Inclusive business

This work supports the following UN Sustainable Development Goals

  • No Poverty
  • Decent Work and Economic Growth
  • Reduced Inequalities
  • Partnership For The Goals

Empowering small-scale retailers for growth

We're creating income opportunities, providing skills training and empowering our network of millions of small retailers through financial inclusion – all while they're helping us reach consumers with our brands.

Small-scale retailer

Selling with purpose

A business like ours needs a thriving distribution network. 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, bring our products to millions of consumers every day and their success is directly linked with our own.

We need to make sure that being part of our network is a source of growth and empowerment for the millions of men and women who contribute to it. And we believe that by empowering small-scale retailers, we can have a positive social impact that ripples out beyond our network, making whole communities fairer, more prosperous and more resilient.

We see developing our distribution network as one of our biggest opportunities to 'do well by doing good'. We call our vision for this transformation 'Selling with purpose'.

Unlocking potential at a global scale

Reaching more of the estimated 3 billion rural consumers in emerging markets. Helping bring financial inclusion to millions of small-business owners and, by extension, to many of the estimated 1.7 billion consumers currently without access to a bank account. Making a difference to communities who have been 'left behind' – in line with the vision of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, including No Poverty (SDG 1), Decent Work and Economic Growth (SDG 8), and Reduced Inequalities (SDG 10).

These are just some of the opportunities we believe can be opened up by unlocking the potential of the micro, small and medium enterprises that are too often held back by barriers such as limited market information, poor access to credit or a lack of financial management skills.

By creating income opportunities, providing skills training and empowering people economically through financial inclusion, we aim to take down those barriers – and create the conditions for growth.

Harnessing the impact of inclusive business models

High five

Small-scale retailers enabled to access our initiatives by 2019

Driving positive social impact through our whole value chain is a core element in our USLP. In 2010, we set out our ambition to have a positive impact on the lives of 5.5 million people by 2020.

As well as improving the livelihoods of smallholder farmers and increasing the incomes of small-scale retailers, that ambition includes empowering new entrepreneurs through initiatives and partnerships that support women, young people, socially excluded groups and the long-term unemployed.

So far, more than 1.8 million small-scale retailers in our distribution network have been enabled to access initiatives designed to help them improve their sales while helping us ensure that our brands are available in hard-to-reach locations and optimally sold.

While we now recognise that we will not meet our ambitious target in full by 2020, we remain entirely committed to the transformational vision that inspired it. As we describe below, we have broadened our scope, learnt from what has worked and what hasn't, and embraced partnerships that are opening up new possibilities for growth and financial inclusion. They are also helping us achieve other, interconnected goals in our USLP, such as creating opportunities for women, fostering fairness in the workplace, and delivering improvements in water and sanitation.

Better connections, better lives, 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, so we can work with them to find ways to address the challenges they face.

We've gathered a deep store of knowledge and insight over many years of working with small-scale retailers. This has helped us develop a range of programmes designed to address those challenges and help people unlock their potential.

Training in business and retailing capabilities, as well as basics on how to operate in an increasingly digital-based market. Training in financial literacy and access to credit that helps people expand their businesses and improve their income. Basic education on hygiene, sanitation and nutrition, which helps sellers meet their shoppers’ needs as well as improve their own families’ livelihoods. Programmes in all these areas are currently driving growth and positive social impact. As we evolve our strategy, we are focusing on the programmes that have had the greatest impact – and where possible, scaling or expanding them.

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

Focus on financial inclusion

As our work to empower our distribution network has evolved, we've increasingly focused on the potential social and business impact of what is known as financial inclusion.

Helping retailers, and their consumers, access financial services is a key way to help them increase their income, improve their financial control, and build their resilience to mitigate shocks and risks. Financial inclusion is also recognised as a key enabler of sustainable development – in fact, it is a target in eight of the 17 UN SDGs.

There is huge potential. Around 40% of adults in developing markets have a bank account – a proportion which drops to 20% in the poorest groups. Women are, globally, more likely to be financially excluded than men. And including more people in the financial services system is already driving growth.

We've built financial inclusion models into the heart of our approach to inclusive business, working with partners on a range of initiatives that educate and enable small retailers through financial tools, and unlock access to credit and financial services.


