Empowering and creating livelihoods for women

In a nutshell

Empowering women to become micro-entrepreneurs across rural India.

What’s the issue?

Many women are excluded from the benefits of employment. For while they make up 60 percent of the world’s workforce, they only receive 10 percent of the world’s income. Excluding women from the benefits of employment not only leaves them materially worse off. It can also have seriously negative impacts on self-esteem and self-confidence. Empowering women to actively benefit financially from work not only creates regular income. There are ripple effects, with women typically reinvesting 90 percent of their income in their families.

What’s the story?

Shakti is the Sanskrit word for “power” or “empowerment”, and in Hindu tradition Shakti is the personification of divine, feminine, creative power. Starting as a pilot in the early 2000s, Project Shakti has built a generation of tens of thousands of Shakti Ammas who sell Unilever products in the villages of rural India. The programme delivers meaningful, sustainable employment. It provides women with the accounting, sales and IT skills they need to develop an entrepreneurial mindset and make themselves financially independent and personally empowered. This enhances self-esteem and feelings of self-worth within their communities and broader society.

What’s more, Project Shakti has extended Unilever’s salesforce into the previously hard-to-reach rural heart of India, enabling local women with local knowledge and profile to sell home-to-home, on foot, to a new generation of consumers in and around their villages.

What are the outcomes and impact?

70,000 Shakti Ammas have been recruited so far. Together with nearly 50,000 Shaktimaans – typically the husbands or brothers of the Shakti Ammas who sell products on bicycles further afield – they reach 162,000 villages and more than 4MM rural households. Shakti Ammas typically earn more than Rs 1,000 a month. Currently, they contribute €250MM of Unilever India’s revenue, and sales growth has been consistently 12-14 percent per year over the past decade.

Both Unilever and Project Shakti were singled out for praise recently in the Harvard Business Review. The article summarised a new book from Professor Vijay Mahajan from the University of Texas at Austin entitled Rise of Rural Consumers in Developing Countries. Find out more here.

What are the future plans?

Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan aims to enhance the livelihoods of five million women around the world by 2020, as we grow our business. The success of Project Shakti as Unilever’s flagship micro-entrepreneurship programme is now being replicated and rolled out to other markets such as Colombia, Nigeria, and Egypt.

In Summary

Badri Narayanan, Global VP of Customer Development, concludes: “We have empowered more than 70,000 women in rural India to become an extended part of Unilever’s salesforce, selling home-to-home to consumers and also in and around the village. These women not only now earn income to support the families but have significantly enhanced self-esteem and self-worth.”

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