use of a 32-gallon trash can—anyone can make it utilizing our free device equipment, which incorporates 3D printer fashions for key elements which can be more durable to return by.


A Lava Mae bus in San Francisco, circa 2015 [Photo: Barbara Munker/Picture Alliance/Getty Images]

What we realized about innovating through a crisis

The 2020 expertise taught us a number of lessons which can be related to any enterprise seeking to construct resilience and develop its influence.

Set your crew free in your mission. A crew that’s collaborative and devoted to your mission will work out a solution to get through a crisis. Set the intent and the imaginative and prescient, and also you’ll be amazed on the concepts individuals give you. Take into consideration find out how to greatest fulfill your mission in your present setting moderately than find out how to execute techniques that will have turn into irrelevant.

Make room for creativity: I realized this 12 months to be fluid in my very own method, and I’ve inspired my crew to undertake a design technique for fixing issues: observe, suppose, execute, revise. We additionally dedicate 10% of our time to innovating new services and products based mostly on what we’re seeing on the streets.

Prioritize psychological well being: The work we do can take a psychological toll, and that’s true for any group that serves individuals in crisis. We launched psychological well being days this 12 months that allowed crew members to spontaneously take a break day in the event that they wanted a break, and that has made a actual distinction.

Interact companions and rally your neighborhood: Your companions can be there for you when you enlist them in your imaginative and prescient and provides them a function they can naturally step into. Our core supporter, the Right to Shower, rallied fellow Unilever manufacturers to supply essential provides for hygiene kits distributed all through our community. Our in-kind donors stepped up as nicely. Design agency Gensler dedicated 250 hours of professional bono time to refining our designs. The College of California San Francisco Road Nursing crew helped us present important providers. If we hadn’t engaged these companions, the relationships may need pale away through the pandemic; as an alternative, they’ve deepened.

Control the long run: Within the midst of our pandemic pivot, we continued spending 70% of our workers time on coaching others. The top result’s, we’re nonetheless on observe to fulfill our five-year influence aim and we’ve added a complete new suite of providers to our device equipment. We’ve additionally relaunched our bathe service.

The top result’s a testomony to the ability of a group of passionately devoted individuals deciding “we are going to clear up this drawback.” And that energy is a useful resource any social enterprise can apply to the laborious challenges that confront us.

Kris Kepler is CEO of LavaMaeX, a nonprofit that teaches individuals world wide to convey cellular showers and different important care providers to the road, the place unhoused individuals want them most.