Girl Power

How Toyota’s Mothers of Invention banded together to get the Texas Gulf Coast back on its feet after Hurricane Harvey

August 21, 2018
Ready to Help – Well Aware volunteers helped distribute thousands of water filtration bags to Hurricane Harvey survivors along the Texas Gulf Coast.

Thousands of miles separate Andrea Sreshta, Tricia Compas-Markman and Sarah Evans. But when Hurricane Harvey bore down on the Texas Gulf Coast last year, a shared bond brought them together.

All three are part of Toyota’s Mothers of Invention program, which provides grants to women contributing to society through innovation, entrepreneurship or invention.

Their backgrounds and expertise in disaster preparedness, coupled with the funding and support of Toyota, put them in unique positions to help Texas recover in the days, weeks and months following Harvey’s landfall.

“We’re based in San Francisco and, primarily, we’ve had an international focus for our product,” says Compas-Markman, inventor of DayOne Response – a water filtration bag that provides clean drinking water. “But when Harvey hit, we knew we had to respond. We got in touch with potential partners, like the Governor’s office. But then we thought of Sarah’s group, since we had the Mothers of Invention link.”
Evans is the founder and CEO of Well Aware, an Austin-based nonprofit that provides clean water systems. Well Aware usually helps communities in third world countries. But now, a water crisis was happening just a couple hundred miles away. When Compas-Markman called for help, Evans was thrilled to collaborate.

“When Harvey was hitting Texas, I was on the phone trying to figure out what we could do as a group of water experts” Evans says. “I emailed Tricia and said, ‘Hey… what can we do?’”

The two teamed up to ship, deliver and distribute more than 3,000 water filtration bags to people along the Gulf Coast. Teams of volunteers drove into affected communities, assessed the needs and trained families how to use the bags.

“In a hurricane, oftentimes your main water source has been compromised,” says Compas-Markman. “Your pipes may have busted, or the water system may have been taken out by the storm. Maybe your water isn’t safe to drink. So even though you’ve survived one disaster, now you’re facing another one.”

As thousands of Hurricane Harvey survivors dealt with water issues, some also faced lingering power outages. For another Toyota Mother of Invention, it hit close to home.

Andrea Sreshta is the inventor of LuminAID – lightweight, long-lasting, solar-charged lanterns and portable phone chargers. Sreshta grew up in Houston, and was heartbroken by the images of flooded homes and families who lost everything.
Take a Drink – A volunteer wearing the DayOne Response water filtration bag. One bag can provide a family of four with clean drinking water for two months.

“We’d had bad flooding in Houston before,” says Sreshta. “But this was unprecedented. I had friends from elementary school and high school posting pictures of themselves waiting for rescue. I couldn’t believe this was happening in my hometown.”

Sreshta worked with Convoy Hope, a disaster response and transport organization, to distribute about 3,000 LuminAID chargers and 740 LuminAID lanterns.

“After a disaster, you realize how important it is to be able to stay in touch,” says Sreshta. “There’s a hierarchy of needs like medical attention, food and water. But being able to stay in touch and communicate are pretty high on that list. People need access to their phones. People want to be able to tell their family and friends they’re OK.”
Light it Up – Andrea Shresta (right), co-founder of LuminAID, helped provide thousands of solar-charged lanterns and phone chargers to Hurricane Harvey survivors in the immediate aftermath of the storm.  

One year after Hurricane Harvey’s devastation, the women are grateful for Toyota’s support and funding in helping them leverage their own inventions to help as many people as possible.

“It’s been multi-faceted for us,” says Compas-Markman. “Because of the Mothers of Invention program, I had the opportunity to meet Sarah’s team. And that was all because of Toyota. The company gave us the platform to communicate, be collaborative and execute things like this so quickly.”

“I feel the same way,” says Evans. “I still have to pinch myself sometimes that I get to be a part of this group. It’s just so cool to have a bunch of women doing cutting-edge stuff. To have an organization like Toyota show a response can be done on this scale, and how we can innovate, that’s pretty special.”

By Kristen Orsborn

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