How three amazing social enterprises are changing lives
To help tackle the world's big social, environmental and economic issues, we must go beyond what we can achieve in our own operations and with our suppliers. That’s why we’re calling on more social enterprises to apply to TRANSFORM, so we can help scale up their bold ideas.
We're on our way to reaching a million people
In 2015, Unilever and the UK’s Department for International Development founded TRANSFORM to support social enterprises that meet low-income household needs in developing countries.
TRANSFORM’s aim is to enable 100 million people in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia gain access to products and services that have been shown to improve health, livelihoods, the environment or wellbeing by 2025. In January this year, we expanded our joint commitment from £10 million to £40 million.
The partnership is currently supporting 19 projects across nine countries, which have so far benefited over 400,000 people, with 8,500 trained and 110,000 gaining repeat access to high-impact products and services. Now, we’re extending our reach.
Here’s a look at three of these amazing enterprises:
Kasha: Improving women's health in Rwanda
Kasha is a mobile e-commerce and content platform that confidentially sells and delivers women’s health and personal care products such as sanitary pads, contraceptives and soaps. Kasha’s purpose is to help women in urban and rural areas, of all socioeconomic levels, overcome issues of social stigma, so they can purchase the health products they need.
The platform doesn’t require internet connectivity to browse and pay, so it’s accessible with a basic mobile phone. Empowering women with access to the health products and information they need – in a supportive, confidential and affordable way – can change their lives as well as those of their families and communities.
TRANSFORM is currently working with Kasha to research product affordability, as well as consumer acquisition and retention, and will then look at how to optimise health promotion on the platform. In Rwanda, Kasha has delivered over 11,000 orders (25,000 units) through an innovative system that incorporates direct delivery, a network of pick-up points and more than 20 agents. Over half of Kasha’s orders come from women at the base of the pyramid. The company is now expanding into Kenya, with plans to launch across Nairobi and rural areas later this year.
Several interesting learnings have emerged. For instance, base of the pyramid consumers are highly aspirational and very savvy regarding value for money. It is vital to earn their trust and be careful how you structure promotions. For professional women, it is important for the brand to be aspirational and build a connection by creating a community. Working with schools to deliver health information sessions has helped young female students learn more about their bodies and self-care in a positive and supportive environment.
UJoin: Connecting shop owners in Nairobi
UJoin is a mobile-friendly online community for owners of base of the pyramid shops (called dukas), helping them build their businesses, while improving the health of their community. As well as accessing courses, connecting with others and viewing product information, duka owners can also set up voucher-based shopper loyalty schemes which could qualify them for free health insurance. In parallel, UJoin is piloting UAfya, a community for young mothers where they can connect, share and learn about topics such as nutrition, hygiene and breastfeeding.
Over 600 dukas regularly access UJoin content, which is continuously updated based on user research. The take-up of e-vouchers is gaining momentum. As of March 2018, almost 1,900 shoppers had signed up and over 23,000 vouchers had been redeemed, with 68 owners qualifying for free insurance. In 2018, we intend to extend our offer to 3,000 dukas and 50,000 consumers, building the platform’s appeal through deeper engagement with users, as well as giving UJoin members access to working capital and other services. We will also develop UAfya, providing users with access to online learning, peer-to-peer sharing and exclusive UJoin discounts.
This programme has also thrown up some actionable insights. Not least the importance of initial handholding and building trust while onboarding dukas, ensuring we understand their needs and how to incentivise. UJoin as a blueprint for new behaviour change is clear: it is market-based, addressing multiple behaviours and using digital technology to reach out to communities.
Ubuntu: Providing off-grid power and internet in Kenya
Ubuntu Power deploys solar and biogas mini-grids and community wi-fi to provide affordable and clean power and internet to off-grid communities in sub-Saharan Africa. Ubuntu aims to kickstart a virtuous cycle of growth in underserved communities, by providing them with access to power and information. The innovation lies in integrating power and wi-fi generation in one modular, scalable system and using the revenue from multiple services to subsidise the provision of affordable electricity. In addition, Ubuntu encourages the use of the space for the community. This includes a grain milling centre and a computer lab.
TRANSFORM helped Ubuntu roll out its initial hub in Kenya, connecting over 800 people to power for the first time. Over the next three years, it aims to reach 250,000 people and begin expanding across the region. Learnings from here will test assumptions for creating a viable model that can be scaled to other countries. Unilever’s specific expertise in supply chain and distribution was pivotal in the successful deployment of the initial cluster of power generators. A key issue has been extending the internet through challenging topography, so Ubuntu Power is also exploring other revenue-generating opportunities through complementary agricultural initiatives.
There have been many positive – and some surprising – consequences of the programme. Health has improved with fewer people using kerosene lamps. Customers have enjoyed a 40% reduction in their lighting costs, academic results at local schools have improved and 80% more businesses have been set up in the community.
Do you have an idea we can help scale?
We’re looking for social entrepreneurs and innovators with ideas for market-based solutions in three areas:
- Delivering products in hard-to-reach rural locations, with a particular interest in Nigeria, Ethiopia, India, Bangladesh and Myanmar.
- Providing sanitation to low-income urban and rural communities in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.
- Raising awareness and demand for safe, affordable drinking water in highly-dispersed rural households across South Asia, with a particular interest in Bangladesh and India.
Projects must demonstrate the potential to be financially sustainable, target low-income household needs in an innovative way and focus on one of . TRANSFORM offers grant funding up to £300,000 and bespoke business support to take your ideas to scale. For more information, visit