Project Shakti by HUL: Uplifting Women for a Transforming India
In the sweltering heat, we frequently see women selling or distributing home goods like detergents, soaps, and sanitisers to households. Have you ever questioned who supports them or why these women are being empowered?
Project Shakti: The Beginning
According to the Periodic Labour Force Survey conducted by the Ministry of Statistics, the percentage of women in the labour force has been falling. According to the Gender Gap Report 2022 from the World Economic Forum, India placed 135th out of 146 nations, trailing smaller neighbours like Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Nepal. It is one of five countries, along with China, Pakistan, Azerbaijan, and Qatar, where gender inequality exceeds 5%. Project Shakti is a knight in shining armour for the disadvantaged rural women population in such a terrible scenario.
Additionally, just 18.6% of people in India who are employed or seeking a job are women. India has 149.8 million working women, 121.8 million of whom live in rural areas, according to the Census of 2011. The Census data also reveals a higher rate of women moving from rural to urban regions for work and business, rising from 47% in 2001 to 58% in 2011.
Hindustan Unilever introduced Project Shakti in 2001, intending to empower rural women from disadvantaged backgrounds. Small communities with a population of no more than 2,000 are the focus of this initiative. Shakti is organised in Self-Help Groups (SHGs), and it works to raise the standards of living in rural India. The project provides rural women with the necessary tools and training to enable them to work as an extension of the business, which in turn aids the women in generating much-needed additional earnings for their families.
Shakti Ammas: The Real Heroes
The Shakti Ammas, or the women entrepreneurs, receive training in the fundamentals of distribution management as well as product familiarisation. These Shakti Ammas are coached by HUL's team of Rural Sales Promoters (RSPs), who coach them by acquainting them with the product line. Additionally, they teach them the fundamentals of sales and problem-solving while also assisting them in developing their soft skills in areas like communication and negotiation.
The Project includes the social communication programme called Shakti Vani. Through presentations at school assemblies, village baithaks, SHG meetings, and other social gatherings, women with training in health and hygiene problems address local communities.
Following product training, Shakti Ammas obtains supplies from the company's rural distributor at a discount from the price at which the products are usually offered. The Shakti Ammas then distributes these products to village stores as well as to consumers directly (via home-to-home marketing).
In an effort to foster an entrepreneurial mindset, the Project makes Shakti Ammas financially independent and increases their sense of empowerment. The company has trained thousands of them throughout the villages. By selling items, a typical Shakti Amma makes about Rs. 1000 each month. A Shakti Amma in her community rises socially as a result of her affiliation with a reputable business and obtains both financial and social power.
Impact of Project Shakti
In 18 states, Project Shakti has nearly 120,000 thousand female micro-entrepreneurs. With the network having doubled over the previous four years, it now reaches half of the villages in rural India. The Project has assisted in raising the general standard of life in their families by enabling the typical Shakti Amma to make a sustainable income of roughly $14 per month, which is double their normal household income. Additionally, it has given rural women the chance to respectably better their living conditions.
During the pandemic, where most of the businesses were disrupted, the Shakti network played the role of being a crucial part of HUL’s distribution channel. Kudos to the efforts put in by these Shakti Ammas; HUL was able to dramatically extend the physical reach of its products to rural households.
In several instances, the Shakti Ammas travelled to distributors to pick up stocks, which they subsequently distributed to the households in their vicinity. This was a major factor in enabling HUL to reach the most disadvantaged groups in society with its goods.
The Future Design
A further addition of up to 25,000 Shakti Ammas is planned by the company every two years. Women who work in technical and leadership positions make 30–40% less money than men in those positions, and they also earn 15% less money overall.
HUL were able to gain roughly 85,000 Shakti Ammas access to the Shikhar application over the course of the last two years and get them on smartphones. Additionally, the decision has been taken to deposit the commission to Shakti Ammas directly into each person's account so that they may receive their funds each month.
Growth was aided by the population's reverse migration to the villages. Surf Excel laundry powder and utensil cleaners in liquid and bar formats were in high demand. Items that were previously difficult to sell in rural areas are now more readily available to the villagers.
Four years ago, just 25% of rural Indian communities were covered by HUL's Shakti network. Today, that number is 50%. The network's size has doubled in these four years. When logistics were hampered in 2020, it was this very network that saved HUL. Rural markets have held up better than urban ones because of the efforts of women entrepreneurs who significantly increased the physical reach of their products to rural homes.
The Shakti model is not widely used by businesses in rural areas. However, the majority are planning ways to boost rural penetration and are developing goods, especially for these areas. It is interesting to note that Shakti was designated as a CSR endeavour, and HUL invested 53 crore on the network.
The success of Project Shakti serves as a reminder that enterprises may empower women and the economy in accordance with social justice, as required by the Indian Constitution. Initiatives like Project Shakti are a tool to ameliorate the condition of women in a nation like India, where they are the most vulnerable section of society.