Imagine identifying an issue so big you think you’ll never make a dent in it. Then think about how you’d feel if you actually could. Here at Thirst4Water, we can.
Through a series of mass education programmes, social media, public awareness campaigns, smart partnerships and the mobilization of hundreds of thousands of young people, we are changing the way we use and consume water.
Water is the building block of our communities and our economies. It is used to make everything we use, buy and consume each day – from the food we eat to the fuel that powers our laptops. And yet we are using water faster than nature can replenish it. So much so, experts predict that in the next 15 years, two out of three people will be living in conditions where demand for water exceeds supply.
In Beijing, where we are based, it is forecast that the city will run out of water within the next 16 years.
A few years ago, at the World Economic Forum’s Summer Davos, a group of action-oriented young entrepreneurs from the Forum’s Young Global Leaders community were challenged to solve this problem. They were asked to create a new generation of water-smart young people who understood the crisis, and would work together to solve the problem.
We created Thirst, a registered charity based in China, one of the world’s fastest-growing consumer economies, to raise awareness about the water crisis and build a community of worldly, curious young opinion leaders (all between the ages of 14 and 24) who could lead change. Our goal was to create a new generation of water-smart consumers: young people willing to take action to preserve and protect the world’s water supplies.
Since our launch in March of 2012, 30,000 Chinese students have graduated from our Water Experience education module, and our messages have reached more than 250 million people online. We have set a Guinness World Record, established 67 clubs in schools and universities across China, and collaborated with some of the world’s leading consumer brands, such as Inditex and Levi Strauss & Co, and with foundations such as UNESCO and the Paulson Institute.
On 14 October 2014, we launched a pilot programme with the Chinese government, with whom we’re working to build a curriculum on water sustainability, ready to be rolled out in Chinese schools.
We’re extremely proud of what we’ve achieved in a very short time, but there is more to do. In 2015 we are launching Water Heroes, an initiative supported by WPP that encourages individuals, schools, clubs, groups, communities, companies and organizations to commit to taking at least one action that will help save or reduce water use.
Schools, clubs and individuals have already pledged support for the programme – committing to raise money and awareness, or do their own activities, from public-awareness campaigns in local parks and cleaning up local rivers to taking shorter showers.
For my part, I’ve pledged to become the first woman to run 1,250 km across five deserts in a year, to spread awareness of the water crisis, and raise money to support clean water for 300,000 young people in villages around the world.
Five years ago when I joined the community of Young Global Leaders, I would never have believed I would be here writing this blog, describing our achievements and the impact we have had on the lives of thousands of young Chinese people who are now working together to tackle water scarcity.
We are now “going global”, reaching out through the Forum’s communities to find people who can support us in our endeavors: brands and organizations we can collaborate with, existing projects we can leverage, and experts who can guide our development. We are well on the way to creating a global movement. One that with the power of the Young Global Leaders, and the support of the World Economic Forum, just might make a dent on the world’s water crisis.
Author: Mina Guli is the founder and chief executive officer of Thirst. She joined the community of Young Global Leaders at the World Economic Forum in 2010.
Image: A woman walks on the dried-up river bed in southwest China’s Chongqing Municipality August 16, 2006. REUTERS/China Daily