Pushing the Boundaries of Multi-Sector Partnerships

By Sam Parker, CEO, WSUP

Pushing the Boundaries of Multi-Sector Partnerships

The simple habit of handwashing with soap is not universally practised and traditional hygiene promotion efforts have had limited impact. Research showed that fear of disease was not a key motivator of handwashing behaviour. Across key regions, a behaviour change was needed and campaigns were developed which looked at key motivations for behaviour change including comfort, affiliation and social acceptance/status.

WSUP partnered with Unilever in 2011 to employ an approach to promoting handwashing that leverages the marketing capabilities of a fast-moving consumable goods company to produce branded teaching aids and communication materials that make handwashing with soap a social aspiration for children and their families.

The “School of Five” programme, developed by Lifebuoy, takes children on a Behaviour Change Journey to encourage washing their hands with soap at five critical times: when bathing, after defecation and before breakfast, lunch and dinner. It utilises engaging and interactive games, songs, dances and a practical glo-germ demonstration to spread the campaign message.

The School of Five methodology is being implemented by WSUP and Unilever in four countries and has to date reached a total of 1.5 million children, and a further five million family members through active participation in the programme.

The School of Five approach entails:

  • Entertaining sessions in schools using mascots and comic books to demonstrate and promote handwashing with soap at the five critical times
  • Distributing pledge cards for children to collect pledges from their mothers and other friends and family to wash hands with soap, producing a multiplier effect
  • Training teachers to train further pupils and sustain the promotion of hygiene in schools.
  • Supporting teachers to set up/strengthen health clubs in all schools, which act as a vehicle for the messages to be reinforced as children learn from each other and teachers
  • Securing the involvement of municipal health officers throughout the planning and implementation process. This is critical, not only to achieve government buy-in, but also to build the capacity of municipalities in delivering similar approaches in the future

Through leveraging private sector inputs and capabilities, the campaign is able to achieve mass-scale hygiene promotion.

Challenges faced / overcome?

  • In some cases, we encountered parallel hand washing campaigns, using more traditional community based methodologies, which at times created contradictory, usually health-centred, messages.
  • At times, unpredictable weather caused some disruption in delivering the school activations according to schedule. In Bangladesh, a series of national strikes (hartals) has limited the mobility of activation teams
  • Some schools lacked adequate water supply thereby making hand-washing with soap difficult. In response to this, we have revised the methodology so that the first contact with schools now includes an assessment of water supply and, in the worst cases, the access is improved
  • Additional amendments to the methodology include more involvement with mothers and more intense engagement with teachers so that they continue the promotional process as part of routine education.

Lessons learnt?

  • The School of 5 campaign is highly cost-effective, compared to traditional NGO-led approaches
  • The formula where WSUP and Lifebuoy share costs and responsibilities works well
  • The WSUP-Lifebuoy partnership leverages Unilever’s unique knowledge of consumer behaviour and WSUP’s ability to ensure pro-poor targeting and engagement of municipal partners. The outcome is a very effective approach to achieving large scale hygiene behaviour change, leading to better hygiene practice and improved health and well-being among low income urban populations
  • For sustainable improvements, it is essential to deeply involve the municipality and the teachers

What does this mean for business?

The partnership between WSUP and Unilever pushes the boundaries of multi-sector partnerships, making a positive contribution to addressing the growing urban WASH challenge across the developing world by combining the sector advantages enjoyed by both organisations to develop and deliver a joint programme.

The School of Five programme helps to achieve the organisational outcomes of both Unilever and WSUP. WSUP achieves cost effective and sustainable hygiene improvements. Unilever achieves greater brand recognition, a contribution to its Sustainable Living plan goals and an increase in the overall demand for soap products. A true win–win.

Editor’s Note:

This blog is one in a five-part series with Unilever-Lifebuoy.

Click here to donate to the Lifebuoy Help a Child Reach 5 Campaign.

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One Response

  1. It would be good to hear about the impact of the programme – how well it has been working so far, and what direct impact Unilever’s involvement (superior customer insight) had on the success of adoption.



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