Hindustan Unilever (HUL), a leading fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) company, started Project Shakti in 2001 with the idea to empower women in rural India by creating livelihood opportunities. Since then, the Shakti model has been successfully replicated in villages across India. The model has also been adapted and evolved in other countries such as Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Under the programme, HUL helps equip rural women with the basic skills that small-scale entrepreneurs need.
The women learn various aspects of running a retail business, from inventory to distribution management. They are also introduced to HUL products, which they sell. This paves the path for the women to become financially independent and more empowered.
Project Shakti has created livelihood opportunities for more than 80,000 women across India.
According to HUL, with the Shakti programme, the average income of a Shakti household can increase up to approximately 20 percent compared to average household incomes in the geographies. Equally important is that this income is directly attributed to the Shakti Amma. This has increased the confidence of Shakti Ammas to participate in household decision making and augmented their sense of self-worth. The enhanced income has given them the ability to increase spending on their families and themselves.
For instance, a Shakti Amma from Bihar said, “Earlier, I was dependent on my husband. Now I am self-dependent and not a load on anyone. I can educate my children without help, I manage expenses on my own and I take my own decisions.”
Shakti Ammas feel that the project has positively impacted their position in their family and society. Their association with the programme has made them more confident and comfortable speaking with people, while increasing their respect in their community.
For example, Meenakshi from a village in Bihar signed up to be a Shakti Amma in 2010. She credits her financial independence and enhanced social role to Project Shakti.
“Before being a Shakti Amma, I had to ask my husband to buy daily supplies as I didn’t step out of the house. Now I go alone to the market and buy whatever I need,” she said.
In 2010, the company also introduced the Shaktimaan initiative, providing bicycles to men in Shakti Ammas’ families to distribute products. This particularly helped with expanding the Shakti programme where the Shaktimaan could assist the Shakti Amma set up her business.
Meaningful change begins with a single person, and Project Shakti enables individuals, especially women, to enhance their own lives, and that of their families.
The FMCG company is certain that Project Shakti will continue to serve as a catalyst for entrepreneurship and economic empowerment while being a key driver of distribution and growth for HUL.