Please tell us about yourself and your journey with Unilever.
I did my higher secondary at S.F.X Greenherald International School and finished my graduation from IBA, University of Dhaka. I have been working at Unilever since 2005, in the marketing department. In 2012, I was stationed in Mumbai for four years in an international assignment with Hindustan Unilever Limited. I returned to Unilever Bangladesh in 2017 and currently I am working as the marketing director for home care, foods and refreshment.
What is the current situation of children in Bangladesh? Why do you think outdoor play is important for children?
WHO recommends that every child should have at least one hour of outdoor play every day. Unfortunately, in Dhaka city, children do not get such access. But children nowadays are under so much pressure due to studies that their health and well-being often get neglected. Outdoor play ensures children’s well-being and happiness and helps them learn other important skills. Currently, for most children in Bangladesh, the major source of entertainment is indoor play involving mobile phones and tablets. Unfortunately, the benefits of outdoor play cannot be compensated by indoor play. Studies have shown that spending too much time on mobile games and YouTube videos, i.e. screen time, are giving rise to depression among children from a very young age.
Why is Surf Excel concerned about this issue?
Every brand of Unilever has a purpose which is linked with individual products. Surf Excel’s motto is “Dirt is good”. If getting dirty results in kids learning something, then dirt is definitely good. We believe that if children go outside and play together, dirt on their clothes is a mark of their adventure. But you need not worry because that tough dirt can be removed by Surf Excel.
What is the “Surf Excel Mukto Hok Shoishob” campaign about?
Children spend most of their time either studying or spending the short break they get glued to screens, which is very unhealthy. We initiated the Surf Excel Mukto Hok Shoishob campaign in September 2019, through which we wanted to raise awareness on the negative impacts of staying indoors and excessive screen exposure on children’s health and well-being.
We have talked to a lot of parents and key stakeholders, and have identified a lot of issues, the top three being lack of safety and security of children in playgrounds, limited access due to unavailability of nearby playgrounds and the pressure of studies. Through this campaign, we wanted to inspire a social movement and gather momentum around discussions about this social issue about which many parents are probably aware, yet they are not taking any action. We also encouraged parents to get into the practice of outdoor activities with their children so that they prevent their children from being overly exposed to devices.
What has been the impact so far?
The Mukto Hok Shoishob campaign is associated with our other initiative known as the Car Free Street. On the first Friday of every month, in association with Dhaka Transport Coordination Authority (DTCA) and the NGO, Work for a Better Bangladesh Trust, we close down Manik Mia Avenue from 8 am to 11 am, to allow children to play freely. We have a lot of activities designed for children there. Children can essentially ride bicycles, play badminton and take part in a lot of other creative activities, safely. We have reached more than four million people through our digital campaigns and 3,000 kids have participated in this initiative so far. We plan to expand this initiative to ensure that every child has access to playgrounds because only two percent of children residing in Dhaka have access to playgrounds.
What is the future plan with this campaign?
We need effective partnerships to tackle the prevailing challenges. We need more partners to come forward and help us get access to playgrounds, just like the Car Free Street initiative in partnership with DTCA and Work for a Better Bangladesh. This has been a challenge for some time now.
For example, we are trying to get school playgrounds leased out in the afternoons because once the school timing is over, they are usually free. The issue with the existing school playgrounds is that most of them are occupied by either some business or an area club, which does not allow the general public into the playgrounds. Unfortunately, it is not possible to fight this system right now. Hence, we have to find other playgrounds that are lying idle. That is something we are working on but again, we need coordination with schools and other partners to allow us to get into those schools, and also provide that security.
We have to invest in creating a model in popular areas such as Dhanmondi or Uttara, so that the community has access to a playground which is safe.
We need to reduce the pressure of education on children who are very young. Education and learning should be made enjoyable for children but we are far from making it happen. However, we do have a pledge to infuse the idea among parents that studies alone are not enough for the mental and physical growth of their children.
According to the World Economic Forum, 75 percent of new jobs that will be created in the next 10 to 20 years do not exist today. The skills needed for those jobs include creativity, team work, and problem-solving and critical thinking abilities, which cannot be taught theoretically. These are skills that children can start learning from an early stage through outdoor play. We are not focusing on such things in our country, and thus, lagging behind in making our children ready for the future. We need to create a balance, instead of putting most of our efforts into rote learning and memorisation.
Interview was taken by Maureen N. Cymin