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Inclusive business

This work supports the following UN Sustainable Development Goals

  • No Poverty
  • Decent Work and Economic Growth
  • Reduced Inequalities
  • Partnership For The Goals
  1. Home
  2. Sustainable Living
  3. Enhancing livelihoods
  4. Inclusive business
  5. Empowering small-scale retailers for growth

Empowering small-scale retailers for growth

By building powerful connections with millions of small business owners and micro-entrepreneurs, we're helping them boost their skills and incomes while driving our own reach and growth.

Small-scale retailer

Selling with purpose

Finding better ways to reach consumers is essential to our success. It brings us closer to the billions of new and existing consumers who use our brands. It also gives us the opportunity to make a positive difference to people and communities all over the world.

We want to ensure that people can enjoy the benefits of our products wherever they are. In emerging markets, such as Asia and Africa, where there are around 3 billion rural consumers, developing innovative and effective distribution models is an enormous opportunity for growth.

It is also one of our biggest opportunities to make a real difference to people's lives and, in doing so, contribute to a number of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, including No Poverty (SDG1) and Decent Work and Economic Growth (SDG8).

Millions of men and women in our distribution network already earn some or all of their income by connecting us to our consumers. The 'small-scale retailers' who run independent stores, outlets and kiosks, or set up as micro-entrepreneurs making sales in the streets or house-to-house. They make a crucial contribution to their local communities, especially in developing markets. And because they bring our products to millions of consumers every day, their success is directly linked with our own.

Realising potential together

In our USLP, we set out our ambition to have a positive impact on the lives of 5.5 million people by improving the livelihoods of smallholder farmers and improving the incomes of small-scale retailers. To achieve it, we're working on a range of initiatives that broaden and deepen the connection between small-scale retailers and our business, helping them build their capacity and addressing the barriers that currently hold them back, such as limited market information, access to credit, and a lack of business or financial management skills.

At the same time as helping to unlock the potential of existing small-scale retailers, we're empowering new entrepreneurs to improve their livelihoods while helping us reach new consumers, through initiatives that support women, young people, and the long-term unemployed.

And because of the scale and diversity of our distribution network, empowering small-scale retailers helps us achieve other, interconnected goals in our USLP – including Opportunities for Women, fostering Fairness in the Workplace, and delivering improvements in water and sanitation.

Better connections, better lives and better business

Our aim is to drive inclusive growth at scale. This means understanding who our small-scale retailers are and what's important to them, and working with them to find ways to address the challenges they face.

The knowledge and insights we've gathered over many years of working with small-scale retailers has helped us develop a range of training, designed to address those challenges and help people unlock their potential. That includes training in business and retailing capabilities, including basics on how to operate in an increasingly tech-based market; training in financial literacy and access to credit that helps people expand their businesses and improve their income; and basic training on hygiene, sanitation and nutrition, which helps sellers meet their shoppers’ needs as well as improve their own families’ livelihoods.

At the same time, technology and data are transforming the way we connect with our distribution network, as well as how businesses and individuals within it connect with consumers. Through our new data systems, including LeverEDGE, we're understanding more than ever how our retailers' businesses operate and working with them on opportunities to increase sales.

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Unilever partnership with Mastercard

Unlocking potential and driving growth: our partnership with Mastercard

For any small retailer, selling out of a product line is a missed opportunity. If you can't sell your customer what they want, they'll either make no purchase at all, or go to your competitor.

But for retailers who are stuck in cash economies without access to credit, especially in the developing world, running out of stock can be a routine event.

Why does this matter? Because it’s holding back growth. Entrepreneurs who would like to transform their businesses and the contribution they make to their economy are constrained. And we're missing out on an opportunity too because we rely on them to sell our brands.

Our strategic partnership with Mastercard in Kenya uses a combination of innovative technology, targeted training, and the strength of our relationships with our distribution network to free retailers from these constraints and fulfil their potential.

By digitising the processes of buying supplies and selling goods, small-scale retailers will build the credentials they need to get access to low-interest credit. As well as getting better control of their inventory, so they can keep their shelves full and meet consumer demand, the retailers are also able to access training and essential financial tools to help them grow their sales and incomes. Since its launch in 2017, retailers in the Kenya programme have seen an increase in sales of 11%.

It is early days but if it keeps succeeding, we believe it could help us have real impact. The World Bank estimates there are up to 445 million micro, small and medium enterprises in the developing world. Many of these are held back by limited market information, poor access to credit and a lack of financial management skills. If we can help small retail entrepreneurs grow beyond their current financial limitations and bring our sustainable products to more consumers, it could help transform economies in emerging markets and drive our growth.

Sharing the knowledge that can drive our growth

A shop, a store, a kiosk, a mini-market – they have many different names, but we know that all small retail outlets have something in common: they, and the people who own and work in them, are key to our ambitions.

So far, we have reached more than 1.6 million small-scale retailers with initiatives designed to help them make their stores more efficient, competitive and attractive to consumers. These initiatives help them boost their sales while helping us ensure that our brands are more available, better displayed, and priced at the recommended retail price and marketed optimally. They include training in business practices and, through our brands, can help promote better health and sanitation for store owners and their families, as well as for their customers.

Sharing knowledge is at the heart of our approach and we're developing new ways to do it. In 2018, we will launch a fully integrated learning platform across our business to help small-scale retailers access training and support more easily, online, offline or on mobile. It brings together the insights we've gained from our global programmes, such as Perfect Store, and local programmes, such as Kabisig in the Philippines. It is designed to help more small-scale retailers access the skills and expertise that could help them grow.

