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  4. Becoming a micro-entrepreneur in rural Colombia

Every year, we recognise pioneering individuals within the company who have brought our values to life and truly embody what it means to be part of Unilever. Our 2018 Heroes with Impact have gone above and beyond their day-to-day jobs. Their stories paint a picture of passion, dedication and drive.

Project Shakti is an initiative from Unilever that enables women in remote rural areas to become micro-entrepreneurs and earn a livelihood by selling our products. Long established and highly successful in India, Project Shakti is now empowering women in the Middle Americas.

Pioneering our newly fledged Shakti activities in the region is Mayda Alejandra, Regional Trainer and Unilever Hero, who began the work in 2015 with the task of recruiting entrepreneurs and providing her Unilever team with the insights needed to make Shakti a success on the ground.

“We wanted to help low-income women in Colombia who are vulnerable and struggle in conditions of poverty,” she says. “I started with just 20 women.”

Mayda takes a Unilever product catalogue with her on her visits to the Shakti entrepreneurs – and prospective entrepreneurs – and trains them in running a small selling operation from home. The Shakti women order products and sell them to residents in their village.

Crucial to the smooth operation of the Shakti network is the feedback that Mayda provides. She is excellently placed to advise her Unilever team on the products that are doing well at a village level, delivery dates, local transport to get the products to the entrepreneurs and matters of credit and collection of monies due. And these Shakti women rely on her for training and guidance.

“I am helping them to become entrepreneurs,” she continues. “The impact of Shakti is to make these women feel useful and independent. They are learning the business every day.”

There are social benefits, too. Emerging from poverty with their new livelihoods, the Shakti women are better able to put food on the table and pay for their children to go to school.

Mayda is enthusiastic about the work she is doing. “We have helped 2,050 women into employment,” she says. “What inspired me was this social impact. It means that I am giving them knowledge – for me it means joy.

“I am super-excited because I know that in the future we will reach 100,000 women, in 1,100 small villages in all corners of our country, Colombia.”

Watch this short video to hear more from Mayda

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