2018 Young Entrepreneurs Awards Winner: Samir Lakhani

Initiative: Eco-Soap Bank

Countries of impact: Cambodia, Laos, Nepal, Rwanda, Tanzania, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Lebanon, Bangladesh and Fiji

A non-profit collecting barely used bars of soap in hotel rooms, recycling them and turning them into new products for the poorest people in developing countries.

It was during his time working on an aquaculture enterprise in Cambodia that Samir was inspired to start his organisation. Watching a mother bath her newborn son using laundry powder instead of soap is a vision that still haunts him today.

“Many of the families told me they could not afford soap,” he says. When he returned to his hotel that evening, he noticed the housekeeper had replaced a bar of soap he had barely used. “I knew if we could begin saving hotel soap, we could start saving lives.”

Cutting waste and boosting hygiene

Today, his non-profit organisation, Eco-Soap Bank is working in ten countries, employing more than 150 women who collect leftover hotel soap, recycle it, sterilise it, and distribute it in their communities. It also employs a number of hygiene ambassadors who give education on handwashing and hygiene.

In the last three years, more than 720,000 people were able to buy soap thanks to the company’s efforts. Last year, more than 1,900 schools were able to get soap at an affordable price too.

The enterprise, headquartered in the US, has partnered with 960 hotels which donate the soap, enabling it to be resold at half the market rate. Of course, Samir, who has travelled extensively throughout the developing world, is helping the hotel industry to drastically reduce its soap waste too. Current partner hotels are reducing their waste by almost 90,000 pounds (around 40,000kg) a year.

Empowering women

Creating opportunities for women is at the heart of Samir’s business model. As well as jobs, the business also provides free literacy, numeracy and business classes, encouraging women to start their own Eco-Soap-selling businesses in remote villages.