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December 11, 2014

Developing Stories: Matt Lacey helps people in need

If you have a Lumia, you know that apps help us every day. Wouldn’t it be cool if apps could also spur change and help people truly in need?

Over the holiday season, our thoughts go to charities and year-end giving with projects such as #GivingTuesday. UK-based developer Matt Lacey has taken that idea to heart and his latest Windows Phone app helps people in developing countries get access to modern sanitation.

He built an app to raise awareness and much-needed funding for “Toilet Twinning,” a project of Christian charity groups Cord and Tearfund that gives poor people access to “clean water, a decent toilet, and to learn about hygiene – a vital combination that prevents the spread of disease, reduces the number of deaths among children, and brings hope for the future.”

The app, also called Toilet Twinning is free and gives you the latest news about the project and an opportunity to help.

How it works: For a £60 donation, you can “twin” your toilet with a latrine or toilet in 10 countries including Afghanistan, India, and Sierra Leone. You’ll receive a certificate and photo of your toilet’s twin and its GPS coordinates.

Check out this short video to learn more:

“The idea wasn’t driven by the fact I’m a developer,” said Matt. “It was more as a human, what can I do to help make the world a better place. My skills as a developer were just a tool I had to do something.”

The need for proper sanitation is acute, he pointed out. The population here on planet Earth is about 7.2 billion and “according to the United Nations, 2.5 billion people don’t have access to a proper toilet.”

“Some simple math means that only 4.7 billion do have access to a toilet,” he added.

Matt also gave this interesting statistic: “More people have mobile phones than access to a toilet.” Worldwide, about 6.8 billion mobile phones are in use.

Matt used this project to share ideas with the developer community. The app was built using Windows App Studio, and it is a universal Windows app (which means it is available for both Windows Phone and Windows devices). While working on it, he uncovered tips that he documented on his blog, including adding Twitter feeds to App Studio-based apps.

We recently caught up with Matt, and he told us more about the importance of this charitable work, as well as how the app came to light (partial screenshot from app shown below).


How did you decide to make an app to support “Toilet Twinning”? Why is that project important to you? 

Proper sanitation is something I’ve always taken for granted. Knowing that so many people live without it and the difference it can make struck a chord with me … Access to a proper toilet helps prevent disease, reduces infant mortality and stops women and girls being put at risk from having to go to the toilet in the open at night.

I like the innovative and fun approach that they use to raise funds. By donating £60 (about $100USD) you can “twin” your toilet with one they build. When you do, you get a framed certificate showing a photo of your twin and details of its location. The toilet in my house is twinned with a toilet in Burundi.

What is the goal of the app? Is it to raise awareness or is there a means for people to donate? 

The app was primarily created to raise awareness. That it can, and hopefully will, be used to help people keep up with the organization’s activities is almost a secondary goal. The app contains a link to the website where you can twin your toilet or otherwise donate.

Why did you use App Studio for this project?

I’ve previously been quite critical of some of the apps that have been built with it due to a variety of issues. I chose it to see how much work would be involved to get it to a standard acceptable to release. I also wanted to document the issues I found to help identify things that other developers could do to help improve their App Studio apps.

How was the process of making Toilet Twinning a universal Windows app?

Making it a universal app was a simple decision; it was an easy way to get to a larger potential user base for minimal extra development effort.

The Toilet Twinning app is free to download from the Windows Phone Store.

To keep up with Matt’s work, check out his blog or Twitter page.