Published 22 December 2020
After learning that 2 billion people in the world don’t have access to a toilet, Simon Griffiths co-founded Who Gives A Crap in 2013. Selling toilet paper that helps build toilets, the company has roughly doubled in size every year since. Here we find out more about how the idea came about, the charity work they do and why the fact that more people have mobile phones than toilets needs to change.
We make toilet paper from sustainable products that is good for the planet and good for people, too – we donate 50% of profits to help build toilets in the developing world. You’ll find our rolls in home bathrooms, plus thousands of restaurants, hotels, offices and other businesses, too.
I trained as an engineer and economist, but when I worked in these jobs I realised I didn’t care about the work I was doing. I wanted to combine my skills with social mobility, and one of the first ideas that came from that was from my university friend Zanna McComish. She had the idea of starting a non-profit bar, selling beers and wines from the developing world where profit goes back to the country of origin.
I kept thinking, is this idea the one that will change the world? The bricks and mortar nature of hospitality is what makes it special, but it also limits the scaleability which is important for a profit-donating business to solve some of these social problems. One day, I walked into the bathroom and saw a six pack of toilet paper and I thought, oh my god, we should sell toilet paper, call it Who Gives A Crap and use the profit to start building toilets!
We started a crowdfunding campaign in 2012 and realised we were crowdfunding probably the most product boring in the history of crowdfunding, so I agreed to sit on a toilet on a live web feed until we pre-sold the first $50,000 worth of products. We went viral quite quickly and found our first 1000 customers! We’ve roughly tripled the size of the business every year since 2013, and now have donated more than £4 million.
We have roughly five charities in the portfolio. We fund WaterAid Australia and USA, who do amazing work. And then to push R&D and innovation, we also fund some high-risk, high-return stuff and for us that’s an organisation called Sanergy, who work in the urban slums of Nairobi and figure out how to take human waste and monetise it. We also work directly with organisations in specific countries such as Kenya and Cambodia, funding organisations who have an amazing return on investment but a small budget. They need smaller cheques on an ongoing basis.
More people have a cellphone than a toilet, which is kind of mind boggling. In the west we take sanitation as a given, but anyone with children knows the challenge of actually training people how to use toilets! There’s about 2 billion people who still don’t have access to a clean toilet, so dirty water ends up being used to cook, clean or wash and that results in diarrhoeal related disease which is the number one filler of hospital beds in Sub-Saharan Africa and the second largest killer of kids under the age of five. That’s around 700 children everyday, and that’s completely preventable with access to sanitation, clean toilets, hygiene education and clean water.
This year we made our largest ever donation which was $5.85 million Australian dollars, which was up from $700,000 12 months prior. That was amazing for us, and has shown that business models like ours can have an incredible impact.
When we first started in 2013, our bar (Shebeen) had just opened a month before, so we were connected to the hospitality scene in Australia. From the way hospitality works, everyone is connected people started stocking our product in their bathrooms and it kind of took off from there. It’s become a halo effect where hospitality businesses want to represent their values by the products they stock in their facilities, so it’s been an amazing partnership and journey to go on.
We love hospitality, so it’s amazing to be able to be in that environment as it is really part of our roots.
The Standard, High Line in New York really stands out. On the top floor they have bathrooms and you walk into the cubicle and there’s a window out onto the New York skyline, so it’s a pretty extravagant bathroom experience!
2020 has been a bit of a year for toilet paper! So, we’re conscious we want to give our team a break over the holiday period and allow them to have a reset after a challenging year. We’re super excited for next year, particularly on a hospitality front. In Australia, we’ve seen hospitality really bounce back and it gives us hope for what will happen across the rest of the world.