Unilever partnership with Mastercard

Financial inclusion in action: our Jaza Duka 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 financial exclusion can hold 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.

In 2017, we began a strategic partnership with Mastercard in Kenya, with funding from the CEO Partnership for Economic Inclusion. Together, we've launched the Jaza Duka initiative, which uses a combination of innovative technology, targeted training and the strength of our relationships with our distribution network to free retailers from the constraints of cash.

By digitising the processes of buying supplies and selling goods, small-scale retailers can build the credentials they need to access short-term working capital loans from Kenya Commercial Bank (KCB). This gives them better control of their inventory, so they can keep their shelves full and meet consumer demand – 'Jaza Duka' translates as 'fill up your store'. They are also able to access training and essential financial tools to help grow their sales and incomes.

Retailers increased sales by 20% on average within the first six months. Surveys conducted for our Lean Data gender impact partnership with Acumen reported that while 74% of respondents did not previously have access to credit, 48% now did. And 91% of respondents reported an improvement in the quality of their lives after joining Jaza Duka, citing the benefits of having greater access to goods and inventory, better business performance and a greater ability to meet family needs.

In 2019, Jaza Duka expanded its financial inclusion offering, including insurance services from MicroEnsure (AXA).

It is now helping 12,000 small retail entrepreneurs grow beyond their former financial limitations and bring our sustainable products to more consumers.

This work contributes to the UN Sustainable Development Goals

  • Reduced Inequalities)
  • Partnership For The Goals)

Building on the success of financial partnerships

We want to build on the success of our partnership work to extend financial inclusion. One way we're doing this is by applying the learnings from initiatives such as Jaza Duka in Kenya to other markets where there are large numbers of financially excluded retailers. In India, for example, we have a pilot project, Kirana, in partnership with Mastercard, that if successful, we will scale-up to give small retailers across India access to data insights and financial flexibility.

At the same time, we have joined forces with ten other businesses and organisations in the CEO Partnership for Financial Inclusion. The group agreed to develop partnerships and make specific commitments to expand access, including among hard-to-reach groups such as women, farmers and small businesses.

And we're also working with partners in other ways to give retailers access to financial tools. Our Drachma initiative in India, for example, focuses on digitising payments – a move which gives retailers and Unilever insights into sales patterns that enable more efficient inventory and, ultimately, growth.


Indian spice seller

Drachma: digitising to empower retailers in India

In many of our markets, the vast majority of financial transactions are still cash-based. It means we, and our retailers, are missing out on the potential for data insights into sales and inventory. For retailers, it can also create potential security issues, especially for women carrying cash back home at the end of the business day.

Project Drachma, in India, aims to digitise the transactions of 2,500 retailers in our network. Launched in 2018, in partnership with Airtel Payments Bank, Drachma enables stores in the scheme to record their sales to customers as well as payments to suppliers, meaning retailers can accept digital payments.

The digitisation sets the foundation for further financial inclusion at a later stage of the programme – for example, through credit and insurance services.

This work contributes to the UN Sustainable Development Goals

  • Reduced Inequalities)
  • Partnership For The Goals)

The RISE Sales Academy

Working with retailers to make their stores more efficient is a core part of our work. Our long-running, global Perfect Store initiative and programmes such as the Kabisig Summits (described below), are just some of the ways we’ve helped thousands of small retailers improve their sales, while they help us ensure that our brands are available in hard-to-reach locations, displayed better, and priced and marketed optimally.

We've taken what we've learnt from these programmes and developing a model that we can scale up to help millions of small-scale retailers improve their business skills. The RISE Sales Academy, for example, piloted in Nigeria and Sri Lanka in 2019, uses a learning app to provide courses covering subjects including customer service, marketing and self-confidence. It is designed to work on mobile phones in low-bandwidth locations, or offline via video courses, with support from our local staff.

As with any pilot, we've learnt lessons from RISE. Through our Lean Data gender impact programme with Acumen (see below), we had positive feedback from retailers surveyed in Nigeria: 75% reported the content to be "highly relevant to their business" and 95% said they "have or intend to implement the learnings into their business operations". But we also know that many retailers are looking for specific tools that will make them 'future fit' especially in terms of digital capabilities, and we have more work to do to develop a model that will go further in helping retailers digitally empower themselves.


