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Soap and vaccines – partnering to deliver the Global Goals


Authored by Rebecca Marmot

Why does partnering with other organisations to help deliver the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) make business sense for Unilever? We talked to Rebecca Marmot about the benefits of an innovative partnership between Lifebuoy, and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.

Children washing their hands

About the author

Rebecca Marmot

Rebecca Marmot

Global Vice President, Advocacy & Partnerships, Unilever

Why was the Lifebuoy-Gavi partnership created?

It’s been three years since the SDGs were adopted and we’ve seen some great progress. But it’s not enough. Pneumonia and diarrhoea continue to be two of the leading killers of children worldwide. Together, they are responsible for (PDF 6.41 MB) almost one quarter of all deaths in children under 5 years old. In 2016 in India alone, diarrhoea and pneumonia killed more than 260,000 children under five.

Proper hygiene and access to rotavirus and pneumococcal vaccines are two of the most critical and cost-effective interventions that can help save children’s lives and give them the chance to reach their full potential.

Washing hands with soap on key occasions – for example, after going to the toilet, or before eating – can reduce the risk of diarrheal disease by up to 47% and pneumonia by 23%.

With the Lifebuoy and Gavi partnership, we are bringing together handwashing with soap and immunisation in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.

The partnership unites our different areas of expertise. Lifebuoy’s understanding of behaviour change with Gavi’s technical expertise on vaccines and deployment capabilities. Together we share a deep drive to improve global health and to unlock third party funding to maximise our scale and impact.

The partnership is in its early stages, but it is well-positioned to contribute to two signature public health initiatives of the Indian Government. Swachh Bharat, is focused on creating a ‘Clean India’, and includes hand hygiene as a key component. The second is Mission Indradhanush – immunising all pregnant women and children under the age of two against seven vaccine-preventable diseases.

The partnership will not only impact SDG 3 (Good Health & Well-being) and SDG 6 (Clean Water & Sanitation), but will also have a positive impact on other SDGs.

Feature image - Smita Singh
A ‘facilitator duo’ holding self-monitoring tools for improving handwashing practices. Mothers and fathers are given different tools as their key handwashing moments are different.

How does the partnership work?

The initiative has been launched as Safal Shuruaat or Successful Beginning. Its aim is to reach over 40,000 households across 800 villages in two pilot districts in Uttar Pradesh through tapping into the desire of parents to raise successful children.

It is designed to increase awareness of the importance of handwashing with soap and vaccines by improving handwashing practices and increasing demand for immunisation, through a variety of channels including direct personal contact to mobile communications.

For example, 'facilitator duos' – one man, one woman – will undertake home visits to parents of children under two and to households with women in their last trimester of pregnancy. Employing male as well as female facilitators is important. It reinforces the important role men should play in the early development and upbringing of their children.

We recently launched the programme in Hardoi and Allahabad where we brought together government officials and health workers to educate them about the programme and secure their support. It is exciting to see the large turnout at these events and the high level of engagement from government officials, health workers and village leaders.

We will use the results to scale up the programme in other districts which are important for the government, Gavi and Lifebuoy.

What is the formula for a successful partnership?

I would say that there are four primary components that make our partnership with Gavi successful.

  1. Lifebuoy and Gavi are working together in an open and transparent manner setting clear objectives, plans, and KPIs. Both parties actively listen to each another.
  2. By working across sectors, we are able to leverage our different areas of expertise to create greater scale and impact.
  3. We regularly coordinate between and within our organizations to ensure that the needs of all stakeholders are aligned. While this may appear relatively simple, it requires focus and ongoing communication.
  4. Trust, which naturally evolves based on a commitment to working collaboratively and strong values.
Feature image - Abhijeet Sinha
An example of a village handwash station. The tap is connected to a bucket at the back. These low-cost stations can be installed in childcare centres, schools and communities.

How are partnerships like Lifebuoy and Gavi good for business?

As the Business & Sustainable Development Commission identified, the SDGs present a $12 trillion economic opportunity. Business has a role to play in the SDGs, but the SDGs are not a ‘business-only agenda’.

Partnerships like the one with Gavi, not only address the global challenges of our day but they are integral to our business strategy as they help drive sustainable growth in a number of ways.

  1. They drive growth, brand equity, and sales, as well as inspire innovation. Our ‘sustainable living brands’, as we call them – and of which Lifebuoy is one – have outperformed the average growth rate of Unilever over the last four years. In 2017 they delivered 70% of our turnover growth.
  2. They lower costs by cutting waste, and reducing the use of energy, raw materials and natural resources.
  3. They help us future-proof our supply chain by securing a sustainable supply of critical raw materials such as palm oil and tea.
  4. They build trust by strengthening our relationships with stakeholders, such as governments, consumers, employees, and investors.

Working in partnership with others helps to create a better, more sustainable future – where we can lift people out of poverty and help ensure they live healthier and happier lives.

Banner image by Febyuka Azalia, Resourcing Assistant – Customer Development, Unilever Indonesia

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