In 2017, Tim Kleinebenne, managing director of Unilever Ethiopia, and Buks Akinseye, senior global sustainability manager in Unilever’s Rotterdam headquarters, had collaborated to develop and launch a Shakti initiative, creating a last-mile distribution channel that targeted rural Ethiopia. While serving rural Ethiopia presented Unilever with a substantial market opportunity and the promise of achieving greater diversity, equity, and inclusion in its business strategy, the rollout had proved challenging. To facilitate the initiative, Unilever Ethiopia’s search for a partner had led to Kidame Mart, a local social enterprise founded by Shani Senbetta. With funding from Unilever, Senbetta and her team recruited economically vulnerable women in rural Ethiopia to be Shakti entrepreneurs and provided them a basket of goods to sell locally. This basket included mainly Unilever products, along with a few non-competing items from other companies. But, creating demand for Unilever products and in rural markets was difficult.
This case includes two supplemental videos; one features Buks Akinseye and provides further background on Unilever’s global strategy for the Shakti initiative. The second offers a rich illustration of how the Shakti model works in rural Ethiopia. Video access information, and how they can be effectively incorporated into a case discussion, is provided in the teaching note.