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Hindustan Unilever is empowering women of Rural India through its Project Shakti

By CSRBOX On 12 August 2019
Hindustan Unilever is empowering women of Rural India through its Project Shakti

As per the Annual Employment– Unemployment (EUS) Surveys conducted by Labour Bureau in the 2015-16, the Worker Population Ratio for Female aged 15 years & above according to Usual Status basis is 25.8%.  Although the data isn’t encouraging, several corporates like the Hindustan Unilever Limited (HUL) is doing their bit to help women achieve economic independence.

One of its CSR activities involves financially empowering and providing livelihood opportunities to women in rural India. Known as Project Shakti the programme involves imparting training by executives of HUL so that the beneficiaries are acquainted with the products of the Company as well as the basic tenets of distribution management. This programme has helped Shakti Entrepreneurs, also known as Shakti Ammasin gaining soft skills in areas like negotiating and effective communication. Most importantly, the HUL interventions have helped in building and fostering entrepreneurial mindset amongst Shakti Entrepreneurs.

The Shakti Entrepreneurs are the women micro-enterprise, who are selected and appointed from among the poorer women SHGs through a distinct process. They represent HUL as business-dealers but in the process manage to secure a livelihood for themselves.

Shakti Ammas earn approximately Rs. 2000-3000 a month under a commission-based model. This is however double or triple the income they would likely have earned before joining HUL. Another vital aspect is that this income is directly credited to the Shakti Amma. As a result of achieving financial independence, Shakti Ammas across different intervention areas (different states) reported more participation and opinion  in household decision making and boosted their sense of self-confidence and self-respect. Moreover, the increase in income has also enabled them to provide their children with more nutritious food and at the same time fulfilling their wishes, which were not possible earlier.

For instance, a Shakti Amma from Andhra Pradesh, Parvati said, “Earlier, I was dependent on my husband and father-in-law even for buying small household things and had to take their approval before buying anything. Now I do not have to ask if I want to buy nutritious fruits or vegetables for my grand children. Even If I want to buy bangles for myself from the local fair I can do so myself unlike earlier days”.  Another Amma from Bihar, Sundari mentioned that  “ For 10 years after my marriage I was never consulted for any decisions taken in the family; my husband thought I was not worth being consulted or discussed for any matters pertaining to the family. However after I started earning my worth in the eyes of the family members including my husband has increased manifold. I cannot thank Project Shakti enough for giving me this opportunity”.

An auxiliary benefit of this programme is that it also helps in advancing HUL’s distribution and expands the reach of the company’s brands. The rural micro-enterprise has helped Hindustan Unilever to push growth rates in several brands across categories like Annapurna, Lux, Lifebuoy, Breeze, Wheel, Fair & Lovely, Lakme, Ponds, Clinic Plus and Pepsodent.

Since awareness of rural consumers about products and brands is lesser compared to urban markets this model was beneficial for the company in tapping the rural market easily and in the process provided livelihood opportunity to rural women. HUL had a budget of INR 45 crore for Project Shakti.

The company also initiated a Shakti Vani project to supplement Project Shakti; Under this programme, trained communicators visited schools and village gatherings to impart awareness on sanitation, good hygiene practices and women empowerment. This served as a rural communication vehicle and helps to boost up sales.

Launched in 2001, in Andhra Pradesh, Project Shakti has benefitted 109100 Shakti Entrepreneurs and is operational in 18 states (Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand and Orissa are few of the states where the intervention was carried out). Marketing products in Indian hinterland is challenging and needs groundbreaking ideas like that of Project Shakti; however the opportunity is presented to so many women in the rural areas to work as rural distributors makes it a unique case study of how CSR or social welfare can be linked to augment business.  As most of the Ammas say Project Shakti has provided each of them a new life full of dignity due to financial independence.

Project Shakti has now been replicated in different countries like Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam Bangladesh etc. owing to the enormous success it achieved in India.

More about Hindustan Unilever's CSR Portfolio

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