Kabisig in the Philippines

Helping ‘mom and pop’ stores grow in the Philippines

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 2016 and 2019, over 233,000 owners – around 90% of whom are women – have accessed 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. Given that many store owners are family-run businesses, we estimate that this initiative has touched the lives of over 1 million people in the Philippines.

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 with wholesale retailers. 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 many household members. That means the opportunity to enhance livelihoods – and to grow business – is huge.

As well as enhancing the skills and training of existing owners, our sales volume in participating Super!Stores has grown 5% higher than stores that have not been through the programme.

This work contributes to the UN Sustainable Development Goals

  • Decent Work and Economic Growth)
  • Reduced Inequalities)
  • Partnership For The Goals)

Creating opportunity in hard-to-reach areas

lady shopping

Women from poor rural communities in India are active in our Shakti distribution network as of September 2019

Hundreds of millions 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. Equally, in some developing cities, retail systems are still growing and do not cover the full population.

Economic prospects in these places are often limited, especially for women. That's why we're working on 'inclusive distribution' models, which 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 these consumers. We provide job opportunities by recruiting people and supporting them with extended credit, marketing, sales and accounting training, and sometimes with equipment. We're also focused on improving channels to reach consumers, including through digital. That includes exploring the potential of e-commerce models in rural areas.

Our Shakti programme in India is one of our best established and most successful models, designed to empower women entrepreneurs through access to training and support, as they in turn help grow our business.

Around 118,000 women from poor rural communities are now part of our Shakti distribution network in India, bringing our brands to hard-to-reach consumers while generating incomes for themselves and their communities. We've built on the proven success of Shakti by using it to innovate new 'last-mile' distribution models all over the world – a further 14,000 women outside of India – in countries such as Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Nigeria, Colombia, Guatemala and El Salvador – have accessed our Shakti initiative since 2017.

We've seen the success of the Shakti model and we've seen the potential to unlock even more shared value. That's why we are actively working with others to innovate, cost-share and multiply our impact by making our approach more holistic.

Bukunmi Akinseye, our Global Partnerships & Advocacy Manager, Enhancing Livelihoods

Going the last mile, without reinventing the wheel

Last-mile distribution models like Shakti are one of our most exciting inclusive business platforms. They can address a broad range of social impacts – women's empowerment, financial inclusion, skills development and training, and even behaviour change in areas such as health and hygiene – while meeting the critical business need of getting our products to some of the hardest places to reach.

As well as expanding Shakti, we are exploring new models. In Ethiopia, for example, we are collaborating with the BOP Innovation Center and social enterprise Kidame Mart 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. In Guatemala, we're working with CARE International on a model which is structured to have a specific emphasis on women's rights and address social barriers to women's empowerment.

Sharing our insights, broadening our reach

In more than ten years of running Shakti and similar programmes, we've faced many challenges, as well as finding ways to address them.

We want to make sure those lessons are learnt by us and shared with others. That's why we created our ASPIRE tool (PDF | 452KB), along with partners from BoP Innovation Center. It is a framework that brings together our insights and those of our external partners, which we use as a guide to help us launch and develop initiatives.

This isn't a one-size-fits-all approach. Each country and context is different. But ASPIRE provides building blocks and guiding principles that have helped us and the social enterprises we work with, to kickstart and progress inclusive distribution models. Among other areas, it provides guidance and insights on successful ways to harness technology, partnerships and investment. We have shared it with the aim of increasing the overall positive impact of our work.

Finding new ways to understand our impact

We want to get a better understanding of the impact our programmes and initiatives are having so we can focus resources on the best models. But measuring social impact is not always straightforward. While we have a range of measurement methods for our programmes, we continue to explore ways to gain insight into our impact on incomes, livelihoods and communities.

In 2018, we worked with our long-standing partner, impact investor Acumen, to co-develop a survey tool that could help measure more of the nuances around the difference our programmes are making, with a specific emphasis on women's empowerment.

The result is the Lean Data Gender Toolkit. It focuses on the lived experience of both men and women – granting fresh insights that aren't available through the ‘head-counting’ approach of many existing methodologies.

