Unilever has begun replicating Hindustan Unilever’s (HUL) rural micro-enterprise [in India], led by women-entrepreneurs, Project Shakti in several international markets.
The project was started in 2001 to empower underprivileged rural women by providing income-generating opportunities [by selling soap, shampoo and other pesronal care products], health and hygiene education. Rural women are appointed as Vanis (communicators) and trained to communicate in social forums like schools and village get-togethers. There are over 45,000 Shakti entrepreneurs covering over 135,000 villages across 15 Indian states.
The project has emerged as a successful low-cost business model and enhanced HUL’s direct rural reach in the so-called media-dark regions. Armed with micro-credit, rural women become direct-to-home distributors of Unilever brands in rural markets. Overall, around 50% of Hindustan Lever’s revenues came from the rural markets in India.
The effort is expected to help Unilever tap fresh growth avenues in emerging markets [which now contribute around 44% to global revenues] up in the face of recessionary trends in the US and Europe [and] the saturation of urban markets.
The project is being customised and adapted in other Unilever markets such as Sri Lanka, Viet Nam and Bangladesh. It is being considered for other Latin American and African markets. In Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, it is being promoted as Joyeeta and Saubaghya, respectively. There is a similar initiative in Viet Nam as well.
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Source: Kala Vijayraghavan, The Economic Times, 19 Jan 2009