Project Laser Beam
Unilever is helping to improve the lives of millions of people around the world through Project Laser Beam and sharing the learnings to bring an end to hunger.
Tackling undernutrition to save lives
The five-year project was founded by Unilever, the UN World Food Programme, DSM, Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) and Mondelez International in 2009 to help combat child undernutrition.
By the end of the programme in 2014, Project Laser Beam had reached 2.48 million people in Bangladesh and 424,000 people in Indonesia through a range of programmes designed to tackle both the direct and underlying causes of child undernutrition.
It worked across four key areas:
Providing access to water and sanitation
Improving health and hygiene
Enhancing livelihoods by providing income opportunities.
Project Laser Beam has also offered significant lessons which can be used in future programmes to improve the lives of poor communities around the world. Nutrition initiatives have already had an impact; since 2009 the number of people going to bed hungry each night has fallen from one in seven to one in nine in 2014. But more needs to be done.
Project Laser Beam in action
Project Laser Beam worked by scaling up successful existing solutions, rather than devising new ones, to help implement them quickly and efficiently in communities in need.
It brought together expertise from the public and private sectors, showing how partners can work together to have a significant and lasting impact on changing lives for the better.
Katja Freiwald, Partnerships Director at Unilever, says: “The partnership was described as transformative and ground-breaking at the time because of its innovative multi-sector approach, combining leading public and private sectors players. This enabled all partners to leverage both traditional development and market-based solutions to address child undernutrition.”
Unilever’s contribution to Project Laser Beam
Unilever has significantly contributed to the success of Project Laser Beam by implementing programmes such as Lifebuoy’s handwashing and a proven sales model called Aparajita, offering women employment and empowerment while giving communities better access to the basic products needed in daily life.
In addition, the Unilever Foundation has been working with leading partners in the sector to help drive progress. They include:
World Food Programme: Providing school meals to children to improve their nutritional status and encourage regular school attendance
WaterAid: Helping provide access to safe drinking water, sanitation facilities and hygiene training. This offered the enabling environment for live saving “Lifebuoy handwashing” campaigns
BRAC and JITA: Supporting programmes that uplift women from poverty through education, skills-based training and micro-financing opportunities
Friendship: Ensuring that mothers and their children receive family planning education, pre- and post-natal care, and primary health care
Read the full report (PDF | 5MB) on Project Laser Beam’s achievements and learnings.
Saving lives & building a brighter future
Child undernutrition accounts for 45% of deaths in children under five – equating to nearly three million deaths every year.*
Paul Polman, former Unilever CEO, says: “The cost of inaction in tackling stunting, malnutrition and hunger is far greater than the cost of action. Investment in nutrition can translate to a 2–3% increase in a nation’s GDP each year and will assist in breaking the cycle of poverty that traps families and nations. Simply put, it makes good business sense and results in positive social impact and greater equity for communities around the world – investment in nutrition is an investment in creating a brighter future for generations to come.”
Although Project Laser Beam ended this September 2014, Unilever and many partners will continue to improve child nutrition by supporting the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) movement.
Find out more about Unilever’s commitment to improving nutrition and read more about the lessons from the partnership.
*Maternal and child undernutrition and overweight in low income and middle income countries, Robert E Black, Cesar G Victora, Zulfiqar A Bhutta, Paul Christian, Mercedes de Onis et al, The Lancet, 3 August 2013 (Volume 382, Issue 9890, pages 427–451)