Myriam runs the world’s biggest behaviour change programme in handwashing.
HANDWASHING CAN SAVE LIVES
As Global Social Mission Director for Lifebuoy, Myriam Sidibe leads a movement that has reached 183 million people in more than 16 countries.
More than 6.6 million children die before their fifth birthday every year from preventable diseases such as diarrhoea and pneumonia. Myriam’s work centres on getting people to understand the importance of a simple product she describes as the best invention in public health: a bar of soap.
“Handwashing can save lives – and brands have a responsibility to do good in the places where they are sold,” she explains.
“My team’s ambition is to get 1 billion people to change their handwashing habits by 2020, and we’re driving the right kind of partnerships and market development models to get there.”
PERFECT FOR THE JOB
It’s a big job, but Myriam’s background has equipped her with the knowledge she needs to drive positive change. In 1999, she graduated with a PhD on the topic of handwashing with soap – making her the only person in the world with a doctorate in the subject. She’s been focused on the issue ever since.
“We know soap can remove disease-causing germs and in turn prevent disease, but we need to get people to use it much more often. Behavioural change is such a powerful tool and at Unilever our marketing teams can help us deliver the handwashing with soap message in a way that really makes an impact,” she says.
“The most memorable achievement for me so far has been the creation of Global Handwashing Day, which is celebrated on 15 October, and its evolution over the years. At the last count we had 200 million people in 53 countries involved in the event, where they learned about the significant health benefits of handwashing with soap. I’m extremely proud of that.”
REACHING NEW AUDIENCES
Studies indicate that promoting handwashing with soap with may be the most cost-effective way to prevent child mortality, saving 600,000 lives a year.
But for handwashing with soap to become commonplace around the world, the message needs to spread. Myriam believes speaking about her work at the TED@Unilever event was a valuable way to reach a new audience.
“It’s vital that we don’t just talk to other businesses and NGOs about our work – we need to open up our ideas to as many people as we can and get them engaged,” she says.
“Handwashing isn’t meant to be done and driven by a small group of people. It should be a habit – something everyone does, several times a day, without even thinking about it.”