Heidi Solba is the Founder, President and Head of the Global Network of Let’s Do It World. Their flagship campaign is World Cleanup Day: it unites millions of volunteers, governments and organizations in 191 countries to tackle the global waste problem.
Heidi’s strongest belief is that everything is possible, and this is why her main dream was to create a worldwide network that leads the transformation towards a waste-free world. Her experience is a mix of strategic and practical expertise in Human Resource Management, leadership capacity building, organizational development, circular economy and CSR.
In this exclusive interview, Heidi shared her story about the power of community engagement that helped her create a global movement and network of Let’s Doers, who have one goal and one purpose in mind: to change the way we think, act and live.
1. Let’s Do It World’s vision is based on a waste-free world: we must unite as a global community, raise awareness, and implement true change for creating a clean and healthy planet. You strongly believe that energy “can spread like a positive virus across the planet”. How do you manage to keep the optimism alive in your global network during turbulent times?
The heart of Let’s Do It World is our global network. Our people are the ingredient that makes the network so expansive, through the local actions of environmental organizations worldwide, on both national and global levels. Our main goal is to direct the attention to waste management issues, and also to move towards better waste management practices, by highlighting the short lifespan and irreparability of the majority of products, or by raising awareness about the unsustainable nature of our consumerist lifestyle. Instead of talking, we take action.
Keeping the optimism alive in a global network is one of the most discussed topics in my field – and it is even more relevant, especially during pandemics or war times!
The essence of our network is the energy of the World itself: always in motion, vibrant, engaging and ever-changing. We all are believers and doers, so we just say: “let´s do it!”
There are some skills that are crucial for our network leaders. First of all, self-acknowledgment – the knowledge of belonging to the World. This inner motivation (it is something that we are measuring in our annual survey, “Leader Happiness Index”) includes the sense of belonging to the network, the perception about the value of their work, and the impact they create. The happiness index score is 8.2 out of 10, so our leaders’ drive is their pure passion!
We offer a platform to reconnect and to hold the synergy inside the network, to feed ourselves with positive examples and inspiring stories, while sharing the know-how between our leaders. We bring them together through webinars, get-together events, Leaders Academies, and our Annual Conference. These events are crucial to keeping the team spirit high and to nurturing this “global family” feeling.
2. The numbers in the 2021 Annual Report are impressive: 13.5 million volunteers from 191 countries participated in cleanup activities, and 53 million kilograms of waste have been picked up. It is crystal clear that circular thinking is very popular, but what kind of opportunities does the alignment between the zero-waste philosophy and business performance bring?
Let’s Do it World’s vision is a waste-free world. For us, this is not just a nice-sounding vision, it’s a real one, our goal and our path. However, a waste-free world is only achievable if all three sectors of society play a part in creating this necessary shift.
First of all, individuals have to adopt a sustainable lifestyle. Through community engagement we raise awareness and change mindsets. It helps us to go green and to consume products coming from ecologically responsible businesses, but also to expect better urban waste management.
Secondly, businesses have to implement circular and regenerative business models and to take full responsibility for the whole life cycle of their products and their packaging. Thirdly, governments need to adopt supportive and nudging legislation for a circular and regenerative economy.
We see the role of Let’s Do It World as an engager, an educator, and a catalyst for this transformation. We are raising awareness and bringing a holistic approach to environmental issues. The only way to become sustainable is by seeing ourselves not as consumers of nature, but as an integral part of it.
3. Your biggest global campaign is World Cleanup Day, mobilizing millions of action-orientated people, organizations and governments into united action. Why do you think that this simple gesture of cleaning-up has become a force that binds people together?
I have been seeing it, feeling it and living it. World Cleanup Day is not just about picking up the waste – it’s about bonding! It’s about stretching up your personal limits, connecting you to your Self, to the Planet and a higher Purpose. Humanity is facing huge global challenges coming from multiple directions, as we are living in the era of individualism and consumption. Cleaning up the waste is not easy – sometimes, it can be unpleasant due to bad weather, for example. This means you are also cleaning up your ego and overstepping your personal comfort zone.
