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

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 growth.

Small-scale retailer

Selling with purpose

There are around 3 billion rural consumers in emerging markets – such as Asia, Africa and Latin America – where we generate 58% of our turnover. Connecting with these consumers is essential to our success.

Millions of men and women in our distribution network already earn some or all of their income by connecting us to our consumers. They include 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.

The World Bank estimates there are up to 445 million micro, small and medium enterprises in the developing world. Many are held back by limited market information, poor access to credit and a lack of financial management skills.

Developing innovative and holistic distribution models is an enormous opportunity for growth, at the same time as making a real difference to people's lives by addressing these issues and contributing to a number of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, including No Poverty (SDG 1), Decent Work and Economic Growth (SDG 8), and Reduced Inequality (SDG 10).

Unlocking 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 increasing the incomes of small-scale retailers. To achieve it, we're working on a range of initiatives that broaden and deepen the connections with our business. We're 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.

Alongside 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. We do this through initiatives and partnerships that support women, young people, socially excluded groups and the long-term unemployed.

The scale and diversity of our retail and distribution network means that empowering small-scale retailers helps us achieve other, interconnected goals in our USLP. These include 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, 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 programmes designed to address those challenges and help people unlock their potential. That includes 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; and basic education 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, and how businesses and individuals within it connect with consumers. Through our 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.


Unilever partnership with Mastercard

Taking down barriers, 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 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. 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.

These are still early days. But if the partnership keeps succeeding, we believe it could help us have real impact. If we can support small retail entrepreneurs to 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.

This work contributes to the UN Sustainable Development Goal

  • Reduced Inequalities)

Sharing knowledge to boost sales

High five

Small-scale retailers reached by our initiatives by 2018

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. Sharing knowledge is at the heart of our approach and we are stepping up efforts to make progress towards our target to improve the incomes of 5 million small-scale retailers in our distribution network by 2020.

So far, we have enabled more than 1.7 million small-scale retailers in our distribution network to access our Perfect Store initiative, as well as other programmes such as the Shakti initiative and Kabisig Summits. These are designed to help small retailers improve their sales while helping us ensure that our brands are available in hard-to-reach locations, 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.


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 2015 and 2018, over 165,000 owners 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. 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, Kabisig has helped around 24,000 people set up new businesses. At the same time, our sales volume in participating Super!Stores has grown 7–12% higher than stores that have not been through the programme.

This work contributes to the UN Sustainable Development Goal

  • Reduced Inequalities)

To help us scale our work with small-scale retailers, in 2018, we launched the RISE Sales Academy. Initially piloted in Nigeria and Sri Lanka, RISE aims to help millions of small-scale retailers improve their business skills. 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 uses a learning app to provide courses covering subjects including customer service, marketing and self-confidence. Crucially, it is designed to work on mobile phones in low-bandwidth locations, or offline via video courses, with support from our local staff. We expect progress against our small-scale retailer target to accelerate from next year as the RISE Sales Academy expands to more markets.

Creating opportunity in hard-to-reach areas

lady shopping

Women from poor rural communities in India have participated in our Shakti distribution network

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. In some developing cities, too, 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 empower our business. Over 103,000 women from poor rural communities have participated in our Shakti distribution network in India (around 98,000 women were active as at 31st December 2018), 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.

Going the last-mile without reinventing the wheel

We want to scale the impact of Shakti and our related 'last-mile' programmes, such as Gbemiga in Nigeria, which involves 3,315 women in our value chain, and similar programmes in Colombia, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

In Colombia our programme has grown to include over 2,400 women entrepreneurs. And we aim to bring the benefits of the model to new areas. In 2018, we worked on establishing networks in Guatemala and El Salvador, for example.

In more than ten years of experience running Shakti and similar programmes, we have come across many challenges, as well as finding ways to address them. We want to make sure those lessons are both learnt by us and shared with others. That's why we have 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, 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.

Wider reach, deeper social impact: how we're scaling up our last-mile distribution

Bukunmi Akinseye

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

Last-mile distribution models represent one of Unilever’s most exciting inclusive business platforms. They can address a broad suite of social impact needs – women's empowerment, financial inclusion, skills development and training, and even behaviour change in areas such as health and hygiene. And they can meet the critical business need of getting our products to some of the hardest places to reach.

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

So, as well as 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. At the same time, we're exploring ways in which we can deepen our social impact.

There are several examples of this innovation around the world.

In Ethiopia, 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. The Ethiopia model currently includes 400 women.

In Guatemala in 2018, we developed a collaboration with CARE International in which our distribution model is structured to have a specific emphasis on women's rights and address social barriers to women's empowerment.

And in countries including Nigeria, Ethiopia and Bangladesh, we're working on ways to widen the training and support we offer our distribution agents, broadening the impact we can have on whole communities, as well as on individuals' livelihoods.

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're piloting the toolkit with a number of the initiatives described on this page. So far, we have seen pilot results for Shakti Colombia – and among other insights, they show that 48% of women in the programme reported an improved income. The data also highlighted areas we're working to improve – around half of respondents said their margins were relatively small, and some highlighted challenges with the delivery and credit programme. Our Jaza Duka financial inclusion project, described above, is also part of this pilot project.

Expanding distribution through social enterprise partnerships

A key way in which 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 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.

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.

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 2020 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 2018, I'm Wall's employed micro-entrepreneurs across 25 countries in Europe, Latin America, South Asia and South-East Asia.


Walls spotlight

Bikes, trikes, carts and boats

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, across Europe mobile vendors in our I'm Wall's programme are finding new ways to reach consumers in parks, zoos, beaches and other attractions.

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

In Portugal, for example, we aim to address youth unemployment, and a big part of our programme focuses on giving students work experience. In Spain, our focus is on creating inclusive employment. We work with marginalised communities and have partnered with an NGO to help train and mentor women who have experienced violence. And in the UK in 2018, we piloted a programme in partnership with another NGO which aims to support people with autism to become micro-entrepreneurs.

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.

Empowerment where it is needed most

While we're convinced that supporting small-scale retailers in general is an important driver of our own growth, we know that sometimes the business case for our initiatives is often of secondary importance. This is because we use the skills and models we've developed globally to help tackle a humanitarian crisis, such as in the case of people displaced by war.


As big as possible

Building skills among Syrian refugees

The ongoing war in Syria has led to the displacement of millions of people, including over 1 million refugees currently living in Lebanon.

Work opportunities are extremely limited. In 2018, we drew on our experience of initiatives that support small-scale retailers to include refugees in training and three-month paid internships across Lebanon.

Building on our regional Baqala store-improvement initiative, we provided 100 registered refugees with the Baqala Training Workshop, which introduces 11 principles of retail and basic shop keeping skills. Each intern was placed in a convenience store for three months to build their skills, and to use their training to improve practices. In 2018, we expanded the programme into Jordan in partnership with UNDP Jordan.

Sanjiv Kakkar, Executive Vice President for Unilever MENA, Turkey, Russia, Ukraine and Belarus said: “Our business contributes to the economic livelihoods of many people and communities across our value chain. Through skills development, increased access to markets and employment, we believe we can help people unlock their potential – so they can support themselves, their communities and our business.”

Of course, this is a small initiative in the context of an emergency of such scale. It is only one of the ways in which Unilever responds to humanitarian crises. But we see it as a useful example of how building transferrable skills can create positive social impact and deliver growth.

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