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Unilever Launches New Phase Of Pandemic Relief Targeting Women-Owned Businesses and 'Education Gap'


Effort includes 250 fellowships for women-owned firms hurt by 'she-cession' plus retail partnerships in 10 cities to provide laptops and WiFi.

Unilever is launching the second phase of its United for America pandemic-relief campaign today, putting an added $5 million into efforts in 10 cities and focusing new efforts on the plight of women-owned businesses and children who lack computers or WiFi access for home schooling.

The do-good effort comes as consumer expectations rise for companies to take a more active role improving the daily lives for the people who buy their products. Unilever has long pushed so-called purpose marketing corporately and has stepped up efforts under CEO Alan Jope, who wants individual Unilever brands to adopt their own purpose programs too.

“Our focus is on supporting vulnerable groups,” says Rob Master, VP of media and digital engagement, in an interview. That includes women-owned businesses, which have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic “she-cession,” he says. So Unilever is joining the group Luminary to provide 250 fellowships for women-owned businesses, at least half of them owned by women of color and 50 in New York City.

Master says the focus is on cities and regions hit the hardest. To close the "education gap" for students without resources for learning at home, Unilever will work with retailers that include HEB in Houston, Dollar General in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and Vons in Los Angeles to provide computers and data plans. Other cities or regions receiving support include Minneapolis, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Detroit and New York City, and the Carolinas. Unilever and retailers will support Boys & Girls Clubs and other local organizations in several of those cities in providing in-person education programming, school supplies and other technology resources for students.

“We’re shifting from the relief component to the rebuilding component” of the campaign, Master says.

The second phase will bring Unilever’s donations of cash and goods in the U.S. to $25 million, part of a global campaign of more than $100 million launched in March, and including a May 21 Day of Service in which all the essential goods Unilever produced in the U.S. for the day were distributed to Feeding America and Direct Relief. 

The marketer of Dove, Axe, Ben & Jerry's and Seventh Generation also pledged in March to expedite more than $500 million in payments to small and medium-size businesses or extend supply-chain financing. That included capping payment terms at 60 days for smaller marketing-services firms, according to people familiar with the matter.

Unilever has enlisted United for America support from 96 media, marketing, law and transportation companies and organizations including Interpublic, VaynerX, Pinterest, SiriusXM, Meredith, Conde Nast, Edelman, Loeb & Loeb and J.B. Hunt Transport among others. Master, who himself survived a bout of COVID-19 in March, spent May 21 in part donating blood for a treatment study by Albert Einstein College of Medicine, he says. 

Thousands of other employees from Unilever and those firms as well as consumers pitched in with volunteer hours too, Master says. That included using an app that converts digital writing into handwritten paper notes to craft 11,000 thank-you notes to essential workers at Feeding America and other organizations nationwide.

United for America campaign advertising has aimed at “a much more positive tone” than much of the “doom and gloom wallpapering effect” of much pandemic advertising, Master says. Jackie DeShannon, whose “Put a Little Love in Your Heart” was the soundtrack for a video behind the May Day of Service, reached out to Master when she saw the storyboards for the ad and “was so moved by the program that she did a video for our town hall,” he says.


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