Cleanups are bringing people together, and bonding happens under the same aim. World Cleanup Day is the moment when we harness the power of everyday people to achieve a common goal. Its beauty lies in cooperation and collaboration: building bridges between disparate communities, from all levels of society.
Global problems can’t be solved by facing problems and finding solutions alone. We need a common understanding of the World, and, especially, common actions to honor the World.
4. Estonia – “the digital republic” – is a global and European leading country in terms of innovation and digitalization. How did you manage to transfer all this knowledge into the Digital Cleanup Day initiative, the project that aims to raise awareness around the carbon footprint in the cyber world?
Indeed, Estonia is one of the world’s most digitally advanced countries. However, at the end of the day, I think that the main question is: “is technology serving humanity or is humanity serving technology”?
The Digital Cleanup idea was originally initiated by Telia Estonia, a large telecommunication company. After preparations and multiple investigations on the digital waste topic, we discovered the lack of scientific data on the impact of the digital waste on the environment in relation to energy consumption and production of CO2. It was a wake-up call! Digital waste is hidden, invisible: unnecessary emails, files, applications are generating digital pollution that consumes energy.
Let’s Do It World organized two digital cleanups in Estonia before we agreed to go global, and, interestingly, COVID-19 offered the perfect momentum to go viral worldwide.
We expect organizations to take part in this movement and make significant changes in the everyday workflow, because it requires just a little bit of time and the willingness to make strategic decisions and implement simple changes. Too many systems or half-used solutions decrease the efficiency of the whole organization. For example, well organized virtual offices or remote systems increase employee satisfaction and are very cost effective. Also, taking part in Digital Cleanup Day can be organized as a team building event, as it is a very fun activity and it creates great social engagement!
There is a four-step system for organizations that want to be part of Digital Cleanup Day. Firstly – to map and declare what is digital waste in the company, secondly – to find the main sources of the digital waste, thirdly – to organize the Digital Cleanup Day, and, finally – to implement best practices and train the employees to become more digitally-aware in this regard.
5. In an interview for the World Forum for Democracy 2021, you discussed about engagement, that special glue that unites people, saying that “we are living in the times of urgency, we have to move fast, but smart; there is no time to complain – we simply need to act, to walk the talk”. How is Let’s Do It World planning to keep members engaged and to “walk the talk” in the upcoming years?
I have the feeling that too little, too late has been done in the World – more complex solutions and more mastery in planning are needed. Simple and linear models don’t work anymore. We need both systemic transformation and individual behavioral changes. One without the other will not get us to the necessary scale of change, at the necessary pace. When it comes to action, environmental protection has not yet reached awareness for the majority of us.
After visiting poor countries and seeing the slums, the favelas, and also the dumpsites, I realize more and more that this is not just a climate crisis, but a huge societal crisis. The only cure is sustainability, even though there is no master plan on how to lead the transformation of our present society, with its perpetual expansion, towards sustainable development. The power lies in collaboration, trust, and a common vision. We must switch from competition and self-interest to cooperation and common good. But how can humans be encouraged to cooperate when most of our values are based on competition?
Anyone who has the ethics, the values, and the power to bring people together, to find solutions even in small families, villages, communities, or countries, anyone who has the “what good can I do today with limited resources?” mindset – all these individuals are already making huge steps forward! Let´s not complain, nor seek whom to blame! Let’s act today and be creative, while stepping out of our personal comfort zone.
I think that the most precious value of Let’s Do It World is this one: we are all the same, regardless the culture, region, religion, skin color. We are the same face of humanity: one that has the same aim, the same desire and passion, the same need to act, as one global family. I consider ourselves role models who showcase that countries can work for the same goal under the same heartbeat.
Another important lesson we have learned is that people are motivated to do the right thing if the approach is easy and fun. People jump easily on board! Our strategic goal is to engage 5% of the Globe’s population, as it is science-proven that it will create the focal point needed for social change. In the countries where we have managed to engage 5-14% of the population, we have witnessed this positive transformation. So, we will continue! The World needs everybody’s contribution!