Services Doing a Lot of Good with a Little Innovation

This was the part of the "Weekly Roundup" series I started on ThinkApps.


With so many different versions of every gadget and wearable on your list, maybe just for a minute we should take a breath and go back to basics. Maybe it’s time we reevaluate and see what we can do with what we’ve got.

In the spirit of repurposing and reimagining, this week’s Weekly Roundup of Product Hunt finds isn’t improving our lives by helping us to consume more. Instead these services, which are primarily focused on providing a positive social impact, will give us a new perspective on what we already have.

Lava Mae

Mobile showers for the homeless. It’s an unfortunate connection: the more booming a metropolis, the larger the homeless population. In San Francisco alone, approximately 7,350 people are roaming the streets without food, shelter or even access to toilets or showers. 

Cleanliness gives people an immense amount of dignity. It’s easily taken for granted if you have running water and a shower at your disposal on a daily basis, but it’s a basic human right. Lava Mae is satisfying that need for homeless people by way of converted diesel buses fully equipped with two full, private bathrooms. In each bathroom, there’s hot water, digitally-controlled showers, a toilet, sink and small changing area.

By drawing water from fire hydrants and enlisting the help of some very ambitious engineers and mechanics, Lava Mae is able to bring cleanliness to people who need it.

The organization is repurposing retired Muni buses in San Francisco, thereby avoiding the overhead costs of brick and mortar locations (especially pricey in a city like San Francisco) in the same vein of food trucks. And with the homeless population spread throughout the entire city, their mobile solution allows them to bring the bus to people who need it rather than forcing people to seek them out.

Want to help? In addition to running a sock drive, Lava Mae is accepting lotion, cleaning supplies and other hygiene essentialsthat will go right back into their operation.

Full service of Lava Mae buses will begin in spring of 2015, but until then they’re running a bus three days a week in multiple locations. You can see the full schedule here.

Watsi Gift Cards

Give the gift of health to those in need. It’s difficult to imagine a world without crowdfunding. What once was just a novel concept is now part of a social economy that’s leading to average Joes and Janes launching their own innovative products right from the Internet. Watsi harnesses the energy of crowdfunding and pairs it with the global reach of the Internet to actually heal the sick.

Watsi launched two years ago and was the first non-profit org to go through Y Combinator. They describe themselves as “Kickstarter for healthcare around the world.” The idea is simple: you can donate money to any patients on the site from across the globe who need treatments and surgeries but can’t afford them. Funding goes toward anything from surgery for a hernia repair to basic prenatal care, and donations can start as small as $5.

Their 100% model and limited fundraising keep them focused on their mission so they can continue to implement new ways to help people live healthy lives. Their newest feature, Watsi Gift Cards, lets you pass along a donation as a gift and allows your giftee to choose to whom they want to donate. Just in time for gifting season, this idea takes Watsi’s existing simple, impactful system and not only gets more people to the site, but also brings awareness to people in need.

You can give a Watsi gift card right now by way of email. Check it out hereOriginally published December 1, 2014.