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Commitment Workshop: Influencing Behavior and Attitudes

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The ability to influence behavior can determine an initiative’s success or failure. Relevant messaging, communications, and educational tools that change basic habits and attitudes can multiply the reach and impact of a project. During this session, CGI members examined how progress can be made despite competing pressures and existing social norms, and discussed the importance of identifying both the cultural elements and traditions we want to leave behind and those that will help propel us into the future.

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Commitment Presentations & Remarks


Commitment: Bell Bajao Global Campaign (2010)

Presenter: Mallika Dutt, President and CEO, Breakthrough

Mallika Dutt of Breakthrough emphasized the use of culture to change culture. By focusing on a clear and simple solution that engages the whole population, even the most entrenched social norms can be changed. In the case of changing the social norms that surround the issue of violence against women, engaging social actors at the community level is key.


Commitment: Abandonment of Harmful Traditional Practices (2007)

Presenter: Molly Melching, Founder and Executive Director, Tostan

Molly Melching of Tostan examined the risks one takes when attempting to change a social norm. Change must come from within, thus emphasizing inclusion and reinforcing the sustainability of the change within the community. In establishing a new social norm, Melching identified three major guidelines for success: provide empowering education in the local language that informs and encourages dialogue around the subject; support organized diffusion of the idea by helping change-makers reach out to their friends and family in other communities; and make a public declaration where members of the social network can come together to announce the establishment of the new social norm.


Remark Maker: Miguel Pestana, Vice President, Global External Affairs, Unilever

Miguel Pestana of Unilever spoke to the importance of valuing sustainability as an integral element of all company processes. Pestana elaborated on the strength of positive over negative messaging, and on the impact of a consistent marketing message that is refreshed frequently. It’s not just about marketing communication; it’s about business strategy and foresight and the transformational partnerships that make change happen.


Group Discussion


• There is a tradeoff between research and doing something. Even far-sighted companies need to demonstrate progress in the near-term. NGOs that are accustomed to spending considerable time on research at the outset of a project need to bear this in mind when trying to partner with the private sector.

• Caretakers must see the value in the behavior change that is desired; their participation is key to creating real and lasting change for future generations.

• Too often, approaches focus on quick fixes. Policymakers and investors must be engaged for the long-run.

• Community mobilization as well as policy-level change requires the coordination of many pieces.

• marketplace doesn’t always reward good behavior. For business, moving away from charitable CSR to sustainable systems that reward people for doing the right thing, and decoupling from economic growth, is a real challenge.

• People tend to resistant change that is imposed on them. The individual must benefit and buy into the change. The concept of changing culture and not just the individual is a challenge of greater magnitude than many can imagine. At the corporate level, this can be done with compensation, but at the community level it is more difficult.


• Local understanding and capabilities are key success factors. Approaches must involve the local community.

• A two-way approach is needed in solution design. Success is found in working from the bottom up but also in working from the top down, recognizing the existing power structure and identifying the roadblocks that prevent effective policy changes.

• Unilever’s “Five Levers of Change” toolkit outlines the necessary steps for behavior change to succeed; behavior change must be 1) understood, 2) easy, 3) desirable, 4) rewarding, and 5) a habit. Unilever found that, in the case of teaching consumers to wash their hands to reduce the spread of diarrhea and other illness, it took 21 days of repetition and relearning for the new behavior to become a habit.

• Identifying and analyzing the distribution channel is important for the innovation of processes and approaches.

• Working with several neighboring communities simultaneously can be very valuable. Creating competition among communities can help identify those that make more receptive and engaged partners and foster local ownership and investment in the project, thereby increasing its effectiveness in the long-run.


• By starting with the community, and making people the subjects of the change rather than the objects, new opportunities will continue to be unlocked.

• Identifying community solutions, bringing back the lessons learned from the process, and reincorporating these lessons back into the process as it is still ongoing can lead to a continuum of successful program implementation.

• The private sector is successful in tailoring products for individuals, but there is much opportunity in the tailoring of products for specific community situations.


There are many challenges in developing effective programs and commitments that foster long-term social and behavior change, but leaders from across the spectrum are engaged in the process. Many lessons have been learned, including the need to balance research with action, involve and empower local communities, strategize multi-stakeholder coordination, adapt to changing technologies, and measure comprehensive outcomes. The core of behavior change is found in education; discovering that there is an international community striving for the same goals leads to excitement and empowerment. The individual becomes part of a larger movement and, sometimes for the first time, realizes their full potential as a member of society.


Session Facilitator:

Alexander Grashow, Chief Executive Officer, Cambridge Leadership Associations; Author, “Adaptive Leadership”