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Does Lifebuoy Have the Best Corporate Social Responsibility Program?

Sarah Steimer

My current nominee for the best social program ever is “Help A Child Reach 5,” a handwashing program sponsored by Unilever’s Lifebuoy soap, a brand that virtually disappeared from the U.S. a half century ago. Lifebuoy is far from dead internationally. The brand is dominating the market in India and other emerging countries and ranks fourth—falling only behind Coca-Cola, Colgate and Nestle’s Maggi food brand—among global brands, according to Kantar Worldpanel.

With “Help a Child Reach 5,” Lifebuoy’s mission is to save lives by spreading the importance of good handwashing habits around the world. The program’s mission is to get 1 billion people to develop better handwashing habits in order to prevent many of the 2 million deaths of kids under 5 that occur each year. The campaign is driven by two facts from Lifebuoy: 1.) Every year, 2 million children fail to reach their fifth birthday because of illnesses like diarrhea and pneumonia. 2.) Handwashing with soap at key occasions can reduce diarrhea by 45% and pneumonia by 23% worldwide, thus reducing infant deaths substantially.    


A pivotal event in Lifebuoy’s “Help a Child Reach 5” effort was the implementation of a showcase program in Thesgora, a 1,500-home, diarrhea-prone Indian village. The program, which showed a reduction in diarrhea from 36% to 6%, helped Unilever decide to accelerate program expansion throughout India and in 24 other countries. 


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Sarah Steimer is managing editor of Marketing News. She may be reached at ssteimer@ama.org or on Twitter at @sarah_steimer.