CSR Special: Communicating For A Cause-The EkDesh Story

Read this interview with Ponam Kaul, former Head Marketing at Apple India and founder EkDesh.


Poonam Kaul is a passionate brand specialist with over two decades of leadership experience of driving integrated communications to build brands, influence policy, shape perceptions.

 In her last role as the Head Marketing at Apple India, she was responsible for building the Apple brand in India More recently, she has set up EkDesh, a communication platform to help the country battle COVID through robust behaviour change initiatives focussed on mask awareness and compliance. 

 In an interview with BW Applause and Everything Experiential, Kaul spoke about her vision for EkDesh and more.


Tell us about the EkDesh initiative- how was it conceptualised and what were its objectives?

EkDesh is a not-for-profit platform that was set up in March 2020 to help the country battle COVID through strong behaviour change led communication. It is an open platform that aims to create fact based, consistent, collaborative communication that can help connect with citizens and provide the stimuli for change.

Initially supported by ACT Grants to spread awareness among Indians on the importance of wearing masks, social distancing and hygiene, they have been at forefront of making mask wearing a habit under the umbrella initiative - #MaskingABillion.

Social media has been used extensively by EkDesh to drive behaviour change consistently over the last two years through very focussed communication interventions using digital media, new age digital platforms like Chingari, DailyHunt, Sharechat as well as interactive platforms like mCanvas to drive engagement.

In its early days ( Apr-May 2020), EkDesh launched #ApnaDeshApnaMask, to help build awareness and educate people about wearing home made masks, every time they step outside. At that time, this was a very critical ask from Govt to ensure that people do not start hoarding surgical masks as well as N95 masks that are reserved for healthcare workers.

The second stage of the initiative was aimed at driving 100% mask compliance. A nation wide survey, spread over 18 cities was initiated by EkDesh, to understand overall compliance around wearing of masks. There was a glaring gap between awareness and compliance amongst Indians with only 44% of Indians wearing a mask while awareness levels were at a high 90%.

The aim of the campaign was to nudge people to wear a mask every time they step out of their homes and also encourage others to do the same. The genesis of the idea was that the frontlines have changed from country borders to our neighbourhood and every citizen needs to step up and become a Corona Soldier – protect themselves and their families, the society they live in. A website was set up for citizens to take a pledge to become a Corona Soldier.

In Feb-Mar 2021, callousness around Covid safe behaviour was at its peak. “Revenge tourism” was being written about. Almost 200K people had lost their lives by then but most people had left caution behind. Therefore, the campaign was designed to remind people of the personal losses that lot of families had faced with “Apnon Ko Khone Ka Dukh”. Yet again, EkDesh pushed the pedal on masking by bringing emotions into a steady masking campaign and triggering a behaviour change. This phase was supported by Luminous Power Technologies.

When the second wave ravaged the country, almost every single person got impacted – everyone knew off someone who had lost their life. We lost young and old people while the healthcare infrastructure crashed. Post that, while vaccinations had started, it was important to show hope to people and that there will be light some day soon if we follow the Covid norms. Ek Desh, therefore, changed the narrative to drive vaccination and build hope amongst citizens that getting vaccinated and wearing a mask will help us go back to our pre-Covid era. Bill Gates and Melinda Foundation supported EkDesh in Phase 3 in what is touted to be the biggest behaviour change initiative in the country during Covid.

The social awareness campaign was divided into two impactful sub-campaigns #ApnaDeshApnaMask that introduced the concept of homemade masks to encourage Indians to make and wear masks for their safety and #IAmACoronaSoldier that focused on shifting gears to drive 100% mask compliance through various phases addressing inconvenience, disbelief to hitting at callousness in Phase 2 and later to building hope in Phase 3.

What were you trying to achieve from the campaigns and how successful did they eventually turned out to be ? 

EkDesh has been nudging people towards behaviour change communication over the last two years under its #MaskingABillion initiative. From addressing inconvenience, to later targeting carelessness and callousness that led to the second wave of COVID to finally painting hope in Phase 3. In the last phase, the narrative was also built to address vaccination as that helps us battle Covid and as we can see with the Omicron wave, the impact of the virus was relatively mild on vaccinated citizens. Therefore, the key message is no one is safe till everyone is safe. Vaccination must reach every person across the length and breadth of the country and at the same time, we need to follow the Covid safe norms – masking. As the tagline goes – Mask Ka Vaar, Corona Ki Haar.

What was the idea and the approach that you and your team followed to execute the campaign?

 Target various barriers around masking – inconvenience, discomfort in Phase 1 to empathising with loss in Phase 2 to painting hope in Phase 3 – all this by invoking a sense of responsibility layered with patriotism.

Collaborate with real life soldiers who always put duty first even in the face of extreme discomforts. An authentic appeal from them towards mask compliance as the only weapon of protection

 In terms of numbers what kind of an impact did the campaign create?

Qualitative – The perception towards masking has changed significantly. Compliance around masking moved from 44% to 60% in the top cities researched again. The campaigns have resulted in 23 Lakh + pledges by Indians to wear masks and act responsibly for the welfare of other citizens. The campaign has been successful in nudging people towards behavioural change and edging them towards acting on it. The EkDesh campaign is the only campaign to be listed on the Aarogya Setu app by the Govt. of India. This means that the impact generated by the campaign is magnifying and reaching millions of Indians.

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