At 3M we seek to observe, understand and solve. What we believe is simple: We are people committed to helping other people. Every day we help tackle problems, big and small, in pursuit of our vision to improve every life.

Supporting better hygiene habits in rural communities

February 5, 2020

A Vietnamese organization called HappyTap donates a handwashing station to rural communities for each one purchased. 3M employee Kris Hansen traveled to Ho Chi Minh to help launch its new product and program.

Young girl in rural area washing her hands in with a simple sink.

You probably don’t think of washing your hands as a lifesaving activity. But for children in rural Vietnam, it could be one key to survival.

The most common causes of death for these kids are diarrhea and pneumonia — two preventable diseases primarily linked to poor personal sanitation habits. 

Kris Hansen, Lab Manager, Transportation Safety Division — 3M Corporate Headquarters, visited Ho Chi Minh to spread access to basic hygiene needs. Hansen and her 3M teammates worked with the startup for-profit company HappyTap, whose mission is to bring better handwashing habits and infrastructure to rural communities.

During the two-week project, Hansen and her team helped HappyTap develop an effective product launch campaign to sell the handwashing stations to families living in cities where handwashing infrastructure is already in place. For each handwashing station that was purchased, one could be donated to a community that needed better handwashing infrastructure. 

The team also helped HappyTap develop other avenues to generate interest in its mission by writing an investment package and creating a donation model that would allow HappyTap to solicit individual donations from private donors in countries other than Vietnam.

Although many of her technical skills and expertise didn’t directly apply to her team’s project, Hansen was able to focus on developing different soft skills, like learning to be patient and thinking creatively, during her time in Ho Chi Minh. 

In her day-to-day work in Maplewood, Minn., Hansen provides technical and operational leadership to 3M’s Priority Growth Platforms program called Connected Roads, which develops roadway infrastructure solutions for automated vehicles. And while her role during 3M Impact was technically very different from her day-to-day job, she faced many of the same challenges. Some of these include trying to develop a solution for a problem that is not completely defined, working closely and intensely with a cross-functional team made up of individuals with very different perspectives, and identifying gaps and stepping out of her comfort zone to address them to move the team forward. 

“Before my trip, I thought of 3M Impact as a 3M outreach program — a way for 3M to affect positive change in a way that isn’t just financial,” Hansen shared. “Through my time in Vietnam, what I came to appreciate is that 3M’s real investment was in employees like me. That’s because my time working in Vietnam was the most impactful personal and professional development experience I’ve ever had.”

“My time working in Vietnam was the most impactful personal and professional development experience I’ve ever had.”

– Kris Hansen, Lab Manager

“There is a Vietnamese proverb: Eat slowly, it is good for the stomach; plow deeply, it is good for the fields. I sure hope my time in Vietnam did some good for the fields; my experiences in Vietnam plowed deeply in me and I am forever changed,” Hansen said. “I am so proud to work for a company that is willing to invest in me and in the mission of making a difference around the globe.” 

About 3M Impact

When asked why they love to work for 3M, many employees reply that they get to make a difference in the world every day. To draw on this passion, 3M offers 3M Impact, a program where teams of 3Mers travel to communities around the world to spend two immersive weeks collaborating with local organizations to contribute to a solution for a pressing social or environmental issue.

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