Shakti Programme: Unilever Nigeria’s ‘Gospel’ Of Rural Women Empowerment


From 15,500 Naira to millions!

Some years ago, Mrs. Folashade Obadeyi (not real name) was just a regular housewife doing her normal wifely duties and taking good care of her family business. But the dwindling state of the economy and her family’s drastically reduced income and spending power meant she had to do something urgently.

But what could she do with her limited education?  What could she do as someone dwelling in a rural area and what can she do in a society that appears to put everything in her path militating against her irking a decent living? When an empowerment programme found its way to her ‘obscure’ location, offering her a trading opportunity, she knew she could do something…jump on it.

Through this programme, she was provided products to resell to households in her community, thereby making a profit and generating an income stream for herself and her family. At that time, Folashade who is known as Iya Ibadan was given products worth #15,500 to sell and pay back the money. She was so successful with the business that today; she has become a mini distributor, employing people to work for her in the process.

Like Iya Ibadan, Helen Ugwu from the Eastern part of Nigeria boasts a thriving retail store that she built from the scratch with zero capital on her part but with the full zest and aplomb needed to succeed in a country like Nigeria. Like them, Tina Bello from the northern part of Nigeria takes good care of her family from the proceeds of the business she has been able to grow with just around fifteen thousand naira worth of products to begin with. All these women have one thing in common. They are among the 6,000 women who have benefitted from the Sunlight Shakti programme of Unilever Nigeria, aimed at empowering women in rural areas.

The feat by these relentless women is a laudable example of the entrepreneurial ingenuity of Nigerian women if given the right opportunity. The ‘investment’ by Unilever, beyond the buzz of corporate social responsibility or corporate social investment, bears a strong affinity to the Creating Shared Values (CSV) championed by such global organisations as Adidas and Nestle. In empowering these women, the company, society, and the whole country are better for it.

Not surprisingly, non-urban women who grew up in socioeconomic conditions are the solutions to any country’s poverty recovery. Their impact is also sacrosanct with the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the United Nations in 2015. These SDGs are a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity by 2030. Empowering women through sustainable livelihood is an important component of it. Many businesses and organizations globally are working at the grass-root level to address this issue.

They are demonstrating that they are indeed making a difference in the lives of women through empowerment, whether it is on the ‘small things’ that matter or the big things that make all the difference.  Unilever’s Sunlight brand is one of such. Since the formal relaunch in Nigeria in 2009, its purpose has been to make life easier for people, with a focus on women empowerment.

One key area of this empowerment that has led to the emancipation of thousands of women with a projection to reach a whopping 100,000 women by 2025 is the Sunlight Shakti Programme Unilever Nigeria introduced. This programme is an initiative where women in rural areas are provided Sunlight products to resell to households in their communities, making a profit and generating an income stream for themselves. Since its launch in 2004, Unilever has provided seed capital in the form of Unilever products, business training, and funding for women thereby improving the livelihoods of rural areas.

A Promise to do more

Thankfully, the Shakti Programme is a sustainable programme that is built for the long haul as Unilever has restated its commitment to the development of women with it. Speaking during a brand purpose workshop organized for the media in Lagos in August, the Corporate Affairs & Sustainability Director for Unilever West Africa, Soromidayo George said, “the goal of the Sunlight Shakti programme is to help African women achieve financial security and move from low-income to middle-income thereby bolstering their independence,” hence the focus on the long haul.

Empowering women is in Sunlight’s Brand DNA, as Lord Leverhulme-William Lever (founder of today’s Unilever) promoted equal rights for women as early as 1916. His vision “to lessen work for women and make life more rewarding and enjoyable for the people who use Sunlight products” is something we can confidently say we have continued to do throughout the years.

Its Category Manager, Homecare, Oladapo Oshuntoye, reaffirming this, adds that with the Shakti programme and other initiatives, Unilever is poised to do more in empowering women, especially those in the rural areas: “We are excited to reaffirm our commitment to empowering more women in Nigeria as it truly unifies our efforts to deliver more to Nigerian women, both inside and outside the home. We look forward to launching more activities that meet African women’s different needs in business. Across the country, Sunlight continues to do more through various programmes that empower women-owned businesses and move the needle in limiting barriers to success,” he said.

“Sunlight believes that supporting women-owned businesses across all stages of their entrepreneurial journey will help shift the general, usually limited; perception society assigns them. We want to do our part in unlocking their potential so that they can thrive and contribute to a bold narrative about women’s success both in and outside the home.

“The Shakti program articulates Sunlight’s work across the African continent, building communities of women entrepreneurs who want to do more and achieve more. The rollout of the various programmes has been country-specific, targeting women’s unique challenges.

“Sunlight will roll out further activities across the continent over the next three years to support entrepreneurial African women. These activities will be specific to the needs of various communities. They will cover a multitude of support, including training and development, funding, mentorship and coaching, and start-up support, to mention a few,” Oshuntoye added.

From India, with love

Though the Shakti programme has recorded immense emulatable success in Nigeria, it is not indigenous to the country. ‘Shakti’ is an Indian word for strength and empowerment, the female principle for divine energy. As can be seen from its name, Project Shakti was first launched in India in 2001 by HUL, the Indian subsidiary of Unilever to empower underprivileged rural women called ‘Shakti Ammas’. Women entrepreneurs are trained on basic principles of distribution management and familiarization with the company’s products. Project Shakti has nearly 120,000 thousand women micro-entrepreneurs across 18 states. Women can now earn a sustainable income of about $10 – $14 per month, double their average household income.

