Unlocking transformational change through partnerships

We are committed to helping more than a billion people improve their health, hygiene and nutrition - and partnerships play a vital role.

Woman in a doorway in rural Africa

People all over the world face challenges to their health and well-being. Lack of access to safe drinking water and improved sanitation, poor hygiene, and hunger leave millions of people trapped in a debilitating cycle of ill health and diminished prospects, such as missed education and limited productivity.

We believe business has a critical role to play in addressing these global development challenges. Given our expertise in consumer behaviour change, our global reach, and our portfolio of health, hygiene and nutrition products, we are uniquely positioned to make a real difference.

Social purpose is at the heart of our business model, and we can both grow our business and drive the type of transformational change needed for a brighter future. However, achieving systemic and scalable change requires us to work in partnership with others who share our vision for a better world. Working with NGOs, UN agencies, civil society, and businesses, we believe that we can achieve Unilever’s ambition to help more than 1 billion people take action to improve their health and well-being by 2020.

Transforming people's health and hygiene through WASH

For millions of people around the world, lack of access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) can result in preventable diseases and sometimes death. For example, almost 1,000 children under five per day die from diarrhoeal diseases, while others are negatively impacted by related conditions such as stunting. 

As part of our Unilever Sustainable Living Plan (‘USLP’), we are working towards improving the health and wellbeing of more than 1 billion people. Together with our partners, we have helped to foster improved health and hygiene behaviours, which have resulted in fewer individuals defecating in the open, more people washing their hands with soap at key moments, and more people having access to safe drinking water. 

Lifebuoy, Pureit, Domestos, Signal, and Knorr, together with their partners, have helped nearly millions of people improve their health, hygiene, and nutrition by the end of 2015. 

Additionally, we have helped to create new business models that have fostered innovation, enhanced the livelihoods of local entrepreneurs, and increased demand for our products. These partnerships are instrumental to helping us deliver on our USLP commitments.

Case studies

Lifebuoy: hand washing saves lives

Lifebuoy is seeking to change the hygiene habits of one billion people by 2020, working with government agencies, NGOs and others by delivering handwashing education programmes that are proven to change behaviour and reduce preventable diseases such as diarrhoea and pneumonia.

Lifebuoy’s life-saving behaviour change education will also have an impact on several of the Global Goals for Sustainable Development, including goal 3 - Good Health and Well-being - and goal 6 - Clean Water and Sanitation. Read more...

With funding from the UK's Department for International Development, Lifebuoy is working with WaterAid, Plan, and Water & Sanitation for the Urban Poor to bring the Lifebuoy School of Five hand washing programme to children in Pakistan and Bangladesh. Together, the organisations reached 4.75 million children across 57 districts by the end of 2015.

Lifebuoy has also partnered with the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation to reach 5 million children in 28,000 schools in the Indian province of Bihar by 2020 with its Lifebuoy School of Five programme. Lifebuoy is also working with PSI – they are implementing the School of Five programme in Kenya, India and Vietnam and working with us to deliver the programme using interactive educational activities and mobile technology.

Approximately 6.3 million infants die in the developing world annually. However, many of these deaths could be prevented through simple, low-cost health interventions such as handwashing with soap. In an effort to address this crisis, Lifebuoy partnered with USAID and its Maternal & Child Survival Program to improve hand washing practices among birth attendants and family members and reduce the risk of newborn deaths caused by infection in Bangladesh, Indonesia and Kenya.

Domestos – sanitation and dignity for all

Domestos, Unilever’s leading toilet hygiene brand, is in the third year of its partnership with UNICEF, which promotes sanitation practices to improve the health and well-being of communities, helping to create demand for access to toilets, and ensuring adequate supply of sanitation products and services.

The partnership aims to eliminate the practice of open defecation by changing the sanitation behaviours of millions of people and by helping to ensure the availability of local resources and services in order to build affordable household toilets.

Since our partnership commenced in 2012, 1,320,000 people have been reached with behaviour change sanitation programmes. Of these, 655,000 people are now living in open defecation free communities, benefiting from improved health, safety and dignity. Our support is contributing to Unilever’s commitment to help 25 million people gain improved access to toilets by 2020.

