Going the distance with passion and purpose

An MLS alumna is drawing attention to the global water crisis by pushing her own body to its breaking point.

By Rachel Hewitt

An MLS alumna is drawing attention to the global water crisis by pushing her own body to its breaking point.

Mina Guli
Image credit: Kevin Trautman

Mina Guli (LLM ’99) has true grit. The lawyer turned environmental activist has just got off crutches after breaking her leg attempting to run 100 marathons in 100 days. Her mission was to raise awareness of what has become her life’s work – solving the global water crisis. Remarkably, she made it to the end of day 62.

“At marathon 62, I was in the hospital and the doctors told me I couldn’t keep going, and all I could think was, ‘I am not the person to give up’,” Guli says.

Recently named one of the Australian Financial Review’s Women of Influence, as well as one of the World’s 50 Greatest Leaders by Fortune magazine, Guli studied science as well as law.

Legal training, she says, encouraged her to “think outside the box”.

“Science is a very linear system of thinking and law is a very open system. It encourages you to think very laterally, to come up with new ideas and solutions. It’s really shaped what I’ve done, who I am and where I’m going.”

Studying law also helped Guli contemplate the world more deeply.

“Law is about knowing and understanding our place in society and thinking about that with a different set of parameters – understanding the role of our economy, our communities and individuals.”

Guli’s environmental work began when she helped create a carbon credit scheme for the Sydney Futures Exchange. She went on to develop the first carbon initiatives for China, India, Indonesia and Nepal while working at the World Bank, before co-founding a Beijing investment company focused on sustainable projects.

Running in London, UK
Running in London, UK. Image credit: Kelvin Trautman.

But the “massive turning point” came in 2010, when the World Economic Forum (WEF) named her one of its 120 Young Global Leaders.

“I always used to feel I was a bit odd because I had this passion to make the world better,” Guli says. “All of a sudden I was surrounded by a whole bunch of people who were just as similarly odd.”

At a WEF event, Guli was introduced to the concept of ‘invisible’ water – “the water that goes into everything we use, buy and consume”.

She was horrified the world was facing a water crisis “bigger than anything I could have imagined”, with demand predicted to outstrip supply by 40 per cent in 2030.

“I thought, ‘how is this not on the front page of every newspaper?’ And I set out to change that.”

She launched a not-for-profit, Thirst, which has educated more than two million Chinese children about water use. But her message needed a global reach. Guli decided to “capture people’s imaginations” by visiting topical places and sharing the stories of locals via social media.

Mina Guli runs past the ship graveyard in Muynak, Uzbekistan
Mina Guli runs past the ship graveyard in Muynak, Uzbekistan. Image credit: Kelvin Trautman.

Running was a mechanism to visit these places but also to show the extreme lengths we’re going to have to go to if we’re going to solve this problem.

Her ultra-running began in 2016, with 40 marathons in seven weeks. The next year, she completed 40 marathons in 40 days. Late last year came the pinnacle, the #RunningDry campaign, aiming for a staggering 100 marathons in 100 days.

Guli was devastated to stop running, but what happened next stunned her: thousands of people following her progress began running the remaining miles. It was “incredibly humbling,” she says, to see “that this thing I’d tried to do was taking on a life of its own”.

Guli has just started running again. And although her recovery has been “incredibly hard”, her dedication to her cause remains unwavering.

“I’m not giving up on my passion and I’m not ever going to be the person that says ‘things are really hard so I’m going to go home now’.”

Completing marathon 25 of 100 in Rajasthan, India
Completing marathon 25 of 100 in Rajasthan, India. Image credit: Kelvin Trautman.

Banner Image Credit: Pixabay

This article originally appeared in MLS News, Issue 22, November 2019