Expanding opportunities in our value chain
Our distribution networks are a vital part of our value chain, bringing our products to consumers. By building skills among our small-scale distributors and retailers, many of whom are women, we can enhance their livelihoods while growing our business.
Why we're helping women take more control
Our products reach consumers through around 8 million stores in more than 190 countries, as well as through direct sales from micro-entrepreneurs. We know that millions of women work in this network, and that women own or operate 30-40% of outlets in what is known as 'traditional trade' - the mom-and-pop shops, corner stores, kiosks, open market stalls and street carts that are vital to our sales in developing markets.
By creating opportunities for employment and entrepreneurship, and addressing gender barriers, we can help women grow their businesses and gain greater control over their incomes. At the same time, they're helping us build stronger supply chains, distribution networks and markets.
Our Kabisig programme recognises how valuable small-scale retailers are to our sales network, and brings them together with our distributors at Kabisig Summits to learn skills such as stock control, financial management, sales techniques, and customer service.
Over 24,000 store owners, 21,000 of whom were women, attended a Summit in 2016 and the programme continues to scale up in 2017.
Training that enhances skills & removes barriers
In addition to reducing common barriers that women face, such as a lack of training and skills, the need for childcare, or social attitudes, we aim to improve access to markets, information and financing. We do this directly or in partnership with civil society organisations, governments or financial institutions.
A key focus for us is developing new distribution models, so that women can use their entrepreneurial spirit and skills learnt in their training to reach consumers in novel ways, while enhancing their incomes.
Many models include engaging women as independent sales agents for our brands in rural areas, and as part of a door-to-door salesforce. We also engage women in helping to diversify product selection in existing women-owned outlets, by providing new lines from our brands relevant to their customers’ needs.
Shakti - driving opportunity & sales
Our best-known and largest example is Shakti, our door-to-door selling operation in India, which is providing work for around 72,000 women in low-income rural communities. Shakti means 'power' or 'empowered', and the programme's success has brought a new level of respect for many women, called Shakti ammas, especially in communities where the norm was traditionally for men to be responsible for any sort of commercial enterprise.
Shakti entrepreneurs distribute our brands in more than 160,000 villages, reaching around 4 million rural households. We provide training on basic accounting, sales, health and hygiene and relevant IT skills. We also equip them with smartphones containing a mini Enterprise Resource Package to help them run their business efficiently. Shakti entrepreneurs benefit from higher incomes – the majority earning more than Rs 1,000 a month. The initiative expanded in 2010 to include Shaktimaans, typically the husbands or brothers of ammas, who sell Unilever products by bicycle to surrounding villages.
Shakti has become our model to reach out to rural consumers on low incomes in developing and emerging markets. We are adapting this model in several South-East Asian, African and Latin American markets. For example, Project Zeinab in Alexandria, Egypt creates income-generating opportunities for poor women. Like Shakti, it also provides us with excellent door-to-door sales representatives. In Nigeria, our Gbemiga programme incorporates our Shakti model along with nutrition and hygiene education, using an innovative mobile platform to encourage long-term behaviour change.
Guddi Baji: home-based entrepreneurs helping us reach consumers in Pakistan
Project Guddi Baji, (‘Good Sister’), supports women in Pakistan to become home-based entrepreneurs selling authentic Unilever products to rural consumers. In partnership with the Business Research and Support Channel, we provided business and sales training to nearly 900 women, and improved the shops that they run out of their own homes. As a result, the outlets have gained a Rs 4,000 per month increase in disposable income (around £30).
Over 2014-2016 we created ten Water Centres in Nigeria through our dishwash brand Sunlight, in partnership with Oxfam and TechnoServe.
Run by women from the community, the Centres provide clean water for domestic activities. We train local women to run the Centres – which gives them the skills, experience and an opportunity to generate an income. Water is sold at affordable cost, as are food and household products. Selling Sunlight products has been a key component of making the Water Centres sustainable. All proceeds go towards management of the Centres. At the same time, we provide education on the responsible use of water to help people get the most out of what is available. Read more in Water.