Turning the tides on child drowning
Rebecca Wear Robinson
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Jabari™© – The Global Face of Water Safety.

by Rebecca Wear Robinson on December 5, 2012

AIDS has the red ribbon. Breast cancer has the pink ribbon. Drowning prevention has….nothing. Don’t start scrambling to find the right ribbon color, they are all taken. Besides, who knows what all the other colors stand for, except for the people who support each individual cause. It’s all ‘been there, done that’ copycats. If we are serious about drowning prevention and water safety, and specifically child safety around water, we can’t just follow the crowd, we need to be social innovators. We need to use social marketing* to draw awareness to the epidemic of child drowning. We need a positive symbol that can be used across social media and traditional media, that can be used to identify quality child safety products and innovative water safety games for children. We need a visual reminder of the the correct behavior around water. We need a positive symbol that reminds people that a global epidemic needs a global effort, and funding, to end the epidemic. We need a global face for a global epidemic. We need Jabari™©.

How do we use Jabari™©? Everywhere. Jabari™© needs to be embedded into all water safety messages. His picture on signs by beaches and pools. Included in water safety messages in social media and traditional media. On children’s water toys, life jackets, beach towels, swim caps, swim suits and board shorts. In books, DVDs, children’s television programming, and online video games. All with one goal – a consistent visual reminder to be aware around water, to enjoy the water by acting more safely around the water.

Why Jabari™© and not some other symbol? First and foremost, if we want people’s behavior around water to change, we must emphasize the joy inherent in water and help people realize that simple changes can have big results in terms of safety. We have to leverage joy and simplicity. Jabari™©, (pronounced ja-BAR-ee), the Swahili word for ‘brave, is a lion cub who embodies joy. With his board shorts, surfer-dude mane, and cheeky grin, he is one cool cub – someone you want to be friends with, hang out with, and be like. But lions don’t swim, so why use a lion as the global face for drowning prevention? A couple of reasons. First, we wanted a symbol that embodies the behavior that children aspire to and that would be widely recognized and respected across cultures and countries. Lions are universally recognized as king of the jungle, the very top of the animal kingdom food chain, exhibiting desirable characteristics of bravery and strength. They are leaders and positive role models. Second, as my then 7-year old pointed out, “why would you use an animal that already knows how to swim when kids don’t?”. Children know how they think, we need to listen to them. Children (and adults) would like to be strong, brave and do the right thing, but they know they usually fall short, which is why Jabari™© has a band of African animal friends representing the character traits children (and adults) generally identify in themselves. The clear message is that, regardless of how we act now, if we follow Jabari’s™© lead, we can learn how to be safer around water, and have fun.

I recently updated Jabari’s™© look based on recent research, but the academic, child development, education and marketing theory behind his initial development remains the same. For a full research-based explanation of Jabari™© and friends, click here.

We CAN end drowning if we harness theories of marketing, child development, human motivation, and change. Think of how successful the AIDS ribbon has been in raising awareness, attracting funding for viable solutions, and effectively reducing HIV transmission rates globally. They did it by changing unsafe behavior in a pleasurable activity (sex) into safer behavior, without losing the pleasure. Being in and around water is a primal, joyful human need as well. Let’s leverage our global symbol into creating safer behavior around water.

We can do it, we can positively change how the whole world acts around water.  So, let’s do it.

*Social Marketing:  Harnessing market forces to change behavior for the public good.

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