How HUL powers rural growth by empowering women

HUL clocked a turnover of 50,336 crores in FY22. Today we'll explore how HUL put its mark in rural India through a CSR initiative called Project Shakti and in turn earned 20,000 crores in revenue!

24th August 2022
3 min read

In a nutshell

Hindustan Unilever or HUL is a popular brand in India. You have probably used their very common products like Surf, Lifebuoy, Vaseline, etc! In FY22, this company clocked a turnover of 50,336 crores and survived for a whopping 90+ years!

Now, there are many interesting aspects to HUL's success. But, one of the most notable ones is their CSR initiative, Project Shakti! With Project Shakti, HUL not only empowers rural women but also creates a perfectly blend business model. Let's get into it.

Now, a company registered in India with,
1) > 500 crores net worth, OR
2) > 1000 crores turnover, OR
3) > 5 crores net profit
are required to spend at least 2% of their net profits in the past 3 years on CSR initiatives.

Now, what exactly is this Project Shakti initiative? Well, in a nutshell, this is how the program works:
1. HUL selects Shakti entrepreneurs or Shakti Ammas (SA) from villages and trains them on the basics of distribution networks.

2. These women are provided with credit facilities, so that they can purchase HUL products at wholesale prices and sell them at retail prices.
In short, rural women become micro-entrepreneurs, who use their personal networks to better their lives,

As of 2022, there are 1,60,000 SAs who work across ~50% of all villages in India!

By now, you’d be thinking that all of this sounds great, but how exactly does this help HUL’s business?

There are ~6 lakh villages in India with sizeable number of households. Shakti Ammas span across 50% of these villages, ie. 3 lakh villages.
Now, there are ~275 households in each village. And, Shakti entrepreneurs are able to reach 5% to 50% of these households directly. That is ~40 lakh to ~4 crore households in India.

Let's assume that a rural household spends ~INR 400 every month on HUL products.

Revenue generated by Shakti entrepreneurs across India in a year = Households reached by Project Shakti x Average monthly spend x 12

For ~40 lakh households reached,
Revenue generated = 4,000,000 x 400 x 12 = INR 1920 crores
For ~4 crore households reached,
Revenue generated = 40,000,000 x 400 x 12 = INR 19,200 crores
In essence, HUL is able to generate a revenue of INR 2000 to 20,000 crores due to Project Shakti!

Project Shakti is a boon for rural woman but this CSR initiative also put HUL on the rural India map! In fact, now HUL has built a very low-cost distribution network in rural areas while helping others. It's not a stretch to say that this is a win-win situation for the brand!


If I ask you to list down 10 daily-use products in your house, your list will most probably include names like Surf, Lifebuoy, Vaseline etc. What’s interesting is that all these iconic brands have the same parent company — Hindustan Unilever or HUL.

HUL is India’s biggest FMCG (fast moving consumer goods) company and has a history of 90+ years. In 2021-22, it clocked a turnover of INR 50,336 crores[1]!

Now, there are many interesting areas to explore about HUL. But today, we’ll dive deeper into a less talked about aspect of their business — HUL’s CSR (corporate social responsibility) initiatives and how they blend perfectly into their business model.

In fact, HUL’s social initiatives have been a key driver of their rural marketing & growth. Enough of the teaser, let’s dive right into it then!

Firstly, some specifics on CSR obligations for Indian companies

If your company is registered in India and,

  • has a net worth of > 500 crores, OR
  • a turnover of > 1000 crores, OR
  • a net profit of > 5 crores,

you will be required to undertake and execute some socially relevant activities.

At least 2% of the net profit made in the past 3 years must be spent on these initiatives. 

There are certain norms regarding where and how the companies can spend their CSR amount. But in the past, profitable companies have taken up various initiatives as per their choice and have brought in positive changes.

So, which CSR initiative of HUL are we going to talk about?

In 2001, HUL launched a rural marketing initiative called Project Shakti to provide livelihood opportunities to rural women.

HUL’s aim was to train & empower rural women to become entrepreneurs and become financially independent.

In a nutshell, this is how the program works:

  1. HUL selects Shakti entrepreneurs or Shakti Ammas (SA) from villages and trains them on the basics of distribution networks.
  2. These women are provided with credit facilities, so that they can purchase HUL products at wholesale prices and sell them at retail prices.

In short, rural women become micro entrepreneurs, who use their personal network within their own community/village to improve their lives.

As of 2022, there are 1,60,000 SAs[1] who work across ~50% of all villages in India[2]!

By now, you’d be thinking that all of this sounds great, but how exactly does this help HUL’s business?

How does Project Shakti help HUL’s business?