We piloted the toolkit with a number of the initiatives described above, including Shakti, Jaza Duka and the RISE Sales Academy, and in 2019 we released the second phase of our findings.

The report emphasises that the findings are most valuable at an individual project level and the survey had a specific gender lens – but there are some broad overall themes. Both men and women reported increased earnings, for example, with a higher percentage increase for men than for women.

However, women found these increases in income to be more significant to them than their male counterparts. The data also highlighted areas we're working to improve – around half of respondents on the Shakti Colombia programme said their margins were relatively small, for example, and some highlighted challenges with the delivery and credit programme.

Harnessing bold new ideas: social enterprise partnerships

A key way we're increasing the social impact of our work with small-scale retailers is through innovative public–private models that support social entrepreneurship.

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. TRANSFORM now leverages the capabilities and reach of additional partners who have joined us to find sustainable solutions to the world’s development challenges.

TRANSFORM is supporting a range of social enterprises and distribution models. These include Kasha, a mobile e-commerce platform in Rwanda, described in Opportunities for Women, and UJoin, a mobile-friendly online community in Nairobi, Kenya, for owners of 'base of the pyramid' shops, known as dukas. 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.

Achieving the SDGs is a huge challenge, but also the business opportunity of a lifetime. If we seize this, we can harness the power of markets to deliver not only exceptional growth, but also help our economies transition to a low-carbon, inclusive and healthier world.

Some of the best ideas and boldest actions are coming from entrepreneurs and start-ups. These disruptors are driving innovations and new business models to create the momentum the economy needs. TRANSFORM can unlock these opportunities and help to scale workable solutions, to build a brighter future for all.

Rebecca Marmot, our Chief Sustainability Officer

I’m Wall's: creating employment opportunities

We are the world’s largest ice cream company, selling our brands in over 40 countries. We aim to build on our success by reaching consumers through new channels – and at the same time, creating jobs and opportunities that will help thousands of people move out of poverty.

Our I'm Wall's programme supports micro-entrepreneurs as they help us sell our ice creams in new ways or new places. The overall goal is to create jobs or internships for 100,000 people by 2025, while increasing our sales of brands including Wall’s, OLA, Good Humor, Algida and Kibon.

And in each market where I'm Wall's operates, we develop specific social purposes for the programme based on local needs. These include recruiting people who may have been excluded from the workplace through a lack of skills, such as young people and those with disabilities.

The experience is designed to build the skills of these micro-entrepreneurs in areas such as sales and shopper management, customer service, problem-solving and self-confidence. In 2019, I'm Wall's employed micro-entrepreneurs across 20 countries in Africa, Europe, Latin America, South Asia and South-East Asia.


Walls spotlight

Bikes, trikes, carts and boats: I’m Wall’s

In Sardinia, Italy, you might buy your ice cream from a passing boat. In France, the Netherlands or Belgium, from a mobile vendor on a trike. In Greece and Cyprus, a solar-powered push-cart. In fact, around the world, mobile vendors in our I'm Wall's programme are finding new ways to reach consumers in parks, zoos, beaches and on the streets.

Just as each country selects the best ways to reach consumers, we design our I'm Wall's social programme according to what's needed locally.

Livable Spaces, for example, focuses on unlocking opportunities for young unemployed people and those excluded from the job market, while seeking to improve the local environment. It is active in Brazil and Mexico as well as a number of countries across Europe: in Italy, for instance, the programme includes a collaboration on eco-education with WWF.

Many I'm Wall's programmes focus on creating opportunities for people with disabilities: in India, where we have worked with more than 13,000 vendors, we launched a new model for reaching disabled vendors in 2019. And in the UK, our programme has supported 60 young people with autism to find safe job opportunities.

What all these initiatives have in common is this: they aim to combine sustainable employment opportunities with sales growth. By providing access to decent jobs, training and business experience to vendors who may have been excluded from work – including the long-term unemployed and refugees – we’re able to create new sales channels, all while having a positive social impact on people and communities.

This work contributes to the UN Sustainable Development Goals

  • Decent Work and Economic Growth)
  • Reduced Inequalities)
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