For Unilever Pakistan, the opportunity for growth lies in a sector that many may not believe to be holding a lot of potential - the rural areas.
In an interview with BR Research, Ehsan Malik, CEO Unilever Pakistan, said: "In the last two years or so, about 70 percent of our growth has come from what we loosely call the
A unique initiative by the enterprising multinational is the Guddi Baji project, a vocational and skill development programme which aims to create brand ambassadors for Unilevers personal care products at the same time.
Guddi Bajis - literally meaning doll sisters - are trained in the provision of beauty services, and are also taught seven key messages that they have to share with the women in their villages. These seven messages focus on hygiene and health issues such as washing hands, breastfeeding infants, registration of children at birth, sending girls to schools, family planning, ante-natal care for pregnant women and environmental consciousness.
Women between 18 and 30 years of age are selected from villages having a minimum population of 5,000 and 10,000 and minimum matriculate education. These women have to work with Unilever Pakistan for three years, selling Unilever beauty products as well as beauty services to women in their villages. If they leave the contract, they have to return Rs.2,000 training fee.
"Guddi Bajis have become a symbol of advice in rural areas. Some women enrolled in the programme have stepped out of their houses for the first time, earning an average of Rs.6,000 to 7,000 per month. Whats worth noting is the confidence and self-esteem that these women have developed as a consequence of this programme," said Sadia Dada, Manager Corporate Affairs at Unilever Pakistan.
All in all, these women not only serve a corporate social responsibility function as they spread awareness about the issues mentioned above, but they also act as brand ambassadors for the Company, selling products of its various brands.
The Company also hopes to reduce the use of harmful and counterfeit goods through this programme. "With enhanced access to Unilever products, consumers in these areas would be able to tell the difference and get value for money," Dada adds.
The Guddi Bajis are even rewarded against the sales they render of Unilever products, hence providing an entrepreneurial benefit to these women too.
"While the bulk of spending for rural families goes to food, about 20 percent is spent on looking beautiful and buying expensive clothes," said an article in the Bloomberg Businessweek quoting Shazia Syed, Vice President for Customer Development at Unilever Pakistan.
This is great example of a win-win strategy by a corporate player as it not only projects the Companys mission towards achieving its corporate social responsibility objectives, but also helps penetration in the rural areas.
"The rural push is aimed at the boisterous youth in these areas who have bountiful cash and resources to increase purchases," Syed was quoted by Bloomberg Businessweek in an interview. "Rural growth is more than double that of national sales."