Let’s try to understand the impact of Project Shakti on HUL’s business through some numbers.

Estimating Project Shakti’s outreach in India

  1. There are ~6,40,000 villages in India[3] and ~6,00,000 villages are inhabited with a sizable number of people & households[4].
  2. Shakti Ammas span across ~50% of villages in India ⇒ HUL is able to reach 6,00,000 x 50% = ~3,00,000 villages.
  3. Now, ~83.3 crore Indians live in villages[5].

    So, average # of people per village = 833,000,000 / 6,00,000 = 1388 people

  4. If we assume there are 5 members in every village household on average,

    # of households per village = 1388 / 5 = ~275 households

  5. Assuming Shakti entrepreneurs are able to reach out to 5% to 50% of these households directly,

    5% ⇒ 275 x 3,00,000 x 5% = 4,125,000 households reached

    50% ⇒ 275 x 3,00,000 x 50% = 41,250,000 households reached

Effectively, HUL is able to reach ~40 lakh to ~4 crore households in India due to Project Shakti.

Average household spend on HUL products

Here, we have picked up a basket of the most common HUL products and applied a conservative estimate on a household’s monthly spend on it.

hindustan unilever project shakti csr initiative math

Net net, we assume that a rural household spends ~INR 400 every month on HUL products.

Revenue impact from Project Shakti

Finally, we estimate the potential revenue HUL can make due to its improved rural outreach from Project Shakti.

Revenue generated by Shakti entrepreneurs across India in a year = Households reached by Project Shakti x Average monthly spend x 12

For ~40 lakh households reached,

Revenue generated = 4,000,000 x 400 x 12 = INR 1920 crores

For ~4 crore households reached,

Revenue generated = 40,000,000 x 400 x 12 = INR 19,200 crores

In essence, HUL is able to generate a revenue of INR 2000 to 20,000 crores due to Project Shakti!

It’s a win-win!

Project Shakti is a boon for rural women. Not only does it give them an opportunity to earn income, but it also gives them access to information and products that they may not otherwise have access to. More importantly, it gives them a sense of pride and accomplishment as micro entrepreneurs.

For HUL, it’s a great way to reach its rural customers, who may not have access to traditional channels like shops or TV advertising. It also provides HUL with a way to connect with rural communities and buildd goodwill. In fact, HUL has built a low-cost distribution network in rural areas using Project Shakti.

It’s amazing to see how a conglomerate turned a mandatory CSR activity into a great business model with immense social impact!

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Now, Apple has been so synonymous with innovation that even a product that is many times better than its predecessor is not enough to satisfy shareholders. So when Apple is unable to deliver another revolutionary product, the effect is seen in its stock price.

Seeing the stock price drop causes panic and more people sell, causing the price to fall further on the day of the launch!

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Moreover, while Apple may have historically been the "iPhone company", it is moving strongly towards becoming a software company. Apple's services business brings in ~$70 billion in revenue.

Nonetheless, iPhone still is Apple's MAIN cash cow and contributes to 50% of Apple's revenue. So while it's unlikely that a launch event will have a long-term effect on the stock price, launch events will still be critical for the growth of the iPhone & Apple.

WhatsApp for Business: Meta’s Cash Cow or Dead Wood?

WhatsApp is wildly popular, especially in India. 20% of their 2 billion monthly active users are from India!

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Before WhatsApp was acquired by Facebook (now Meta) in 2016, here's how they were planning to make money:
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- After that, users have to pay a $1 fee every year to continue using the app.

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How Amul became an advertising ICON despite spending only 1% of sales on ads

The origins of Amul date back to 1940s. Back then, Polson dominated the dairy industry in Mumbai by buying milk from farmers at lower rates and selling it to consumers at much higher prices. The milk sold was also adulterated with water to get higher margins.

To solve this issue, India's then Home Minister, Sardar Vallabhai Patel, urged the farmers to create their own organization to supply milk to Mumbai directly. And thus, Amul or Anand Milk Union Limited was born.

Today, Amul is the largest milk cooperative in the world, owned by ~4 million milk farmers!

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Well, Amul does not spend separately to create a brand out of each of its products. Rather it focuses on umbrella branding or family branding!

So, Amul as a brand is synonymous with "Taste of India" and consumers identify every product as coming from Amul.

This strategy of creating an umbrella brand only works when your products are related and you identify the same principles across all products.

We did some quick math to figure out the advertising spend by Amul Butter for every household. And, turns out, Amul Butter spends INR 48.8 Cr on advertising to reach 2 crore households.So, their customer acquisition cost is a mere INR 24!

So, Amul is clearly doing pretty well at spending less while earning MORE!