The Business of Care Female Entrepreneur Bangladesh

The Business of Care: Unilever Interview

Lisa Hawkes Global Senior Sustainability Manager Unilever

To mark the first UN endorsed International Day for Care (29 Oct) we have published a series of in-depth interviews, conducted as part of the research for a new report on how multinationals can better support care economy enterprises. 
Women and the Care Economy Report Cover

The interviews with five Business Fights Poverty Lead Partners, Primark, Unilever, Anglo American, Standard Chartered and Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth, focussed on two areas. Firstly, how their companies are currently supporting social entrepreneurs and secondly if and how their companies are addressing the care economy through workplace policies. 

These lines of questioning led to 4 overarching insights:

  1. Companies need to better understand how care impacts their business
  2. Workplace policies can offer a springboard to engage with care enterprises (e.g. responsible recruitment of domestic workers, responsible sourcing of cleaning services)
  3. Companies with extensive supply chains could help enterprises achieve scale (companies can be a bridge essentially linking their workers with social enterprises to help them access low cost, quality care services)
  4. Philanthropic entrepreneurship programmes could be more focussed on supporting care enterprises.

Lisa Hawkes Profile Picture


How important is social innovation to Unilever and why did it support the TRANSFORM programme?

TRANSFORM is an impact accelerator for social entrepreneurs in Africa, South Asia and Southeast Asia. Led by Unilever, the UK’s Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) and EY, we have supported over 70 entrepreneurs and researchers who have positively impacted the lives of 10 million people.

Before Unilever joined the initiative, we identified four areas where we believe there is a ‘virtuous cycle of value’. These are brand purpose, sustainable supply chains, new routes to market and powering a purpose-led workforce. This framework has helped us ensure the initiative delivers win-win outcomes for both social entrepreneurs and our business through TRANSFORM.

How does TRANSFORM support entrepreneurs?

Both Unilever and EY provide business support to the entrepreneurs. At Unilever, we matchmake an entrepreneur and a project lead in our business who work together for 12 months. Opportunities span across the organisation – from marketing to procurement – and is personalised with what the entrepreneur needs support with. Entrepreneurs also get access to Unilever’s value chain, from smallholder farmers to SME retailers, to use as a test bed for their innovations.

EY professionals provide technical business support full time for up to 12 weeks to impact enterprises on a range of topics including building/testing a commercial model, investment readiness, people and HR strategy, customer strategy and more.

This advice and mentoring from EY and Unilever is combined with grants (mainly from the FCDO) of up to £250,000.

Can you give us some examples?

TRANSFORM has supported Bangladeshi business Bhumijo and worked with them to expand the availability and financial viability of public toilets at markets and bus stops. Unilever has subsequently signed a three year contract between Bhumijo and our toilet cleaning brand Domestos, whose purpose is to win the war on unsafe sanitation.

On the supply chain side, TRANSFORM supported Hasiru Dala Innovations (HDI) – the first fair trade recycled plastics provider in India. The project expanded HDI’s capacity and capability. As a result, Unilever now uses their plastic in its Sunsilk shampoo bottles in India.

To create new routes to market we supported Boost – a business that helps SME shopkeepers shift to digital ordering – enabling more “mom and pop” shops to sell our goods and reduce the time it takes to stock shelves. This is now expanding, and we are exploring how to bring informal sellers onto the platform.

Finally, the TRANSFORM initiative empowers our own workforce to think more entrepreneurially, by innovating with small budgets and learning about the challenges that low-income communities face.

How do you identify the sorts of entrepreneurs that TRANSFORM will support?

We collectively identified a series of challenges that we want to accelerate progress on and find solutions for. These are; ‘A waste free world’ (which includes reuse and recycling models for plastics), regenerative agriculture, digital health, water and sanitation, improving livelihoods for SME shopkeepers, and models which create upskilling and earning opportunities for young people and those in the informal sector.

Did/do you envisage that the entrepreneurs might have solutions to problems that Unilever is dealing with?

We learn a lot from the entrepreneurs we work with. Through this collaboration, we’re able to unlock solutions and help scale them. For example, we are supporting Alner to test refill models in low-income settings in Indonesia. We have been working with three Unilever brands in different categories and testing them through our network of shopkeepers.

Has Unilever ever employed the services of any of the entrepreneurs you have supported such as procuring their services?

Yes. One example of this is Kasha, a purpose-driven business in East Africa that has both been a TRANSFORM portfolio company as well as a business partner for Unilever in East Africa. Kasha is a digital retail and last mile distribution platform for health and household goods. Kasha targets serving low-income communities and selling products like soap, feminine care, contraceptives, HIV Self-Tests, cleaning products and food staples to consumers, resellers, pharmacies, hospitals and clinics. Unilever Rwanda contracted Kasha to exclusively launch Unilever’s lifebuoy soap, since Kasha had reach around the country in low-income communities. Kasha also worked with Unilever Kenya to promote various hygiene brands such as Pepsodent, Geisha, Lifebuoy, Sunlight and others.

How does Unilever currently support its employees to balance work and caring responsibilities in the workplace?

Unilever has a range of industry-leading flexible working policies, such as hybrid working and both permanent and temporary flexible working arrangements including part-time, job share and term time working opportunities.

We also provide enhanced leave policies – including 16 weeks maternity leave.

Unilever has a separate employment model called U-Work which provides the company with a pool of skilled and talented employees who we can call upon to meet our resourcing needs in a temporary ad-hoc arrangement.

Could you envisage TRANSFORM supporting care economy entrepreneurs?

For me, we are doing this because the issues we are working on so closely intersect with the care economy. The example I gave of Bhumijo toilets is about so much more than sanitation – it provides people, especially caregivers more time and dignity. If you don’t have a toilet in your home and you are caring for others, a lack of a toilet is a real logistical issue. You are either using chamber pots or taking individuals to a shared toilet that isn’t adapted. We often find that women with children or dependents are the early adopters of these sorts of initiatives, because they really need these solutions.

The other area where I see an intersection is the focus we have on income generation and flexible working options – both of these can enable people to better choose how to undertake their caring responsibilities.

TRANSFORM – is a £90 million impact accelerator programme that supports social entrepreneurs. It is running until 2025.

This publication contains information in summary form and is therefore intended for general guidance only. It is not intended to be a substitute for detailed research or the exercise of professional judgment. Member firms of the global EY organization cannot accept responsibility for loss to any person relying on this article.


Share this story

Leave a Reply



Next Event

Business Fights Poverty Global Goals Summit 2024