Collaborating through crisis

Katie McLean Emergency, Private sector

The exceptional circumstances caused by the pandemic have called for an exceptional response. Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, we have been harnessing our networks and collaborating with our private-sector partners such as Unilever, Burberry and ASOS to respond to the unique consequences of the crisis. 

We are fortunate to be met with generous support from many of our existing partners, such as the Co-operative BankOak Foundation and Ahmad Tea. But with charity shop closures, event cancellations, and the economic struggles faced by many of our supporters themselves, opportunities to generate the required funds for our projects have been significantly reduced.

COVID-19 has pushed us, and our partners, beyond our usual approach to programmes and emergency responses. Through this crisis we have cultivated new partnerships which have allowed us to help those most affected by the virus, and maintain our existing work with those who need help most.  

Unilever and DFID: expanding an existing partnership for a long-term response 

Five years ago, Oxfam and Unilever’s health soap Lifebuoy partnered to create ‘Mum’s Magic Hands‘ (MMH), an innovative handwashing behaviour change programme. Building on Oxfam’s expertise in public health and humanitarian response and Lifebuoy’s behaviour change and marketing expertise, Mum’s Magic Hands uses story-telling, interactivity and emotional nudges to encourage handwashing with soap at key times for caregivers, their families and communities.  

Since the programme’s inception, it has reached thousands of participants, including in the aftermath of disasters like earthquakes and flooding. With its emphasis on handwashing to limit the spread of disease, Mum’s Magic Hands has now been adapted for use as part of Oxfam’s COVID-19 response around the world.  

This includes our 12-month programme in Nepal and the Philippines to positively impact the hygiene and health behaviours of over 525,000 people. This was part of the joint initiative between the UK Department for International Development and Unilever to form a coalition of international NGOs to tackle the spread of coronavirus.  

Targeting the most vulnerable regions of Nepal and the Philippines, Oxfam and our local partners will deliver Mum’s Magic Hands to local communities, alongside the installation of handwashing facilities and wider communication of health and hygiene information. This will be through social media, local radio and mobile messaging. 

Through Mum’s Magic Hands, we’ll also be shining a light on the roles of men and women in caregiving. This will help improve gender norms from the community to the regional level and promote gender-inclusive health policy in the long-term. 

Through the Unilever-DFID coalition, we’re able to combine skills and resources across the public and private sector to enable more scalability than any organisation would be able to achieve alone. For example, thanks to Unilever’s influence, several other NGOs are going to be using MMH as part of their COVID-19 response.  

Burberry: Sharing resources for immediate solutions 

Earlier this year, many of the worst effects of the pandemic were being felt in Italy. This is one of the regions which our partner the Burberry Foundation operates. 

In quick response, Burberry used their expertise in manufacturing to repurpose their existing equipment and produce PPE masks to contribute to the COVID-19 response. These were distributed not only in Italy, but around the world. Oxfam’s logistics and channels were used to help deliver the PPE to where it was needed most.  

Burberry PPE has now been used in the frontline responses of many organisations, including the NHS, the Red Cross and Oxfam. In May, Oxfam Italy received 2,000 PPE masks to support their frontline COVID-19 response in country. These masks were distributed to a large hospital in Florence, Careggi, which Oxfam were supporting.

In June, Oxfam teams in Asia received 40,000 PPE masks from Burberry to support their COVID-19 community outreach. The masks are benefitting families, street cleaners, and vulnerable groups including refugees and asylum seekers. 

The distribution was funded through contributions from Burberry themselves. They set up a fund through The Burberry Foundation, within which staff and suppliers could contribute towards COVID-19 relief efforts and could fund emergency PPE distributions. This partnership was not only a creative use of Burberry’s skills, and our resources, but demonstrative of the company’s generosity. 

ASOS: a new partnership for our COVID-19 Response Fund 

Our Coronavirus Emergency Response Appeal has received huge support from both individuals, organisations, and additionally, from a new partnership with the online fashion retailer, ASOS. As face coverings have become an ‘essential’ item for millions of people, demand for face masks in every style has increased.

During June and July, ASOS committed to donating £1 for every face-covering they sold to our Coronavirus appeal. Every face-covering purchased from ASOS would not only help to protect the wearer but also support vulnerable communities around the world.  

The partnership originally aimed to raise £75,000 but this was soon exceeded and the final amount total was £230,000. In real terms, this could help Oxfam to provide 23,000 hygiene kits containing life-saving items for families. Until a vaccine is created and rolled out globally, improved sanitation will be crucial in limiting the impact of COVID-19 on the most vulnerable communities. As such, the funds donated to Oxfam through the ASOS partnership will be invaluable.  

COVID-19 has caused challenges and uncertainty for every sector. By finding new ways to work together, we have been able to generate innovative responses to a pandemic which demands them. Expanding and reshaping our existing partnerships, and even creating new ones, has allowed us to find ways to collaborate effectively through the crisis.  


Katie McLean