Hand Washing Angels, A High-Impact Social Initiative

Royalgate School Banner Royalgate School Banner
Victor Cegarra Palao
Global Marketing Director | Strategy Office – Personal Care, Infection Prevention & Healthcare
Jul 01, 2021

Can we change children’s hygiene behavior for the good and make handwashing a beautiful ritual? Yes we can. Handwashing with soap is one of the simplest ways to help keep children healthy. Hand hygiene is also one of the prioritized topics on public health agendas worldwide. The World Health Organization raises awareness of the importance of hand hygiene and its impact in preventing the spread of infectious diseases through campaigns such as “Clean Hands Save Lives”. Yet, according to UNICEF, today we see nearly 900 million children that have either limited or no hand washing service at their school and a staggering 47% of schools worldwide do not have handwashing facilities with soap and water.


Most children in developing countries haven’t been raised with hand washing as a priority. Even with the increase in the accessibility of water and soap, it seems difficult to change habits and increase hand hygiene. Determined to break that vicious circle, a global team took a behavior point of view to build hand hygiene into a daily routine for young children. The team started the ‘Hand Washing Angels’ initiative late 2019 with a ‘blue and behavior’ design that involved over 4.000 handwash moments of children at the Royal Gate School, in Bondo, Kenya . 

Photo Collage

With the help of Diversey, a tailor-made prototype of blue foaming hand soap was developed to provide a new sensorial experience that increased the visibility of the hand washing process. In parallel a 7 step hand washing motivation approach was developed. The global team included nudging and behavior change techniques, applied them to hand washing, and put a habit building mechanism in place, to make daily hygiene habits become a reality. Furthermore the field study showed children’s excitement to be extended to the family behavior at home.


Based on the positive outcomes of this pilot, by end of 2019, the team is now aiming to scale across schools on the African continent, soon starting in Uganda. Paul Blankers, one of the team members who witnessed the full pilot at Royal Gate School remarked, “Helping them was nice, empowerment is what they need right now”. The development of the COVID-19 global pandemic, just a few months after the pilot was concluded, highlights the vital importance to make hand washing part of the daily routines among children all over the world and will hopefully help prevent infections.


This high-impact social initiative is a joint effort of Maastricht University | UMIO, Benthurst & Co and Diversey. Edward Huizenga, leading the program and professor on innovation and behavior change, remarks, “It is our belief that a passionate team effort leads to behavior change for the good that really works”. Diversey supports the initiative as part of the Creating Shared Value (CSV) program.