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Social Entrepreneur and Pitt Alumnus Changes the World through Recycled Soap

University of Pittsburgh alumnus Samir Lakhani (A&S '15) recently returned to campus to discuss his visionary organization Eco-Soap Bank during the Fireside Chat: Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship, presented as part of the University’s Year of Healthy U. Lakhani spoke about his transformative experiences at Pitt, building his non-profit, and the business topics of ethics, health, and global entrepreneurship during his discussion with moderator Audrey J. Murrell, associate dean of Pitt Business and director of the school’s David Berg Center for Ethics and Leadership. 

 

Lakhani is founder and director of Eco-Soap Bank, a Pittsburgh-based humanitarian and environmental non-profit organization that saves, sanitizes, and supplies recycled hotel soap to communities in Cambodia, Nepal, and Rwanda. Lakhani was recognized as one of the 10 CNN Hero of the Year 2017 finalists vying for a $100,000 grant to advance their work.

 

In some areas of the developing world, only 1 percent of households have soap available for handwashing, a critical factor in stopping the spread of preventable diseases. Eco-Soap Bank addresses this critical need by partnering with local hospitality organizations to reduce the waste generated by hotels and use the leftover materials to produce a cost-effective hygiene product. Since its start in 2014, Eco-Soap Bank has provided 650,000 people with soap and hygiene education.

 

At the Fireside Chat, Lakhani went into detail about eye-opening experiences that he discussed in a recent video.

  

"In Cambodia, where child mortality rates are around 25 percent, and are mostly due to preventable illnesses, something as simple as hand washing with soap can be lifesaving," Lakhani said in the video. "I needed to find a cheap source of sustainable soap to redirect to these communities, and that led me to the Cambodian hotel industry, which discards more than four million bars of soap every year."

 

"At first, hotels did not understand why I wanted to play with other people's trash, but we now recycle 1.2 million soap bars a year in Cambodia and employ 77 women from the developing communities to provide them with financial independence and a platform to help their communities," Lakhani said.

 

His talk, which was organized by the College of Business Administration Office of International Programs in partnership with the University Center for International Studies, Innovation Institute and the Pittsburgh World Affairs Council, fits in with the focus on social entrepreneurship at Pitt Business. Students have the opportunity to advance innovative ideas that serve the community through the student chapter of Enactus, the annual Randall Family Big Idea Competition, and consulting projects through the Certificate Program in Leadership and Ethics.

 

During his Fireside Chat, Lakhani pointed to numerous lessons learned along his journey with Eco-Soap Bank. One was the importance of creating a locally relevant initiative run by village natives who already understand the established behavioral systems. Other lessons were to improve at thinking globally and acting locally and keeping the carbon footprint down during every step of the recycling process.

 

An alumnus of the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, Lakhani was an environmental studies major, where he learned of the global and environmental issues facing the world and decided he would devote his energy to benefit people who were less fortunate.

 

"The systems and protocols that Eco-Soap Bank has established were kindled in classrooms on Pitt's campus,” Lakhani says. “My first board of directors were all Pitt students," Lakhani says. "The city of Pittsburgh is filled with people who are looking for a way to do good."

 

When asked of the future of his career and Eco-Soap Bank, Lakhani left the audience with his life's mission: "I'm going to be playing with trash for the rest of my life, and I'm proud of it."

 

The Fireside Chat was attended by 55 people, many of whom were Pitt Business students with an interest in globally focused social entrepreneurship.

 

"Our mission at Pitt Business is to bring our students from the classroom, to the city, to the world, and there is no better example than Samir's work with Eco-Soap Bank, social entrepreneurship, and innovation. Pitt Business is excited to work with Eco-Soap Bank to help champion the work that the organization does in the developing world," Murrell says.

 

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To find out more about Eco-Soap Bank and donate to the cause, visit 
https://ecosoapbank.org/donate/