How Estonians, the Busy Bees, Pollinated the Whole World

In 2018, millions of volunteers will put on rubber gloves, take their garbage bags, and step out to clean up the world. They are coordinated by a small team originating from Estonia. Seems unreal? Far from it.

It all started in 2007, when four people decided there was too much trash in the natural habitats of Estonia. A country-wide cleanup then took place in 2008, led by Rainer Nõlvak. During one day, 50 000 people came out to clean up 10 000 tons of illegal trash. The team did not have any plans to continue with the cleanup events, but since there was a lot of enthusiasm in the team, a few next events were organised during the upcoming years. The idea of  “One day-one country” has evolved into the Let’s Do It! model.

Eva Truuverk, one of the founders of Let's Do It! movement and the Member of the Board of Let's Do It Foundation

Eva Truuverk, one of the founders of Let’s Do It! movement and the Member of the Board of Let’s Do It Foundation

Can we clean up our country too?

“After the first cleanup event, we put a video up on Youtube with a special and good energy. People around the world started writing to us, asking if they can clean up their countries too. We told them of course!’’ Eva Truuverk remembers. She was one of the people who started the action in the first place.

The most active countries were invited to participate in an inspirational and motivational conference in Tallinn in 2010. As a result, those seven countries organised their cleanup events that year and became true success stories. “The important goal of the Let’s Do It! model is to engage 5% of the population in cleanup events. Slovenia broke all records with 14% and 290 000 volunteers.

“After the huge wave of successful cleanups that year it was clear we are not going to escape the leader position in the movement, so we hired a five-member Let’s Do It! World Cleanup team in 2011,’’ Eva says. The aim was to motivate 100 countries to join the movement by 2012 and clean up their countries following the ‘Estonian model’. “In 2013 we invited the leaders of cleanups to Estonia again, and this time their aim was to engage 5% of the population. Our message was, now we have spread our model, everyone has to use it themselves,’’ Eva says. But the team was asked to continue leading the movement by holding it together.

One day – whole world

For the next few years, a new team was built and the movement held together. Let’s Do It! World also became the accredited partner of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). UNEP considered it the world’s most fastest growing environmental organisation. Eva is surprised. “There are actions like this held around the world. Estonians did not invent cleaning up!”. We have modelled the cleanup and that deserves recognition. “Our goal is a clean world. We wish to implement the keep it clean principle, so that we do not have to clean every year. The aim of most big organisations is to keep cleaning up to keep their jobs.”

By 2014 it was clear it was not enough to just hold together the movement – a joint goal was needed. A helping hand emerged: the leader of TED Conferences, Chris Anderson made a call to Rainer Nõlvak. The TED Advisory Board, consisting of people such as Bill Gates and Richard Branson, gave him a task to find 16 organisations that actually make a change with the aim to support them. Let’s Do It! World had to come up with an plan of how to reach their goals with imagining a limitless budget. Eva remembers the awesome time they had. “It’s exciting to imagine your work when there are no budget restraints,” she says. They decided to stick to the model ‘One day- one country’ but expanding it to ‘One day- whole world’. “We wanted to remind people that garbage has to go to the bin, and its not okay to have trash laying around,” Eva says.

For several reasons, they could not introduce their plan to the TED Advisory Board, but the movement had its course of action. A joint world cleanup day had to be taken into the planning phase, and persuade the members of the movement, find leaders in every country and train them, map the world trash, implement the world-wide cleanup day and come up with a plan to keep the planet clean.

First, the date of this ambitious plan was selected. Depending on the hemisphere, it is possible to clean up in autumn or spring, the best months are March, April or September. The cleanup has to be held on a Saturday, and the 8th of September has the smallest number of religious or state holidays in the world. It was decided to implement the cleanup in 2018, because it takes time to plan engaging the whole world, and at least 150 countries. The 113 countries in the movement were introduced the idea to clean up on the same day. They were all up for it.

The first Let's Do It! action was held in Estonia in 2008 when 50 000 people cleaned up the entire country in just five hours

The first Let’s Do It! action was held in Estonia in 2008 when 50 000 people cleaned up the entire country in just five hours

Many leaders, one attitude                                

Right now, the movement is looking actively for leaders who would motivate and persuade politicians and the broader public to organise the cleanup event. Heidi Solba is in charge of headhunting the leaders. “We have the profile of the leader for every country, but it is clear that every country and leader is different, except for one thing – the attitude has to be the same,” says Heidi. She is looking for passion and spark. Another thing is the network, skills and knowledge that helps spread the Let’s Do It! model. Junior Chamber International (JCI) are helping out with finding the leaders and understanding the cultural backgrounds of countries.

The leaders will go through the development programme, communication plan, and trash mapping software. “We have a very high expectation for leaders since the participation of every country depends on them. We wish that the leader would have an ability to think independently and see the resources in their country, use their contact network smartly, engage volunteers, build up a team and engage the broader public.”

After finding and training the leaders, the main focus goes to mapping the trash and subjects related to IT. Communication activities are planned mainly for 2018- spreading the word and also implementing the cleanup. “We want to start cleaning up in Japan at 10AM, then move around the world with the sun. The last place to clean up is Hawaii.”

“We don’t know what is going to happen in 2020, it has to evolve organically. Our plan is for the ‘keep it clean’ principle to take root,” says Eva.

“The problem seems aesthetical on one hand, but we don’t know the global, bigger problems that are caused by trash – shortage of drinking water, diseases… We are seconds away from an ecological catastrophe,’’ Eva says.

The team has had its hardships as well, since all that is worthy is not so easy. “The most difficult thing is to fire a volunteer. It’s impossible! If a person wants to continue, they do it!” Eva says. She advises to end the work relationship as soon as it feels wrong.

“You may think that you have control over the situation but it’s a situation beyond your control, when there is a cleanup going on all over the world. You may control your phone calls or emails. It’s important to let go.’’


The idea of cleaning up an entire country quickly spread around the world and now a massive World Cleanup Day 2018 is in preparation

The idea of cleaning up an entire country quickly spread around the world and now a massive World Cleanup Day 2018 is in preparation

Heidi adds that motivation and power might run out when working very hard day to day, thus its important that there are leaders who will give you the inner motivation to keep going. “It is important not to let spark and energy drown in the work!”

Both of them are sure that since there is so much negativity in the world right now, it is important to find something positive that unites people. “We don’t fight against anyone – but against trash, which is the unhealthy thing for all of us. When people work voluntarily and jointly towards something, it unites us, we understand the necessity of it and the universe supports it. Nothing can go wrong when greed and self-interest are not involved,” Heidi believes.


By Tuuli Elstrok for Director Magazine
Translated and edited by Mari Valgepea