Interview with Mina Guli
How did you get interested in water scarcity?
I have always been passionate about water. From a young age, I would spend hours in the ocean, my skin shriveled like dried prunes and an enormous smile on my face, tanned from hours in the sun. On hot summer days, we would play under the hose or the sprinkler, squealing as we ran under the cold water, feet creating muddy tracks across the grass.
A lot has changed since then. I’ve lived through ten years of draught, seen the possibility for change, and come to believe in the power of people to change the world. As I have grown, so too has my passion. From those humble days in my Australian backyard, I traveled across the world working as a lawyer, banker, entrepreneur and finally now on my biggest passion, water.
As founder and ambassador of Thirst, could you tell us about what kinds of activities the organization coordinates?
- Thirst, which I launched 2012, is a grassroots education and innovation organization focused on raising awareness about the water crisis amongst the next generation.
- Thirst recently celebrated it’s 500,000th graduate from its education programs, collaborates with over 400 schools, has over 900 qualified volunteers to teach its programs, had 200,000 students participate in its innovation competitions, operates through 3 offices in 28 cities, and is endorsed by the Chinese Government.
7 Deserts Run:
- A world first – this involved me running 40 marathons across 7 deserts on 7 continents in just 7 weeks. All for one reason – water. Why 40 marathons? To represent the 40% difference between demand and supply for water which is forecast by 2030.
- This was an epic and incredible adventure – of discovering the sheer enormity of the water problem we are facing as told by the local people we met along the way, and of understanding the importance of telling these stories to the rest of the world.
- 6-for-6: In support of raising awareness about Global Goal 6 (water), starting on World Water Day (22 March 2017), I will again run – this time down 6 of the world’s great rivers, on 6 continents in just 6 weeks.
- This expedition will again consist of 40 marathons to highlight the water problem, and to showcase how our consumption links us to some of the major water issues in the world – even those not on our own doorstep.
What is the biggest obstacle you feel you’ve had to overcome?
I had an accident which would change the course of the rest of my life. Pushed into a swimming pool I hurt my back so badly the doctors told me I would never be able to run again. Given my lifelong antipathy towards exercise and athletics in particular, I could have shrugged my shoulders and used it as an excuse to sit on the couch and eat pizza. Instead, I realized this was an opportunity – one that would allow me to define my own limits.
I started swimming. Two laps (which felt like crossing an ocean). Swimming led to biking, and eventually running as I strived to prove to myself that I could defy the odds. At the same time, my academic career was moving forward. I finished university and accepted a position as a lawyer at a big Melbourne law firm. I swam, biked and rode in my spare time, and in daylight hours, worked on privatizations and infrastructure investment work.
What do you gain personally from being a public speaker?
As a water advocate I want to share my story, and what I’ve learned about society’s relationship with water, with as many people as possible. I spend a lot of time speaking with business and government leaders about the water crisis, but I also treasure opportunities to speak with kids about water. Many of the facts about our daily water use are genuinely surprising and it’s great to see kids engaging with the topic and coming up with their own solutions. Sometimes their ideas are better than the adults’! I also enjoy being able to reach new people through my running story – people who might not otherwise be drawn to talk about our planetary freshwater supply!
What unique experiences have you had as a result of your profession?
I’m Australian but I’m a long-time resident of China and I have developed a real affinity for the country and for its people. Starting Thirst in China gave me incredible opportunities to work with students, businesses and government agencies across the country and it has been a fascinating experience. When I started running ultra-marathon expeditions around the world in 2016, it opened up a whole new world for me, and gave me an opportunity to bring China’s story to other countries. Now, running lets me meet so many people living with water scarcity around the world, and to see life through their eyes. Telling their stories to business and government leaders is what motivates me to keep running.
What types of results do clients experience after your programmes & keynotes?
I went to speak at the HQ of a major global brand recently and I had grown men and women with tears in their eyes, hugging me! When I’m lucky enough to connect with people on the issues I care about, I know that they can find the experience transformational. I believe I’m able to speak to people on two levels.
Firstly, as an endurance runner I work to inspire people to take on challenges in their lives that might seem impossible. I don’t consider myself to be an elite athlete but I’ve worked hard to become a runner in pursuit of an issue I care deeply about – water – and now I can run a marathon a day for extended periods of time.
Secondly, the story of our unfolding water crisis as a planet is deeply disturbing, but also inspirational because of the wave of human ingenuity it has unleashed around the world. My job is to bring those human stories home, and tell them to new people in a way that changes their perspectives.