Under the Project is the Shakti Vani programme, which is a social communication initiative. Women trained in health and hygiene issues address village communities through meetings at schools, village baithaks, SHG meetings, and other social forums.

But before India, Sunlight has been empowering women as far back as 1898. That year, Sunlight initiated programmes to support women such as the Sunlight Yearbook which aimed to equip women with knowledge on finance, politics, and the arts, and the establishment of the “Women’s Club” to help women pursue their passions – such as singing, dancing, needlework, and cycling.

Its current BCI “More Than You Expect” is a continuation of that story and the efforts geared towards empowering women, based on the strong belief that “Women Are More.” In light of this, Sunlight takes the load off their shoulders so they can do more for their families and communities while making their homes brighter.

As Sunlight Brand Manager, Kolade Pelumi revealed, Sunlight is on a quest to help women entrepreneurs develop their businesses into sustainable, profitable, and/or impactful ventures they can be proud of. “We believe that clean homes are places that can help women unlock entrepreneurial opportunities. So, Sunlight is celebrating and empowering enterprising women who want to do and be more for themselves and their communities. Because there’s more to you and Sunlight – than you expect.”

Vanguard of empowering women

In line with its vision to become Africa’s No.1 home care brand, whilst supporting entrepreneurial African women in their desire to contribute more to their households financially, Sunlight also partners organisations and individuals whose visions and aspirations towards the growth and development of women align with its own.

In this vein, in 2019, two Nigerian fashion designers, Chechi Arinze and Titi Belo benefitted from Sunlight’s initiative to support young female entrepreneurs. They both received the sum of two million Naira (NGN 2,000,000) each to grow their businesses. They were chosen for their passion to make an impact in the lives of women and to empower others – both of which align with Sunlight’s mission. “This initiative will help so many women in fashion as we, in turn, will provide training to the women that are coming after us,” Belo said. Arinze added: “This fund will enable me to impact more women and businesses around me.”

Also, Sunlight collaborated with Style House Files (SHF), a fashion business development agency that primarily focuses on the advancement of the Nigerian and African fashion industry – and Lagos Fashion Week, through the Fashion Focus Fund. The collaboration with SHF entailed Sunlight partnered two womenswear brands VATHISWA and ZURIZOLA run by Morenikeji Akinsola and Chibuzor Emordi to create ‘The Sunlight Collection.’ The Sunlight Collection is inspired by the Sunlight Woman, a fun-loving optimist, who always sees the cup as half full.

Sunlight was the official co-sponsor of Style House File’s 2019 edition of the Fashion Focus Talks, a platform where industry experts are invited to educate young talents in the industry. The Talks were held in 4 cities in Africa – Lagos, Abuja, Dakar, and Kigali. For Lagos, Sunlight invited Mai Atafo, a renowned Fashion Designer and Creative Director of Atafo to speak on the theme ‘Beyond Creativity’. Mai Atafo’s area of focus was to educate young talents in the industry on how to excel beyond creativity.

Sunlight further connected with women through the stories of five notable Nigerian women who have made it their mission to empower other women. These women were Olabunmi Aboderin-Talabi, founding publisher of Clever Clogs Books; Bolaji Ayinde-Sekoni, creative director of Nouva Couture; Ifeoma Okoye, founder of PaintedNails NG and ex-beauty Queen; BellaRose Okojie. Morning Show Host at City 105.1FM and Tech entrepreneur; and Nelly Agbogu, founder of Naija Brand Chick and Nellies Nigeria. These women shared how they are empowering women in their different careers and also, how their goals are closely aligned with Sunlight empowerment programmes. They wore the Sunlight collection created by Morenikeji (VATHISWA) and Chibuzor (Zurizola).

The entire initiative and focus on fashion by Sunlight is based on the insight that Sub-Saharan Africa’s fashion market is worth $31billion with Nigeria accounting for 15% of that at $4.7billion. Regardless of these numbers, an average Nigerian designer finds it difficult to get capital to start or scale up due to the challenges that fashion entrepreneurs face, including being taken as seriously as other start-ups from other industries such as technology and agriculture.

Sunlight’s decision to get involved in Nigeria’s fashion industry couldn’t have come at a better time. The industry saw an influx of brilliant designers, especially women emerging annually. It is only expected that Sunlight’s continual involvement in empowering women through fashion will help to take them to the next phase of their careers and more importantly, increase their ability to impact and empower others.

Outside the world of fashion, Sunlight is also in partnership with Women In Marketing Communications Conference and Awards (WIMCA) as well as the Women in Management, Business and Public Service (WIMBIZ), a non-profit organization to offer the Sunlight Empowerment Grant to a deserving winner.

Sunlight was launched more than a decade ago and the brand has grown to become one of the most loved laundry detergents in Nigeria. It’s Detergent Spring Sensations (Sunlight Yellow) and Tropical Sensation (Sunlight Pink) offer consumers dual benefits of effective cleaning and delightful long-lasting fragrances, making the laundry occasion feel less like a chore. The Sunlight Dishwashing Liquid in both the Lemon (Yellow) and Regular (Green) variants offers consumers Fast Oil Stain Removal in 1 Wipe, freeing up more time from doing the dishes to what you love to do. The Sunlight Multipurpose Bars promise a mild and gentle effect on your favourite colours. Sunlight’s rapid growth in Nigeria is driven by Unilever’s culture of constant consumer-led, purposeful and sustainable innovations.

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.