Delivering affordable, high-quality products to the billions of people who live in poorly served or remote locations presents a huge opportunity for innovative social enterprises. Unilever is now sharing their expertise to help them create successful ‘last-mile distribution’ models.
Serving consumers is often not viable for large companies. But for social enterprises, they can present a significant opportunity for both the community and the lage company. Many of these entrepreneurs are developing smart solutions to overcome the challenges, build successful enterprises and enhance the livelihoods of the individuals – predominantly women – and communities involved.
Last-mile distribution is challenging because each country and context can be very different. And with little co-sharing of knowledge and skills, social enterprises tend to design and build their distribution models from scratch each time. Essentially, reinventing the wheel. Ultimately, this means they aren’t able to scale up quickly.
For over ten years, Unilever has helped pioneer last-mile distribution models. For example, through their Shakti programme in India, they train local women as rural sales agents. Today, Project Shakti has over 72,000 micro-entrepreneurs supported by 48,000 Shaktimaans who sell products by bicycle in surrounding villages.
Unilever also shares expertise in Bangladesh, Vietnam, Sri Lanka and Egypt. In Pakistan, Unilever took the concept to a new level, training hundreds of village women as beauticians. These Guddi Bajis (“good sisters”) provide beauty services from home and sell Unilever products to neighbours.
As Gerald Kuehr, Unilever’s Chief Customer Officer, says: “Through our Sustainable Living Plan, we have committed to improve the wellbeing of over a billion people, and include millions more in our value chain. Establishing innovative distribution networks will play a vital role in realising those ambitions. This aim of enhancing livelihoods and driving economic growth also sits at the heart of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. We are sharing our knowledge and expertise, so we can all achieve these quicker. Collective action is the most powerful tool we have to drive positive change.”
For more information about the Unilever program, click here.