#sweat4soap: Running for Change

9 February 2021 - // Interviews
Mina Guli
Founder and CEO of Thirst. Global leader, entrepreneur and adventurer.

Mina Guli is a global leader, entrepreneur and adventurer committed to making a difference in the world. Following a 15-year career in climate action, Mina established Thirst – a non-profit changing the way we think about water. Harnessing her passion for running to provide bars of soap to those who need it the most, in 2020 she launched the #Sweat4Soap campaign. REVOLVE connected with Mina to talk about her latest project, her aspirations and plans for the future.

What was the driving motivation for the #Sweat4Soap campaign?

Right now we’re washing our hands, our clothes and the surfaces around our home more than ever. For most of us, the process is relatively straightforward, we do it without a second thought. Tap on, hands underneath, apply soap and sing happy birthday while we scrub. But for the 3 billion people on our planet that don’t have access to adequate handwashing facilities, it’s a very different story. For these people – women and girls, men and boys, parents, workers and farmers – hand hygiene in normal circumstances is challenging. In the midst of a pandemic it can be the difference between life… and death.

As we’ve been told so many times this year, hands are the major carrier of disease-causing germs. Even before COVID-19, they were carrying bacteria that can cause illnesses such as diarrhoea – the cause of death of more than 297,000 children under 5 each year. We were also being encouraged to wash our hands more often. But here’s the problem, even though we’ve known for years that handwashing with soap reduces the risk of diarrheal diseases by 42-47%, 1 in 3 primary schools still don’t have handwashing facilities.

And even though we know how important it is to clean our hands, only 1 in 5 people globally wash their hands with soap after going to the toilet. We know it, but we don’t do it. For many of us, we don’t do it because we forget. Because we’re lazy. Because well whatever. For us, its behavior, and behavior we can change.

But for the many others who don’t have access to the soap, or the water, or both – it’s not a choice issue, or a behavior problem. It’s something much deeper. It’s about access. When we read these statistics, or see images of people struggling often halfway around the world, it’s easy to feel disconnected from the problem. To wonder what we can do to help.

To think “I’m just one person, how much impact can I really have”? This global handwashing day I wanted to give everyone everywhere an opportunity to do something to make a difference in people’s lives – whether they live around the corner or on the other side of the world.

Ultra runner and water campaigner, Mina guli, dunks her head in a water trough to try and cool down during the #runningdry expedition, on 1 January 2019. Photo: Kelvin trautman / Mina guli

Did you achieve the outreach and impact that you were striving for? What were some of the main results?

Yes! We were blown away by the success of the project. We started this as a little idea to do something for global handwashing day. It was my birthday on 10 October and I wanted to find a way to celebrate by giving back on water. Since global handwashing day was 15 October, we realized that leveraging our running community to give a gift of something meaningful to people in need was a great idea! When we threw it out to our community, the response was incredible. Thousands of people ran in over 62 different countries and territories across the world. Together we managed to donate over 80,000 bars of soap and 450 handwashing stations!

Totally amazing, humbling and inspiring to watch this campaign grow and to know that every step each one of us was taking was delivering something lifechanging to others. We are all immensely grateful to every single person that ran – from the 3 year olds running beside their parents, to the 84 year olds walking a couple of kilometers each day. People recruited their friends and families, and sent out challenges to their communities to join the campaign.

Words are insufficient for the debt of gratitude we owe to all of you, and to our supporters and partners who helped spread the word and make this happen.

Mina guli running through shanghai, China during the #runningdry expedition, on 15 december 2018. Photo: Kelvin trautman / Mina guli.

What is next for #Sweat4Soap?

Over the last few weeks we’ve been so excited to watch closely as our soap partners make the soap and distribute it to thousands of people and communities in need across the world. The stories of how the soap is produced or harvested is amazing, and the gratitude of the people receiving the soap makes all of us want to cry with happiness that we were able to do something to make their lives a little better and safer.

Project Maji (who are our fabulous partners in producing and delivering the handwashing stations) are also hard at work producing the equipment. By the time you read this, they will be starting their hand hygiene education programs and rollout of the handwashing stations in rural communities across Ghana. You can follow the progress with us (the stories really are amazing!) on my Twitter and Instagram (@minaguli), and on my Facebook (@minaguliwater).

If you have time, please also check out the work of Ecosoapbank who make their soap from the waste from commercial soap production, Cleantheworld who recycle and reuse soap from hotel chains, and Water4 who work with local teams in the Democratic Republic of Congo to produce and distribute their soap. Incredible, inspiring stories of innovation and impact.

Finally, on a broader note, the need for soap and handwashing facilities far exceeds the capacity of campaigns like #Sweat4Soap. If we are to truly solve the handwashing problem, we’re going to need a combination of innovative financing solutions, and massive expansion of public mobilization campaigns like ours. If there’s one thing #Sweat4Soap showed all of us, it’s that there is an appetite to make that happen.

Mina Guli
Founder and CEO of Thirst. Global leader, entrepreneur and adventurer.

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