Domestos, is also supporting the implementation of the Domestos Toilet Academy (‘the Academy’) model designed to provide sustainable and long-term solutions to sanitation that stimulate local economies while benefitting communities.

The Academy trains local sanitation entrepreneurs in creating a self-sustaining business focused on selling, constructing and maintaining toilets, as well as educating communities on the importance of sanitation. We are working with a number of partners to deliver the Domestos Toilet Academies, including PSI and a social enterprise eKutir. With PSI, we are implementing the model in Bihar, India, and we have implemented it in Vietnam with other partners. And through our work with eKutir, we have established Academics in Odisha, Mahrasthra and Madhya Pradesh. Through these initiatives we are facilitating financing for households to help them gain access cost-effective sanitation solutions and for entrepreneurs to help them build their business and enhance their livelihoods.

Through the Academies we have impacted 50,000 of people in India and Vietnam.

New business model to reach 100 million people in Africa & South Asia

'Transform,' is a five-year partnership with the UK's Department for International Development (DFID) and the Clinton Giustra Enterprise Partnership (CGEP) which aims to create jobs, increase incomes, and improve the health and well-being of 100 million people in developing countries by 2025. Read more …

‘Transform’ is the first initiative to be launched since Unilever and DFID committed to working together in a more strategic and coordinated way to help the world’s poor in 2014 – the first partnership of its kind between a leading international business and DFID. Transform will fund and support a series of business and research projects, targeting low income households in developing countries, to create:

  • Transformative, and financially viable, social businesses that deliver WASH and domestic energy benefits
  • Research that informs how businesses can deliver more effective behaviour change.

The Clinton Guistra Enterprise Partnership is a partner in ‘Transform’, bringing its expertise in supply chain and last-mile distribution to help deliver the businesses on the ground.

Pureit – access to safe drinking water

Despite the fact that since 1990, more than 2 billion people have gained access to improve sources of drinking water, 663 million people still lack access to safe drinking water.

Arsenic pollution in groundwater that is used for drinking purposes is a global issue, but the severity of the problem in India and Bangladesh is unprecedented. Today in India, through our brand Pureit, we are offering arsenic purifiers to 23,000 members of a self-help group via micro-financing. The repayments from the loans are being used to replenish the stock of Pureit inventory to continue bringing safe drinking water to others in need.

By the end of 2014, Pureit had dispensed 65.9 billion litres of safe drinking water and reached 55 million people globally, on its way to achieving its target of providing 150 billion litres of safe drinking water by 2020.

Striving for zero hunger and improving nutrition across the value chain

In a world in which an estimated 795 million people go to bed hungry - and one in four people lack basic nutrients - there is a clear need for action. Knorr, one of Unilever’s largest food brands, is partnering with leading organisations to end hunger and improve nutrition, while improving food security and promoting sustainable agriculture.

These partnerships aim to improve nutrition across our entire value chain. We work with smallholder farmers in partnership with NGOs such as GAIN (Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition), GIZ (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit GmbH), and Save the Children, to improve their food security and nutrition. You can read more about some of these partnerships in the Enhancing Livelihoods section.

We collaborate with numerous partners including GAIN, Population Services International (PSI), the Society for Family Health (SFH), the Growing Business Foundation (GBF), and Bottom of the Pyramid Institute (BOP Inc), to develop inclusive distribution models promoting nutritious diets. This programme is part of the Amsterdam Initiative against malnutrition (AIM), a public-private partnership helping to combat malnutrition. Unilever is a founding member of this initiative.

We are committed to the Zero Hunger Challenge - and we have longstanding partnerships with the UN World Food Programme (WFP), in which we have invested more than $30 million of support since 2007, providing around 120 million meals to children across the globe. Working with WFP, we have created transformative partnership models, such as Project Laser Beam - a multi-stakeholder approach to tackling both direct and underlying causes of child undernutrition holistically, impacting 2.9 million people in Bangladesh and Indonesia. A comprehensive learning paper on the partnership has been published and the learnings shared widely through the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) movement, which Unilever is part of. Read the full report on Project Laser Beam’s achievements and learnings (PDF | 4MB).

As with all our partnerships, we harness the reach and capability of the world's leading brands to support our nutrition ambitions. Knorr, for example, has joined forces with WFP in a programme to improve the nutritional status of adolescents, so that they can grow up to be the change-makers of tomorrow - break the cycle of poverty.

