There are an estimated four billion people living in low-income communities that are underserved in terms of access to affordable quality consumer goods, food, and sanitation facilities. They are commonly referred to as the Base of the Pyramid (BoP). At the same time, many women in these communities are unemployed or underemployed. These women constitute a huge untapped source of entrepreneurial potential and are also likely to invest their earnings in the needs of their families including education.
Traditional distribution channels for manufactured food and consumer goods typically end in small urban centers. People living in rural areas are forced to use relatively expensive public transport, and expend significant amounts of time accessing those urban outlets. In general, there is a total absence of third-party distribution enterprises to bridge the gap between rural consumers and formal sector manufacturers.
Our inclusive distribution businesses were designed to introduce a new source of income for underserved women while providing BoP consumers with access to essential products. The businesses provide consumer goods, food, and innovative products – like solar lamps or water filters – to women whom we recruit from low-income communities. We supply the products at convenient meeting points and we provide the training and coaching that they need to be knowledgeable and confident salespeople.
The participation of women in the business creates a female support network, an extended community, and a new identity including higher self-esteem, particularly as the women are now able to contribute to their families and invest in areas such as their children’s education.
Our distribution businesses are also a very efficient mechanism for behavioral change. In September 2015, we announced the Transform partnership with Unilever and the UK’s International Development Agency (DFID) to positively change the behaviors of 100 million people in Africa and South Asia by 2025 through water, sanitation, hygiene (WASH), and energy products and services. Our distribution businesses will provide the platform for outreach and delivery.
We provide a business opportunity for companies such as Unilever, Nestlé, and Claro, as they are able to tap into new markets at the base of the pyramid.
We offer an investment opportunity in our businesses on a case by case basis for social investors. Additionally, donors can provide grants for entrepreneur training or uniforms, or for business case development. All such forms of participation will help to scale the number of women we are able to impact.