Published 3 years ago.
About a 5 minute read.
The case study of German mobile hygiene startup GoBanyo illustrates the social impacts of the collaboration between Unilever’s The Right to Shower initiative with mobile hygiene pioneer LavaMae^x^ .
Mobile hygiene pioneer LavaMae^x^ shifted its focus late last year from providing
direct service to serving as a nonprofit accelerator dedicated to changing the
way the world sees and serves our unhoused neighbors. Our goal, with support
from soap brand The Right to Shower, is to
fully train 75 communities around the globe to collectively serve 100,000
individual guests by 2024; with programs rooted in Radical
Hospitality™ — a philosophy of meeting people
wherever they are with extraordinary care. The results of this partnership are
already showing up on the streets.
The Right to Shower, built as a social enterprise at
Unilever, donates 30 percent of
profits from its line of head-to-toe cleansers to LavaMae^x^; and also helps
fund other shower initiatives that assist people who are moving through
homelessness. In turn, LavaMae^x^ advises the brand — identifying, vetting and
recommending initiatives for The Right to Shower to fund. Our work with startup
service provider GoBanyo in Hamburg, Germany, illustrates both the value of
cross-sector collaboration and the well of grassroots energy waiting to be
tapped to serve the most vulnerable among us. That’s true especially in the face
of a pandemic, with hygiene more important than ever.
Image credit: GoBanyo/©Julia Schwendner
During a decade of living unhoused in Hamburg, access to hygiene was one of the
biggest challenges for Dominik Bloh, one of GoBanyo’s founders. Even today,
there are only 17 showers available at day shelters for the 2,000 unhoused
residents in this city of 1.8 million. When he finally got his own apartment,
Bloh wrote a book about his experiences (a 2017
became a full-time activist and advocate for the unhoused.
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Around the same time that he began thinking about mobile showers, he came upon
LavaMae^x^ and its Radical Hospitality philosophy. The approach resonated with his
own experience, and Bloh ran with the concept.
With the help of the LavaMae^x^ DIY Mobile Hygiene
Toolkit for replicators, Bloh pulled
together a four-person team — and they created the nonprofit, GoBanyo. The
founders talked with potential partners (such as the water department) and
raised €168,641 through a crowdfunding campaign to fund converting a bus for
The DIY Toolkit was just the start of LavaMae^x^’s support for GoBanyo. In
November 2019, GoBanyo partners Joko Weykopf and Jannes Vahl flew to
California to spend a day on-site at the LavaMae^x^ shower service in Los
Angeles. There, Joey Freid — a replication community engagement lead with
LavaMae^x^ — gave them intensive training on shower operations, working with
guests and more.
GoBanyo launched shower service in December with Hamburg’s first mobile hygiene
bus (Germany’s second). After a couple of months in operation, GoBanyo invited
Freid to visit the team in Hamburg. The Right to Shower supported Freid in
spending three days with GoBanyo, working alongside and observing the team,
providing training and making recommendations.
“We were able to implement best practices that we would otherwise have had to
develop ourselves over a long time,” says GoBanyo CEO Christian Poelmann,
who handles day-to-day operations. “The training gave us confirmation that we
are on the right track and gave us the security we needed to further improve our
Freid reports doing “lots of advising around on-site staff support and
wellness.” The training also provided hands-on work in the philosophy and ideas
behind the Radical Hospitality approach, such as always greeting guests by name.
“The GoBanyo group was one of the best at Radical Hospitality from the start —
it was already their standard.”
The demonstrations of de-escalation tactics were particularly helpful, Poelmann
says, citing advice such as how to be watchful “without looking like a cop”; and
how to win guests over with “secret gifts,” such an extra T-shirt for someone
who has stepped away from a fight or a new pair of socks for a guest who kept to
her allotted shower time.
“The training significantly improved our ability to deal with challenging
situations, such as arguments or violence on the bus,” he says. “We had
underestimated what would be needed in the event of a dispute.”
GoBanyo scaled up from its launch to provide shower service four days a week at
three locations in Hamburg, with a capacity of 120 guests per week. The
COVID-19 crisis led to
a five-week hiatus; but in cooperation with public swimming pool operator
Bäderland, service is now up and running at one location, and the city is
providing protective gear. GoBanyo continues to work toward its goal of
providing service five days a week and adding a second mobile hygiene bus.
“We want to reach as many people as possible and provide the best possible
hygiene service,” Poelmann says. “We are also in contact with other German
cities, so we can share our experiences and collective knowledge — that’s very
important to us. And we’re planning more campaigns, workshops and lectures.
“The greatest success,” he adds, “would be if there were no homelessness
Until that is the case, people experiencing homelessness deserve our care — and
the needs are greater now than ever. Communities and activists all over the
world are stepping up: GoBanyo is just one of more than 189 programs in in 160
communities in 12 countries that LavaMae^x^ has trained, directly advised or
inspired. And with our partners, we will continue to build a care network based
on the belief that opportunity unfolds when people are treated with dignity, and
that people everywhere will rise to the level of respect they are offered.
Published Jul 9, 2020 8am EDT / 5am PDT / 1pm BST / 2pm CEST
Kris Kepler is CEO of LavaMaex — a nonprofit accelerator that transforms the way communities around the world see and serve their unhoused neighbors. @lavamaex