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It’s no exaggeration to say technology is changing the world. From big data to bots, smartphones to space tourism, the way people access and interact with tech is evolving at a rapid rate.

So how can we harness the opportunities all this presents for sustainability?

At Unilever, our mission is to make sustainable living commonplace – and when it comes to doing so through technology, we’re starting with our very own value chain.

Scaling up solutions

Our in-house IT experts are collaborating with our Chief Sustainability Office and partners across the business and externally to make advanced technology accessible in communities all over the world.

Together they’re scoping out and scaling up technologies that help smallholder farmers and micro-retailers work in a way that will improve their livelihoods long term.

“The CSO has a strong focus on supporting partnerships for new high-impact business models,” explains Global Director of Innovation and New Business Models Clive Allison.

“Many of these require a digital angle where leveraging Unilever’s strength and scale in this area makes absolute sense.”

“The Sustainable Business Technology team are building a toolkit of digital technologies that can be utilised by colleagues across the business to deliver sustainable growth,” adds Courtney Holm, Sustainable Business Technology, Global IT Innovation Manager.

“Every day we are using technology and innovation to make sustainable living commonplace.”

Here are three such examples…

1. The RISE Sales Academy

RISE aims to help 5 million small-scale retailers improve their business skills by 2020.

The programme was developed by Unilever’s tech teams to provide retailers in rural communities with access to the RISE Academy – a learning app that’s designed to work on mobile phones in low bandwidth locations, or offline via video courses.

Through the app, retailers can find courses covering subjects from customer service to marketing and self-confidence. Local Customer Development community managers from Unilever will also support RISE students with training and advice.

“This is about empowering retailers to take their businesses forward,” explains Global Partnerships and Advocacy Manager Bukunmi Akinseye.

“We’re launching a pilot programme with retailers in Nigeria in September 2018, before reaching more communities in Sri Lanka and the Philippines later this year.”

2. The Cuppa Tea programme

Unilever is the world’s largest producer of black tea. With increasing threats from climate change, crop disease and pests, we need to future-proof our business and the livelihoods of the thousands of people who work on our plantations.

The Cuppa Tea programme was designed by our IT and R&D teams in partnership with Microsoft and Cranfield University, to maximise production from our tea estates sustainably.

Scheduled to pilot in Kericho, Kenya, in October 2018, the project will install low-cost sensors across plantations, enabling estate managers to capture real-time data about the tea fields.

It means they can allocate tea-pickers to the right place at the right time and know exactly which field to harvest and when to get the best possible yield and quality.

If the Kericho pilot programme proves a success we plan to scale Cuppa Tea up to plantations in Rwanda and Tanzania too. Over the next ten years, we estimate this could increase yields by 50%.

3. Jaza Duka (translates as ‘fill up your store’)

Unilever IT and CSO teams partnered with Mastercard and Kenya Commercial Bank to develop Jaza Duka – a programme which enables small-scale retailers and distributors to use digital payments instead of cash.

Around the world, 1.7 billion adults don’t have a bank account. They can’t therefore access low-cost credit or save securely for their future. And for someone running a small business, it means the only way they can make or receive payments is in cash.

Jaza Duka aims to change the system. The teams behind the project developed a platform providing working capital to small business, with credit available based on merchants’ history of purchases from Unilever.

Since Jaza Duka’s launch in Kenya in August 2017, retailers who accessed short-term credit via the programme have increased their sales by 20% on average within the first six months.

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