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Inventing a hand signal to save lives: Signal for Help

In the early days of the pandemic, we saw a dramatic increase of gender-based violence in countries that went into lockdown. This increase in violence against women was among the grim headlines we were all collectively doom scrolling.

The Canadian Women’s Foundation was bracing for a surge of violence in the weeks and months to come as the virus made its way to Canada. As one of the largest women’s foundations in the world, the Canadian Women's Foundation was uniquely positioned to act quickly, with credibility in response to this crisis.

To equip women in danger with a way to seek support while locked down at home, we developed a hand gesture as a silent call for help, to be used without leaving a digital trace, during our new lives filled with video calls.

With no media budget available, we purposely built a campaign for social media: our options for amplifying the message were limited. But we were confident that with the volume of time and the attention people were paying to social media, the message would travel and garner attention with every share. People were aware of the increase in violence against women and sharing Signal for Help would make it easy for them to help.

An instructional social media toolkit (#SignalforHelp) was designed to showcase the hand signal, and link back to the Canadian Women's Foundation's site, where everyone could access it for personal sharing.

The campaign was an instant viral success:

  • Launched through social, targeting 200+ women’s groups globally.
  • 1410 media outlets, 20 different languages.
  • $31M+ earned media with $0 in paid media.
  • 3.69B earned impressions.


● Cannes Lion winner; Gold Glass, PR Silver, and Effectiveness Bronze. ● “Best in Show” at the Marketing Awards. ● Effie Grand Prix winner; 3x gold and 1x silver. ● ADCC winner; 2x gold 2x silver. ● LIA winner; gold.