Georgia Crawford Williams’ life-saving mission
How a diabetic neighbour gave birth to a global innovation
There is far more substance to Georgia Crawford Williams than being the protective sister of Senator Damion Crawford. The wife, mother, radio host, broadcaster and researcher has added consultant and entrepreneur to her large portfolio, which also includes former sociology lecturer.
Today, she is world renowned as the creator of LifeSavers Wipes – a personal care product for women that detects signs of diabetes.
Georgia exudes contagious energy and supreme confidence in conversation.
The young lady and her siblings were raised in a small lane off Hagley Park Road in St Andrew, where the community looked after its residents; where you could be walking down the road to your house but detour to the home of whoever food scent hit you, and get dinner.
On “Small Lane”, everyone knew which house had a family member who was ill, and people rallied around them, nursing them back to health with love.
Georgia experienced the nurturing of grandmothers who provided grandchildren with a safe place, pure love and wisdom. Encouraged by her father who was a labourer but who wanted better for his children, he told them they could become kings and queens if they wanted and supported them to the place of learning.
She saw her mother rise from a vendor to postgraduate status. And the encouragement to think through the obvious created the roadmap for deep thinking.
COMMUNITY, CARE, AND DIABETES
It was that sense of community bond that sent Georgia into deep thought when a neighbour began to lose her sight. She was disturbed that this professional woman who had been working all her life was going blind.
When her mother took the neighbour to the FISH Medical Clinic in Papine, it was there that they learnt that she was diabetic and her blood sugar level was so high that it impacted her sight.
“My mother told us that the doctor cried. She said this was something so preventable and it was sad that so many people were blind because of lack of knowledge,” she recalled.
Diabetic retinopathy is caused when the blood sugar is so elevated that it damages the blood vessels of the retina. The damaged blood vessels can swell and leak, resulting in blurry vision or stopping blood flow. It is said to be a common eye disease which is the leading cause of blindness in working-age adults.
Studies show that approximately 14 per cent of the Jamaican population is diabetic, with a majority having type 2, the less deadly version of type 1. Diabetes, more than road accidents, causes most of the amputation of limbs in Jamaica.
For Georgia, increased obesity among the population, a leading cause of diabetes, is a loud alarm bell.
“This is a professional woman who was working. And there is a huge difference between someone who was born blind and someone who becomes blind. My mother felt it deeply and when my mother feels something, the family feels it. I didn’t start looking at wipes as a solution, I just felt that there must be a simpler way for people to save their own lives,” she explained.
Just as she was always encouraged to become a part of the solution and not a part of the problem, she began the search for an answer to the diabetes crisis; something that would give an early warning signal.
Georgia wanted a product that would trigger an alarm, leading to further action, but something that would not cause the accustomed resistance to change. The sociologist in her knew very well that people do not like change, so she wanted a product that maintained habit, and specifically designed for women.
After much thought, she was inspired to create a personal care product that would change colour after use – specifically after passing urine.
The COVID-19 pandemic presented the opportunity for her to delve deeper into research, which gave birth to LifeSavers Wipes.
Georgia sought the expertise of Dr Peter Nelson, who she believes is an “awesome scientist with a brilliant mind”. In the interim, she filed a provisional patent for the product and the response was in the affirmative. A previous “very negative experience sometime before” caused her to act quickly on the patent.
When the idea was pitched among family members, it was interrogated heavily, and they pooled resources for its genesis.
Always the innovator raring to go, she was profoundly disappointed when she travelled to the USA to purchase the expensive chemical needed for trial, only for the bottle to break inside her house! Remembering the long, hard, and expensive process hampered by the lockdown, she had to speak life into the process and wheel and come again.
The spilled chemical became the subject of Sunday dinner discussions with family, including her husband Emile Williams and their children. In their home, Sunday dinners are topical discussion events, where each member must pull a topic from a container and debate.
The spilled chemical evoked topics of “disappointment and “clumsiness”, but never giving up and she knew she had to wheel and come again.
“I went to Dr Nelson and told him what I had, and what I wanted because I was sure that it would work. So he was able to do the things I wanted, changed something that I had, because he had more knowledge and, along with another scientist that I hired, it was based on that, that we came up with the product,” she explained in a sit-down interview with The Sunday Gleaner.
Lab trials worked as expected and in the anticipated time. Next was testing on individuals who she knew were diabetics, which also worked as expected, and with no adverse reaction.
Georgia was careful to point out that the wipes are not a medical product.
HOW FOOD RESCUED HER ONE-WOMAN DISPLAY IN GEORGIA
The next move was to the World of Wipes International Conference in Atlanta, Georgia, in July 2021, to introduce LifeSavers Wipes to the world.
Georgia told the amazing story of how she moved from a “one woman team, empty space booth conference, to scheduling demonstrations through the ingenuity of another Jamaican”.
The conference hosted representatives of companies from all over the United States and the world who were promoting new products.
She spotted a black man among the sea of white people. She approached him and asked if he “could give an eye on my number 302 spot so I could run to the nearby Walmart and get a few things for the space”.
Her accent triggered the unforgettable Jamaican identity. He devised a plan to help his countrywoman on realising that she was there alone, with no company – just a one-woman team.