Knorr - working with WFP to nourish the change-makers of tomorrow

Together Knorr, as one of the world’s largest cooking brands, and WFP, the world’s largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger worldwide, are partnering to nourish the adolescents of today, particularly girls whose needs are often overlooked, so they can become the change-makers of tomorrow - in their families and communities.

The partnership is based on the recognition that access to nutritious food and the ability to pursue an education helps adolescents break the cycle of poverty and ensure their own families are able to build a brighter future.

It aims to ensure more adolescents get the nutritious food they need in school and the opportunity to continue their education, to help them focus on good nutrition throughout their lives, and help others by building momentum so that all adolescents get the support they need to thrive.

The partnership delivers in many different ways - for example, the Home Grown School Meal Programme helps smallholder farmers increase the quality and quantity of their crops, which can then be sold to local schools' meals programmes, creating sustainable markets for the farmers and nutritious school meals that provide a strong incentive for children to attend class and stay in school.

Since 2007 Unilever has provided $30 million of support to WFP. In 2015 alone, this support has enabled WFP to provide over 7 million school meals in countries including Indonesia, Kenya, Colombia Myanmar and the Philippines.

Providing frontline healing

There are many other ways in which our brands can have a positive impact on society through partnerships, while simultaneously contributing to Unilever’s business growth.

Vaseline®, for example, has embarked on a mission in partnership with Direct Relief, a humanitarian aid organisation dedicated to improving the health and lives of people affected by poverty and emergency situations. Through our partnership, The Vaseline® Healing Project, we aim to help heal the skin of 5 million people by 2020.

For people living in areas of crisis or disaster, the simplest skin conditions can turn into serious issues that make it hard to do the most basic everyday things. According to a survey by Direct Relief, 67% of health workers on the frontline say that preventable skin conditions keep people from doing ordinary things like attending work or school.

In an effort to bring dermatological care to these individuals, Vaseline® is drawing on its more than 140 years of expertise in keeping skin healthy - and the Vaseline® Healing Project harnesses the scale and trusted capability of the brand to help those who need it. The Vaseline® Healing Project has donated over 1 million Vaseline® products to individuals through Direct Relief’s partner network of clinics and hospitals worldwide.

Additionally, the Vaseline® Healing Project is deploying skin health training to local health care workers and sending teams of dermatologists and doctors on medical missions equipped with medicines, supplies and Vaseline® products. In 2015, the Vaseline® Healing Project’s missions reached individuals afflicted by natural disasters, as well those living in refugee camps and rural areas.

The Vaseline® Healing Project also invites mainstream consumers to make a difference by building relief kits to help individuals in need.

1. Based on an internal survey of 127 of Direct Relief’s partner clinics, across 39 countries globally

The global challenge: in numbers

2.4 billion people lack access to improved sanitation1

805 million people go hungry every day2

663 million people lack access to an improved drinking water source3

443 million school days are lost each year through lack of safe water, sanitation and hygiene4

More than 340,000 children under five die annually from diarrhoeal diseases due to poor sanitation, poor hygiene, or unsafe drinking water5

Our health & well-being targets for 2020

  • Help change the hygiene behaviour of 1 billion people by promoting the benefits of handwashing with soap at key times
  • Help 25 million people gain improved access to a toilet
  • Provide 150 billion litres of safe drinking water
  • Help hundreds of millions of people to enjoy great food and achieve healthier diets
  • Help heal the skin of 5 million people living in vulnerable conditions by the year 2020.

1World Health Organization, Lack of sanitation for 2.4 billion people is undermining health improvements, http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2015/jmp-report/en/ 

2World Food Programme, Hunger Statistics, https://www.wfp.org/hunger/stats

3WHO-UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme Report 2015, Progress on Sanitation and Drinking Water, http://www.wssinfo.org/fileadmin/user_upload/resources/JMP-Update-report-2015_English.pdf

4The World Bank, Sanitation: Facts, Figures, Resources, http://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/sanitation/brief/sanitation-facts-figures-resources

5WHO-UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme Report 2015, Progress on Sanitation and Drinking Water, http://www.wssinfo.org/fileadmin/user_upload/resources/JMP-Update-report-2015_English.pdf

Back to top