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Kabisig in the Philippines

Your business, your future: Helping ‘mom and pop’ stores grow

It takes drive, resilience and entrepreneurial spirit to be a small independent retailer – qualities that are hugely valuable to us as part of our distribution chain. But many small retailers lack access to the training, modern trading practices and professional skills that would enable them to take those qualities, and their businesses, to the next level.

What if we could bring people together to build those skills and act as a catalyst for their growth, and ours?

We're bridging that gap through programmes such as Super!Store and Kabisig, which we run in the Philippines, where 1 million small retailers – known as 'mom and pop' or 'sari-sari' stores – are at the centre of their communities, making up more than 90% of the retail landscape.

Between 2015 and 2017, over 87,000 owners have accessed detailed training and advice on how to set up, run, and grow their businesses at our Kabisig summits, which bring together new and established store owners to share knowledge and build relationships. The support ranges from training in managing inventory, finances and merchandising, to modules aimed at helping owners manage debt and plan their business growth, all under the banner "Negosyo mo, kinabukasan mo!" – or "Your business, your future."

A key element of Kabisig lies in making connections between us and our retailers, but also among retailers themselves. The programme is run alongside our Super!Store initiative which works with bigger, established stores who each act as wholesalers for up to 120 Kabisig partners.

Around nine out of ten mom and pop store owners are women, and the stores help support hundreds of thousands of household members. That means the opportunity to enhance livelihoods – and to grow business – is huge.

Since it began at scale in 2016, Kabisig has enhanced the skills and training of 87,000 owners and helped around 24,000 people set up new businesses. At the same time, our sales volume in participating Super!Stores has grown by 12% – 7% higher than stores that have not been through the programme. This shows that helping others build their businesses, helps build ours.

Serving hard-to-reach consumers

Billions of people live in small towns and villages that are spread out over large geographic areas, often with poor infrastructure and populations too low to sustain many retailers. In some developing cities, too, retail systems are still growing, and do not cover the full population.

At the same time, economic opportunities in these places are often limited, especially for women. That's why we're working on 'inclusive distribution' models. That is, ways to create opportunities for people to grow their incomes while helping us connect with these hard-to-reach consumers.

Engaging small-scale retailers or entrepreneurs in selling is one way of getting our products to consumers in these hard-to-reach places. We provide job opportunities by recruiting and training people, and supporting them with extended credit, marketing, sales and accounting training, and sometimes with equipment. We're also focused on improving their – and our – channels to reach those consumers, including through digital.

Our Shakti programme in India is one of our best-established and successful models, designed to empower women entrepreneurs through access to training and support, as they in turn empower our business. Around 77,000 women from poor rural communities are now part of our Shakti distribution network, bringing our brands to hard-to-reach consumers while generating incomes for themselves and their communities.

We want to scale the impact of Shakti and our related programmes, such as Gbemiga in Nigeria, which involves 1,350 women in our value chain, and similar programmes in Ethiopia, Egypt, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Haiti and Colombia. That can mean expanding the model to new areas. In 2017, we worked on establishing networks in El Salvador and Myanmar, for example. It can also involve exploring ways to professionalise the model further, using technology and working with partners and investors to enhance our positive social and business impact.


Building scalable inclusive distribution models: Shakti Ethiopia


Bukunmi Akinseye

Bukunmi Akinseye is Global Partnerships & Advocacy Manager, Enhancing Livelihoods

“Our inclusive business models are creating opportunities to address a broad suite of social impact needs – financial inclusion, skills development and training, and even behaviour change. But there’s still so much ground to cover, which is why we are actively working with others to innovate, cost-share and multiply our impact.

Over the last year, in addition to expanding the Shakti business model to new territories, we have been collaborating with partners to further professionalise our inclusive distribution practice and develop innovative approaches to scale.

For example, in Ethiopia, we are collaborating with Elevate and the BOP Innovation Center to design a new cost-effective, open-basket distribution model – one in which women micro-entrepreneurs sell a mixed basket of products from Unilever and other producers, choosing from a catalogue that includes staples and nutritious foods. The model, which currently includes 175 women in Ethiopia, is based on market surveys and our work with our partners on addressing the barriers to achieving scale and impact in rural distribution networks.

It is at an early stage, but the project aims to create income opportunities for a network of women micro-entrepreneurs while improving affordability and access to essential household products.”

Spreading happiness in communities

We are the world’s largest ice cream company, selling our brands in over 40 countries and always looking for ways to grow our business sustainably. One way we improve our ability to reach consumers while having a positive impact on the communities we work in is through our micro-entrepreneur programme, I'm Wall's. This initiative gives brands, including Wall’s, OLA, Good Humor, Algida and Kibon, new ways to sell our products that also generates jobs and opportunities.

The I’m Wall’s programme has a mission to ‘build happier communities' and create jobs for 100,000 people worldwide by 2020. I’m Wall's runs in 25 countries and has three priorities:

  • Recruiting unskilled people who may have been traditionally excluded from the workplace due to their lack of skills.
  • Employing young people as interns during the summer months, providing credible experience as they step into the job market.
  • Investing in building soft skills such as sales and shopper management, customer service, problem-solving and helping to build self-confidence.

In 2017, I'm Wall's continued to employ micro-entrepreneurs across 25 countries, plus seven markets in Europe, including Finland, Italy, Poland, the UK and the Netherlands, as well as Spain and Portugal. I’m Wall's was further rolled out in Latin America, South Asia and South-East Asia, which are our biggest markets for mobile vendors.

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