He said his name was Mark “but I am sure that it wasn’t true because he said he wasn’t straight” so I just left it at that.
“Everybody else had a big thing and I only had a small space. It turned out that Mark not only worked at the hotel, but that day he was serving food. He helped me to get chairs, table, and tablecloth for my space. I had number 302 so I was way down from everybody. So Mark decided that in order to get traffic to my booth, he would stand there and serve the food. So everybody who came for the food got to hear about my product. This is just Jamaican ingenuity,” she shared with a smile.
A few hours later, the traffic at her booth was so big that Georgia had to schedule demonstrations.
Despite the tiredness, she did not come this far to fail, and she was going to ensure that everyone who wanted to, heard about her product and saw a demonstration. By the end of the day, LifeSavers Wipes was not only mentioned in the guest speaker’s presentation, but it was nominated among the top new products.
“I will never forget that experience. I cherish him. He doesn’t know me. This man was giving me the thumbs up when he saw the crowd at the stall. So no matter what happens, there are two persons that I will never forget on this journey. This Jamaican waiter who couldn’t believe that I was there alone among the big companies with many people as part of their team. The other person is a young lady from Swipes Wipes who I called and asked if I could come see her set-up. She was home because of COVID-19, and everything that we learnt about wipes that was so critical to what we were doing, we learnt from her. She was genuinely excited for us,” Georgia stated.
“There are still many people out there just wanting to help people.”
It was from this exercise that one of the other participants nominated the LifeSavers Wipes for an award which she knew nothing about. With 1,400 other nominations, Georgia just said “well, let’s see”. And that she did.
An email later notified her that she was nominated and specific information was required. The information was sent and forgotten. Then another later notified her that LifeSavers Wipes was shortlisted among the top-three global innovations of 2019-2021 in the International Design Excellence Awards (IDEA).
“I am like ‘look at that, look at us’,” she said, telling The Sunday Gleaner that she was advised that the nomination entailed 40 per cent votes from participants and 60 per cent from industry professionals. Ticket and award costs were so prohibitive that she weighed against going to the ceremony that was held at the Miami Beach Convention Centre, Florida, on March 31. But she went, alone … again.
I AM GEORGIA!
Georgia described as surreal the moment it was announced that LifeSavers Wipes won the IDEA prize for best new product.
A German at the awards videotaped the presentation and her acceptance speech.
“My brother (Damion) said ‘win, lose or draw, you get up there, and you stand up as the person who has been identified as one of the three best’. And I said ‘you know what, I am going to’. This is a networking conference where billion-dollar deals are done. And so I introduced myself and gave my card to everyone, and many persons said they knew, and they voted,” she said.
“Winning the award was a very happy moment. I was happy for me, my family and my country,” she said.
Although no LifeSavers Wipes product is available on the shelves – for now, a lot is happening behind the scenes … and they are coming.
“I got the award, came home and went to work the next day, went to my wholesale to buy groceries. It is very clear to me that we are nowhere near where we want to be and so no changes, but we are here to maximise what is a global product,” she said.
Georgia is now in an “exciting” period of partnership arrangements and she has enough suitors to be comfortable with the kind of interest being shown.
She still has a day job, as LifeSavers Wipes is a baby that needs to be nurtured.
She is blessed with a very big family support system, including her helper. A relative is always ready to pick up the children if they are late and they are fed until she comes home.
Jamaican children, Georgia said, no longer have the family support they had when she was growing up, which to her is a big loss.
“I saw to women in particular who are increasingly depressed and suicidal, that they need support. This idea about super women, there are none. There is support and if you need help, don’t be afraid to ask for it. When I was growing up I saw this support. There were some activities like washing day when all the women would gather together for wash day. These were therapeutic events. Even if they would chat about it after they were done, they had an opportunity to just share their situation,” Georgia explained.
Georgia is encouraging entrepreneurship in her family and already her teenage daughter is showing interest, and her son “is the most confident person in the world who is going to sell everything”.
She is at a loss as to why children, even with university education, do not seek to take the entrepreneurial skills of their uneducated parents further. She does not understand why a father who works as a mechanic for someone sends his son to university, yet that son does not own a garage.
“Entrepreneurship should be encouraged early. Much of the consternation about skills shortage training was lost in career counselling where young people were not properly guided to the options they have, and so they were unable to maximise on the options. There is this thing about ‘dutty wuk’, where persons were not encouraged to become a chef and own a restaurant. Or a carpenter or a plumber,” she said.
Disheartened by reports about the HEART/NSTA Trust training programme, she described it as an excellent avenue for young people, in spite of it being dogged by various problems. Also troublesome is low-waged jobs, and some persons dependence on remittances, which caused them to shy away from employment, as family supported them.
“It’s a good and a bad thing. It creates a dependency culture that comes from a culture that says we have to look after people, but it is also to our detriment. It’s easy to get bogged down with some of the negatives you hear, but there are still a lot of good things happening in Jamaica,” she said.
Georgia has refused to be put in any stereotypical box, and is already looking towards the next innovation. She continues to defy the view that athletics and musical geniuses we are, but ideas like hers do not come out of Jamaica.
“The next innovation is coming soon,” she promised.