Listen: soap-recycling is a win-win-win initiative. It reduces a significant amount of waste and pollution from hotels benefiting the environment. It has the power to employ women on a full-time basis helping them achieve financial independence. And, we’re able to redirect millions of bars of soap to the world’s most impoverished communities helping to save lives!
I had the pleasure to interview Samir Lakhani. Samir is a social entrepreneur dedicated to restoring health and dignity to developing countries. Before founding Eco-Soap Bank in 2014, Samir was deeply involved in aquaculture and nutrition projects in northern Cambodian villages. He has also developed solar lighting solution projects in Cambodia, Bangladesh, and Nepal. Through his six years of nonprofit work in the areas of nutrition, water accessibility, and sanitation/hygiene, he has witnessed firsthand how delivering key products like soap transform the health and well-being of impoverished communities. Samir received a CNN Heroes Award for Eco-Soap Bank in 2017 and a Unilever Young Entrepreneurs award in 2018. He also recently gave a TEDx Talk. He is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh and currently lives in Pittsburgh, PA.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! You were in Cambodia and saw a problem. Can you tell us a bit about the story?
During college, I had the chance to visit Cambodia where I saw something that haunts me to this day. I saw a village mother bathing her newborn son, but she was scrubbing his skin with laundry powder. Depressed, I returned to my hotel room, and couldn’t get the image out of my mind. But, when I stepped into the hotel bathroom I realized that my housekeeper had thrown away a bar of soap that I had barely touched and replaced it with a new one! It was at that moment that Eco-Soap Bank was formed.
Why are you so passionate about Soap and what does this project mean to you?
One of the most effective actions anyone can take to prevent disease is handwashing! I want everyone, everywhere to be able to have regular access to soap to keep themselves healthy — because far too many children still suffer and even pass away from illnesses such as diarrhea and pneumonia. A bar of soap can save lives.
What plans do you have moving forward to change the sanitation problem?
We’re currently recycling soap in 10 countries around the world! We want to bring more and more people into the fight for global hygiene. So, we launched Project EcoSoap! People can make a difference just by buying this zero-waste soap. For every bar we sell, we donate 100 bars to children and families in need.
This obviously is not easy work. What drives you?
Thearang. Channy. Srey Neang. These are some of the women that we employ to make soap. They are resilient women and full of inspiration. They give me energy and cause me to work hard and advocate for improved hygiene.
What three things can our community do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
First, buy soap with a mission. Support Project EcoSoap on Kickstarter!
Second, sign up for our newsletter at projectecosoap.org!
Third, remember how lucky we are to have soap and never take it for granted!
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?
Paul Polman, the former CEO of Unilever, has been a champion for this cause and especially during a particularly tough period of growth. He gave our team an emotional shot in the arm that we needed to keep pushing. Now, we have reached 1.1 million people with soap and free hygiene education and we’re just getting started!
That’s great. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why?
1. Mistakes are…ESSENTIAL! — errors are not the end of the world for they indicate progress. As a social entrepreneur, mistakes are a natural part of any enterprise. Learn, adapt, and move on!
2. Obsess over sustainability — not scalability — you know when you step on an airplane and they say in the event of an emergency, secure your breathing mask first? Well, nonprofits are like that too. You need a strong base and foundation before scaling your lifesaving idea. Obsess
3. Ideas are easy — implementation is hard — having the idea that I wanted to recycle soap was easy, but putting it together and the 100,000 hours it took to make it a reality was tough, hard, and long. I wish I knew this. But, I cannot ask for a more rewarding life. I wake up each morning more energetic than the day before.
4. Always, always, always think long term — if you want to be around and help people and the planet, short term fixes and initiatives won’t cut it. We must drive down our carbon footprint steadily and provide regular jobs to women and soap to children. Long term thinking is key.
5. Listen to the communities you serve, first and foremost — if you want to improve the health of communities you must understand their plight before asking to help. If you are not wanted, then no impact will be made. Humbly and respectfully ask what challenges people face and use your innovation to see if you can help. We provide soap to help save lives, but an educational component must accompany any distribution. This is essential.
If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
SOAP-RECYCLING! Listen: soap-recycling is a win-win-win initiative. It reduces a significant amount of waste and pollution from hotels benefiting the environment. It has the power to employ women on a full-time basis helping them achieve financial independence. And, we’re able to redirect millions of bars of soap to the world’s most impoverished communities helping to save lives!
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this. :-)
We are actively searching for Board Members and advisers in the areas of tourism, hotel, airline, international development, and body care industries. (Also, if anyone would like to champion this cause to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation — that would be superb.)
What is the best way our readers can follow you and your project on social media?
Absolutely! Please follow and like our posts at:
YouTube: Project Ecosoap
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
Thank you for the opportunity to talk soap! We are proud of our work — for anyone wants to get involved, please visit us on Kickstarter!