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When a disaster strikes… hygiene is a priority


At times of crisis and emergency, Lifebuoy regularly steps in with product donations to the population affected. But soap is just the first step to preventing widespread illness. The brand is now taking its role to the next level.

Aarti Daryanani

Every year, we recognise pioneering individuals within the company who have brought our values to life and truly embody what it means to be part of Unilever. Our 2018 Heroes with Impact have gone above and beyond their day-to-day jobs. Their stories paint a picture of passion, purpose and drive.

When a natural disaster strikes, there is a devastating impact on the lives of local people. Basic infrastructure is destroyed and people end up living in overcrowded settlements and camps. These are the perfect conditions for germs to breed, causing illnesses such as diarrhoea – which accounts for nearly 30% of deaths in children displaced by emergencies.

Unilever has a proud record of responding to emergencies and disasters. We help with product donations, such as Lifebuoy soap. Up till now, Lifebuoy’s response to emergencies has been to provide products and public service announcements to highlight the importance of using soap in the immediate aftermath of emergencies.

Supporting some of the world’s most vulnerable people

Aarti Daryanani, Lifebuoy Global Social Mission Lead and Unilever Hero, saw the need to go one step further. “Ensuring soap is available is crucial but is it really enough?” she asked. “Just because people own a bar of soap, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they will use it.”

Aarti realised that Lifebuoy’s brand purpose of saving lives was nowhere more relevant than in emergencies where illness is rampant and she understood the need to encourage new attitudes towards hygiene among these vulnerable people. This motivated her to create the world’s first-ever behaviour change programme customised for emergency settings with humanitarian organisation Oxfam.

“In partnership with Oxfam, we spent months carrying out in-depth research, understanding the lives of families who have lived through emergencies,” she explains. This led to the creation of Mum’s Magic Hands (MMH), a hygiene programme targeted at mothers.

“Through MMH we make the role of handwashing relevant, teaching mothers that good hygiene can enable children to grow up healthy despite the challenging circumstances they live in. We also provide mothers with tools to create an enabling environment for the practice of handwashing with soap.”

So what were the results?

Following the 2015 Nepal earthquake, MMH was rolled out in five of the most affected wards in the country. It led to an increase of 18% in handwashing with soap before eating; 17% before cooking; and 45% after using the toilet – proof of the resounding success of the programme.

Following this success, Aarti has created a repeatable model for MMH, enabling the programme to be deployed in over eight emergencies so far. She has worked with Oxfam to create an online toolkit, which is open-access and can be used by any humanitarian organisation wishing to deploy MMH.

Most recently, Lifebuoy has been active among the Rohingya refugees living in camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. In partnership with the NGO Friendship, Lifebuoy has taught 20,000 refugees about healthy hygiene habits. Aarti herself has visited the Rohingya refugee camps.

“This community has lived through atrocities and exile. I’m inspired by the fact that we can help alleviate some of their problems. MMH has encouraged mothers to break free from their often isolated and lonely routines, to work together towards a healthier life for themselves and their families,” she says.

“I’m really proud of what we’ve achieved as a brand in the space of emergencies. In a world that’s fragmented, it’s important to find your purpose and drive it with all your heart. In Lifebuoy we’re on a very powerful journey to build purpose into everything we do, and I’m extremely grateful to be a part of this journey. What we’ve done so far is truly amazing, but it’s just the beginning.”

Watch this short video to hear more from Aarti

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