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

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

Myriam Sidibe’s 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 Ph.D. 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.

When she completed her Ph.D., 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. She 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.

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

Miriam 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.

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.

It has been noted that since the start of her campaign, there has been a significant decrease in the child mortality rate. 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, much of whose credit can be attributed to Miriam’s initiatives. 

“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

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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