What worries Gita Devi about her business is not the slowdown but the tea her neighbours drink. “They’re drinking City Gold and Tata Tea,” she tells Dharmender Mishra, her supervisor. “Why don’t they like Brooke Bond then?” “Maybe we should plan a tea party for them,” Mishra says.
“Maybe,” Gita Devi says.
It’s important for the neighbours to drink Brooke Bond. Gita Devi is Hindustan Unilever Ltd’s (HUL’s) chief salesperson for her village and neighbouring Shalimarbad, and one of at least 45,000 village entrepreneurs enrolled in the rural marketing
behemoth ‘Project Shakti’. If the neighbours of each one of those entrepreneurs — or Shakti ammas, as they’re called –
drink Brooke Bond and plump for other HUL consumer goods, it’ll bear out the promise of Project Shakti: to cultivate the
vast market that is rural India, sourcing saleswomen from the very villages it hopes to tap.
Since its launch in 2001, Project Shakti has swept India so successfully that Unilever is now customizing it to rural markets in Bangladesh and Vietnam. In 15 states, it works with NGOs to identify under-privileged women and train them to be saleswomen. Its operational run has coincided exactly with a rise in rural India’s purchasing power, the last two years yielding a particularly rapid rate of growth.
Last year, Roshni, a Shakti amma in neighbouring Dhindaar, found her customers dissatisfied with the Fair & Lovely cream she sold. She organised a seminar to show them the correct way to use it — what her Shakti trainer, Jitendra Kumar, calls the “aath ka funda,” the method of daubing spots of the cream in a figure-of-eight on the face, and then massaging it in. “And now it sells much better,” says Roshni.
On average, a Shakti amma records monthly sales of Rs 10,000, earning between Rs 600-800 herself.