Keith Weed: A Bright Future For All - Building Our Business Responsibly


By Keith Weed, Chief Marketing & Communications Officer, Unilever


Every day, when watching the news and checking the social channels, we see pictures and read stories of famine and floods, droughts and demonstrations, confronting us with the effects of increasing resource scarcity, climate change, food security, civil unrest and poverty. We see the increasing numbers of people left behind.


Many wonder how on earth we all are going to address these challenges. They feel overwhelming and confusing. This can sometimes feel very depressing, but we should not lose sight of the fact that there is also plenty of ‘good’ to write home about. We’ve succeeded in nearly halving child mortality rates since 1990, for example, and polio cases have decreased by more than 99 percent since 1988.  The positive impact of the Millennium Development Goals exceeded expectations. Hundreds of millions now have access to basic essentials like clean water, healthcare, and education, and significant strides have been made tackling communicable diseases, e.g. HIV and malaria.


These are very promising developments, but we should aim higher, must go further and create a bright future for all. We firmly believe we should focus on zero poverty, zero child mortality and 100% primary education. Responsible business understands this well and sees, more and more, that the cost of inaction exceeds the cost of action. Responsible business also understands that it has to be part of the solution and not a bystander in a system that gives it life in the first place. Business is well placed to help meet the challenges of food security, poor sanitation, disease and environmental degradation.  It has the technology, skills in innovation, and, above all, geographic reach which enables it to deliver on the ground. However, the issues of poverty, food-security, climate change have simply become too complex for any one company or government, however powerful, to tackle alone. We need new partnerships.


At Unilever, we aim to double the size of our business while reducing our environmental footprint and increasing our positive social impact. To help drive the type of transformational change necessary to improve people’s lives and grow our business, we launched the Unilever Foundation in 2012.  The Unilever Foundation’s mission is to improve quality of life through the provision of hygiene, sanitation, access to safe drinking water and basic nutrition and by enhancing self-esteem. Additionally, it is one important action we are taking to meet the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan’s ambitious goal of helping more than one billion people improve their health and well-being while creating a sustainable future.


The Foundation is partnering with five leading global organisations – Oxfam, Population Services International (PSI), Save the Children, UNICEF and the World Food Programme. Working together, we are able to leverage our unique capabilities and strengths to expand the delivery of life-saving solutions and contribute to systemic and scalable social change. In addition to the core initiatives we support, we are working together on disaster and emergency response pilot programmes with Save the Children, UNICEF and the World Food Programme.


The Foundation has made good progress in its first year.  We have positively impacted the lives of more than 14.5 million people[1] via:  creating multi-faceted partnerships with the aforementioned five leading global organizations; connecting with consumers on social issues through brands they know and trust, such as Domestos, Knorr, Pureit, Signal, and Walls; advocating for policies designed to address some of today’s global health challenges; providing critical resources in response to emergencies and ongoing community needs; supporting programmes in communities where we live and work; and identifying new ways to engage our employees in important social issues. You can find the full report here.


One example of how we activate our Foundation is the partnership with UNICEF to help hundreds of thousands of people in need gain improved access to basic sanitation by supporting UNICEF’s Community Approaches to Total Sanitation (‘CATS’) programme. Another example is a pilot we’re running in India to train local women to become waterworkers. Waterworkers provide education about the benefits of clean drinking water and distribute life-saving Pureit water purifiers and sachets to families in need. I visited a rural village called Gunga just outside Bhopal town in Madhya Pradesh. There were incredibly low income consumers with as many as eight people in a famlily living on less than a dollar a day. It’s incredible to see how a relatively small action can make a big difference and create a bright future.

The impact of our Foundation work reinforces my firm conviction of the power of partnerships; it’s a privilege to work with some of the best in the field. Additionally, I am proud of the notion that you can work for a business to earn money, build a career and also do it in a better way that is significant.

We have learnt a lot that has helped Unilever’s commitment to being a force for good, as building a better society goes hand-in-hand with building a more sustainable business. However, we know more can be done. 
There has never been a better time to create a bright future for all. Will you join? Check

[1] The number of lives positively impacted is based on actual reported beneficiaries and estimates of planned outcomes by our global and local partners associated with funds disbursed in 2012, as well as Lifebuoy’s School of Five programme methodology where applicable.

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Comment by Ashoka on November 26, 2013 at 9:44

Fantastic initiative from Unilever! 

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