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How sanitation is changing lives: an employee perspective

I was overcome with joy and amazement as I saw all the children sing and dance in perfect unison, welcoming us to their school. And it wasn’t long before I was also part of the group, dancing our way through the school courtyard.

Harsh Mishra, Area Sales and Customer Manager, Hindustan Unilever Limited
Harsh Mishra

Area Sales and Customer Manager

Harsh joined Hindustan Unilever Limited three years ago with a degree in computer science engineering and an MBA from IIM Calcutta. Harsh has worked in Customer Development, Brand Development, Customer Marketing and Supply Chain across the length and breadth of India (urban and rural) as well as Singapore. For the past two years, he has been working in Sales and Marketing, handling the Homecare category in Hyderabad.

I was overcome with joy and amazement as I saw all the children sing and dance in perfect unison, welcoming us to their school. And it wasn’t long before I was also part of the group, dancing our way through the school courtyard.

If I had to pick one thing that stands out about my trip to Kenya and what I will miss most, it’s the incredible warmth of the people. This was true everywhere we went from the airport to the hotel, from the counties to the villages. People were always so happy to see us and make our visit as pleasant as possible.

That’s why it saddens me so much to see such wonderful people negatively affected by diseases – many of which are easily preventable – due to the lack of proper hygiene and sanitation practices. For example, many of these individuals have never understood the connection between open defecation and diarrhoea.

This is precisely why Unilever is taking on the issue of sanitation and partnering with UNICEF. With our vast experience and expertise in driving behaviour change around the world, it is our responsibility to play a role in addressing social issues that are aligned with our business.

And as the manufacturer of Domestos – our leading toilet hygiene brand – involvement in sanitation makes perfect sense. Hence, a major driver behind our Unilever Sustainable Living Plan commitment to help 25 million people gain improved access to a toilet by promoting the benefits of clean toilets and making toilets accessible by 2020.

In Kenya, over 61% of the rural population does not have access to appropriate sanitation and 17% practise open defecation. Many are unaware that this is one of the major causes of preventable diseases like diarrhoea and cholera.

Domestos and the Unilever Foundation are supporting UNICEF’s Community Approaches to Total Sanitation (CATS) programme to drive demand for safe, affordable and user-friendly toilets and increase the number of villages that are open defecation free (ODF). UNICEF works with governments, NGOs and local authorities to implement sanitation programmes in over 100 countries around the world. I had the opportunity to visit one of these programmes in a village in Kitui county which was in the middle of a ‘triggering’ exercise. This is where, through demonstrations and education, residents come to realise the negative impacts of defecating in the open.

I also visited Kathome village, which was celebrating its recently achieved ODF status. Seeing the pride on the people’s faces as they spoke of their efforts to build safe and clean toilets reinforced my belief in the importance of the partnership Domestos and the Unilever Foundation have built with UNICEF.

The problem of open defecation is not unique to Kenya. Globally, an estimated 2.5 billion people don’t have access to a proper toilet and of those, 1 billion defecate in the open. And in India, the country where I live, an estimated 597 million people relieve themselves in the open. But I am pleased to say that Prime Minister Modi has made a commitment to end open defecation by 2019.

Our partnership with UNICEF is making a genuine difference to the lives of many of these individuals, and I am proud to be a part of an organisation that’s helping lift people out of poverty and give them the opportunity to achieve a brighter future.

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