2014 Business Action on Health Award Winner for Partnerships/Collective Action: Unilever

WINNER: Unilever

Program: Lifebouy: Changing Hand-washing Habits to Save Lives

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About the Company: Operating in over 190 countries worldwide, Unilever is a global consumer goods company whose products reach 2 billion people every day. Unilever believes that sustainable growth is the only viable form of business growth.About the Community Investment Program: In 2010, the company launched the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan which outlined its ambition to double the size of the business whilst reducing its environmental footprint and increasing its positive social impact. As part of the Plan, Unilever has committed to helping more than a billion people take action to improve their health and well-being by 2020.

Lifebuoy, Unilever’s leading soap brand, runs the world’s largest hygiene promotion program which aims to change the hand-washing behaviors of a billion people by 2020. Programs target children, parents and new & expecting mums and have been deployed in 24 countries across Asia, Africa & Latin America, including 9 out of the 10 countries ranked as having highest levels of infant mortality globally.

The objective of the program is to change hand-washing behavior in order to reduce hygiene related diseases such as diarrhea and pneumonia which together are the lead cause of death for children under five while improving school attendance and productivity.

Drawing on decades of marketing & behavior change experience, Lifebuoy has devised a methodology which triggers a change in frequency and quality of hand-washing & helps people to maintain the new habit over time. Comics, puzzles, stories and songs are used to guide children and their parents through the behavior change process – with the aim of making hand-washing fun, rewarding and a life-long habit. Unilever’s experience in implementation has enabled the program to reach scale at low cost, with cost per contact being reduced from up to 3 euros initially to as low as 20 cents where implementation resources are shared with partners.

The program has been proven to deliver sustained behavior change. A clinical trial involving 2,000 families in Mumbai demonstrated up to a tenfold increase in soap use and significant reduction in disease incidence with a 25% reduction in incidence of diarrhea among children under five, 19% reduction in acute respiratory infections, 46% reduction in eye infections and a 27% reduction in school absence.

At the end of 2013, Lifebuoy had reached 183 million people and is expected to reach around 250 million by the end of 2014. Partnerships are key to scaling-up Lifebuoy’s reach and the brand works closely with international and national NGOs and local governments.

Critical Success Factors

  • Effectiveness. The program leverages Unilever’s ‘5 Levers for Change’ behavioral model to deliver effective hand-washing education
  • Scale. It is the biggest hand-washing program, estimated to reach 250 million people by the end of 2014 across 24 countries.
  • Pioneering. This scale has been enabled by innovative, low cost implementation approaches and strong partnerships.

“It is unacceptable that two million children die every year from infectious diseases when we have easy and cheap lifesaving solutions, such as handwashing with soap, readily available. Innovative partnerships between governments, civil society and business have a critical role to play in promoting better hygiene practices and in tackling the world’s deadliest diseases.” – Paul  Polman, CEO Unilever

Nisa Patel2014 Business Action on Health Award Winner for Partnerships/Collective Action: Unilever