John Peter Archer: Using Data to Improve Sanitation
Welcome back! Spiffy here, your interplanetary journalist reporting from Planet Earth with an eye on entrepreneurs working to make this world more equitable. Today I am super excited to focus on UN SDG #6: Clean Water and Sanitation and learn about the work that John Peter Archer, the co-founder of Gather, is doing. Are you ready to be inspired?
Spiffy: Welcome, John Peter! It’s been quite a while since I’ve talked to someone working on UN SDG 6. Can you tell me what specific challenges you’re addressing?
John Peter: Well, that makes me even more happy to be here, Spiffy! Gather is an award-winning non-profit based in the United Kingdom and Madagascar. Our vision is for every person—regardless of their age, ethnicity, gender, orientation, economic status, or ability—to have access to a safe, working toilet. Our mission is to close the sanitation data gap. We partner with municipal sanitation organizations and help them collect, share, and analyze data to create city-wide sanitation maps. This makes them better equipped to work together and get toilets to people in their communities who need them most.
Spiffy: I see! And what motivated you to focus on sanitation data and map-making?
John Peter: Did you know that 2.5 billion people live in cities around the world without access to safely-managed sanitation? Past efforts to improve sanitation infrastructure and services for vulnerable communities in cities have struggled to gain momentum because decision-makers cannot access or share the best data to understand the best action to take. Without toilets, girls cannot go to school, children get sick, and entire communities become dangerously polluted.
Spiffy: This sounds pretty dire. How is Gather working to improve this and make the world more equitable?
John Peter: In 2020, we investigated sanitation data for 50 countries at the bottom of the United Nations Human Development Index. The majority of the datasets were siloed, incomplete, or incompatible with others; and they were worryingly inaccessible to local decision makers. This creates both a practical and ethical problem: datasets sit unused and the low quality means that they cannot be relied on to create insightful baselines or maps. As a result, the data does not lead to the change that it was collected for. We are changing that.
Spiffy: Can you tell me about any initiatives you’re really excited about and the kind of impact you anticipate?
John Peter: In November 2020 we FINALLY launched our flagship partnership in Antananarivo, Madagascar. Madagascar ranks 172nd out of 180 countries for sanitation provision. The economy loses $600 million a year in lost productivity and increased health costs due to sanitation-related diseases, and a quarter of all deaths of children under the age of five in urban areas are caused by water-related diseases. Antananarivo’s municipality has an ambitious goal for every household to have a toilet by 2037.
Gather's UK and Madagascar teams. (Photo courtesy of Gather)
Spiffy: I am always curious how entrepreneurs handle failure. What about you, John Peter? Can you share an experience when you faced failure and didn't give up?
John Peter: Fundraising for data about sanitation is not glamorous! This last year has been particularly difficult as funders have rightly focused on protecting and supporting vulnerable communities in the COVID19 pandemic. When we don't get accepted for a funding opportunity, it can feel like we have let our team—and our partners—down. Fundraising has definitely taught me perseverance! It has also taught me to celebrate the small wins and to be proud of the work you are doing—and the people you are doing it with.
Spiffy: Have you learned anything unexpected from anyone recently?
John Peter: Several of my nieces and nephews continue to teach me the full names of several dinosaurs and how to distinguish them from their closest relatives. The amount of knowledge they have is remarkable—and their curiosity to learn more is inspiring.
Spiffy: Before we sign off, is there anything else you would love to tell our audience?
John Peter: It's all about people. We have built a values-led organization that prioritizes people and partnership. This has allowed for creativity and collaboration that would have been impossible on our own.
Spiffy: Creative teamwork is an amazing thing. Thanks so much for telling us about your work and vision, John Peter. It’s been an honor.
John Peter Archer, co-founder of Gather, overseas business development and thought leadership. Having previously co-founded the UK support-arm of a health charity working in Myanmar, John Peter mentors other social entrepreneurs and hopes to enter the Great British Bake Off one day. (Nominated by FLUSH. First published on the Ladderworks website on June 17, 2021.)
© 2021 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Jill Landis Jha. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. Follow Spiffy’s interviews of founders building a more equitable world here.