"Shakti means I paid off a debt I could see no way out of. "


Bringing women hope, meaning and income to tackle poverty

In a nutshell

Empowering women to become micro-entrepreneurs as a lever out of poverty.

What’s the issue?

Countries and regions with high levels of poverty typically have few opportunities – particularly for women – little hope, and reduced access to the FMCG products that make running a home easier. In Central American countries including El Salvador, 40 percent of the population lives at or below the poverty line. New, sustainable jobs are hard to find – especially for women, who are often excluded from the workforce. Bearing the brunt of poverty, any income that women can earn is critical for sustaining their homes and families.

The success of Project Shakti – empowering tens of thousands of women micro-entrepreneurs in rural India to become an extended part of Unilever’s salesforce – has set the high watermark for tackling both these challenges in a win-win-win for individuals, society and our business. The model has rewritten the rulebook on how to provide women in developing nations with meaningful, sustainable, gainful employment, and in so doing enabling Unilever to open up white spaces for distribution to new consumers.

What’s the story?

Unilever Middle America has introduced Project Shakti to El Salvador and Colombia, recruiting and empowering 1,000 women to become micro-entrepreneurs, selling its products directly to consumers, face-to-face and door-to-door.

Consider the story of Edelcy, a woman in her 50s from a suburban town near Cartagena in Colombia, heading a family of nine including five children, grandchildren and her husband. Building a one-woman retail operation from her humble, floorless home, from a standing start she is now selling more than €1,500 of products to neighbours and the local community each month. Her job has enabled her to pay off a debt that was crippling her household.

Access to decent work and a guaranteed minimum wage has helped to transform life for Edelcy and her family dependents, as it is doing for hundreds of other women in Colombia and Central America. As well as earning income to support their families, the project also significantly enhances women’s self-esteem and self-worth.

What are the outcomes and impact?

By providing employment for 1,000 women in Colombia and El Salvador, Project Shakti has generated an additional €150,000 incremental revenue for Unilever Middle Americas. The project has also been recognised by NGOs including UN Women – the global champion for gender equality – the Inter-American Development Bank and the Clinton Foundation.

What are the future plans?

To build on the success of this pilot project and make Project Shakti “the new normal” for tackling poverty through market development in Central America.

In Summary

Juan Céspedes, CD Manager for Social Channels at Unilever Middle Americas, says: “We are looking to extend Project Shakti to communities and countries right across Central America. We’ve taken an established model, made it relevant for our region, and are empowering women – and their families – out of poverty.”

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