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Global handwashing day: The idea behind world’s largest behavioral change program

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Ever wondered what led to the event ‘Global handwashing day’? An intrapreneur. Many companies have benefitted a ton by utilising the ideas of intrapreneurs. By successful Intrapreneurship programs like UQBATE, Inversation by SAP, Crowdcraft, BOXLAB, bCheck etc.

Unilever is a global company with over 400 brands selling consumer goods including food, drinks, cleaning products, and personal care items.

The idea behind Global handwashing day

Did you know – 6.5 million children each year never make it to their fifth birthday?

There is a myriad of reasons, with Diarrhea and Pneumonia being the top two killers of children under five. Yet most of these deaths could be prevented simply by using soap.

Yes, handwashing with soap. This is what Myriam Sidibe figured out while doing her PhD at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. In fact, Myriam is one of the only people in the world with a doctorate in public health focused on hand-washing with soap.

Making an idea a reality:

When she completed her PhD, instead of going to work for an NGO or public sector agency, she chose to join Unilever.  In her view, working with businesses was the best pathway to reaching people with information and access to this lifesaving product.

Myriam joined Unilever as the Global social mission director, and since then has been an integral part of the Lifebuoy brand team. She helped the soap salespeople understand the connections between their product and the lives saved. The intrapreneur also spent 14 years working with thousands of children understanding the most effective ways to get them to wash their hands with soap, on key occasions like before eating or after using the bathroom.

She led the Social Mission activity in 55 countries throughout Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America with the aim of changing the handwashing behaviours of one billion people by 2020 – making it the biggest hygiene behaviour change program in the world

Myriam also led the creation of  Global Handwashing Day, which recognizes the need to raise awareness of handwashing with soap as a simple but lifesaving habit that can prevent disease.

Where is Myriam Sidibe now

Myriam continues to represent Unilever and has collaborated with organizations such as Millennium Villages, the World Bank, PSI, WSUP, MCHIP, and USAID to educate people about the importance of handwashing with soap and run programs that help form healthy handwashing habits for life.

The child mortality rate decreased significantly since the start of the campaign.  From 93 deaths per 1000 live births in 1991 to 38 deaths per 1000 live births in 2021, there has been a 59% decrease in the under-five mortality rate. Miriam’s initiatives highly contributed to these. 

“It is your world and you will decide what you want it to be. If you are passionate and believe that you can make a difference, then you have a duty to get out there and do it. To whom much is given, much is expected!” – Myriam Sidibe

Learnings for Business Leaders:

Myriam Sidibe set an amazing example and a precedent for other intrapreneurs. In our view, she shares the spotlight with all the other intrapreneurs who have done amazing work, be it Nitin Prajanpe at HUL, Mr. Sivakumar at ITC, or George Swenson at 3M. 

These are just a few and there are countless others whose efforts changed the fortunes of their organization. Want to know the reason behind their success? Effective idea capture and implementation. And you can get that for your organization too. How? Get your hands on the best idea management software today.

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