Can One Village Make a Difference?

By Samir Singh, Global Brand Vice President, Unilever – Lifebuoy

Can One Village Make a Difference?

When we launched our handwashing programmes in March 2013 in Thesgora, a village in Madhya Pradesh, India, which has one of the highest diarrhoea rates in the country, some people questioned our approach: “What’s the point of helping just one small village? What does this achieve when the biggest issue in global development today is scale?”

The results from this one small village are now in. After going through the programmes, a third of the mothers there have started washing their hands with soap more often. Diarrhoeal rates have fallen significantly as a result too. This mirrors the randomised controlled trial involving 2,000 families in Indian urban communities in 2007/2008. This study, recently published in the Tropical Medicine and International Health journal, revealed that the increased use of soap among those that had received the Lifebuoy behaviour change programme led to a 25% reduction in the incidence of diarrhoea among children under five. And now in India alone, we will scale up programmes to reach 45 million people in 2014.

These are significant results, but Lifebuoy’s work in this area is far from over. One child dies from diarrhoea or pneumonia every 20 seconds, amounting to 1.7 million deaths each year. Handwashing with soap is one of the most cost effective ways to prevent child deaths and contribute to Millennium Development Goal 4 (MDG4), reducing child mortality.

Why one village makes a difference

Our results are a proof point for the behaviour change methods we deploy, a tool we will call upon to advocate for further support for handwashing from NGOs, health and development professionals, governments and other businesses to ensure that handwashing and hygiene is included in the post 2015 development agenda. These results also give us compelling statistics which we can use in our wider external communications, raising the profile of both the cause and the brand.

Results from our social mission programmes are not only vital for communicating with external stakeholders but also play a key role in winning internal support. Combined with results demonstrating the clear business opportunities from our programmes – Lifebuoy has achieved three years of double-digit growth to become the world’s number one anti-bacterial brand – results like those from Thesgora and the Mumbai trial ensure the brand’s full backing of the campaign. Consequently, more of our markets are now looking to roll out their own village programmes, driving greater reach for our handwashing initiatives and ultimately greater impact.

The individuals behind the numbers

While results help to show this overall impact, just as important are the individuals behind the numbers. These personal stories – from parents who can celebrate their first child turning five, to a schoolchild who no longer misses out on lessons due to preventable illnesses – are powerful tools in mobilising people to action. We tell these stories in a thought provoking manner, witness our hugely successful Help a Child Reach 5 film which has now been viewed by almost 19 million people from parents to celebrities to global leaders. Our programmes in Thesgora give us rich personal content we can use to spread our message further and show the impact that brands can have.

Finally, deploying our programmes in one small village and conducting a rigorous evaluation of the outcomes means we can identify best practices to help scale up our campaign in India and roll out programmes to villages like Thesgora in eight more countries. Evaluation and measurement of the programmes will remain an essential component of our campaigns as we continue to strive to improve how we can inspire significant and lifesaving change.

Driving growth and positive behaviour change

It is this toolbox of statistics, stories and a clear link to our core business that have been key to the success of Lifebuoy’s Help a Child Reach 5 campaign so far. The clear commercial reasoning – more handwashing leads to increased soap sales – ensures that this remains a long term commitment for Lifebuoy. But there is still plenty more work to do. We look forward to using these tools to drive continued positive impact on handwashing behaviours, rally further support towards ensuring hygiene and handwashing takes its place in the post-2015 agenda and bring greater scale to handwashing programmes around the world.

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