The Internet Marketing of Project Shakti
HUL is India's largest fast moving consumer good company and is a 51.55 percent owned subsidiary of the Anglo-Dutch Unilever, a Fortune 500 transnational. HUL employs 36,000 people and claims to touch the lives of two out of three Indians. The old Shakti Web site gives the following objective: "to create income-generating capabilities for underprivileged rural women, by providing a sustainable microenterprise opportunity, and to improve rural living standards through health and hygiene awareness."3 Project Shakti is presented as "empowering women in rural India," and the text evokes the pioneering work carried out by the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, claiming that HUL is working with NGOs and government agency partners which have established SHGs among rural women. The Web site asserts that the project provides individual women an income in access of Rs 1,000 ($22) per month, but also:
In addition to money, there is a marked change in the woman s status within the household, with a much greater say in decision making. This results in better health and hygiene, education of the children, especially the girl child, and an overall betterment in living standards.
These are not modest claims. The overall presentation of the project promises a fundamental transformation in the lives of rural women participants. "Shakti" itself means "strength," and the subheading to the project name is "Changing Lives in Rural India." The idea of recruiting individuals of modest means to sell company goods on a "direct-to-home" model is not original to HUL. Schemes such as Avon, Amway, Mary Kay Cosmetics, and Tupperware were well established in the United States and Europe generations ago, and some have moved into developing countries (Cahn 2006; Wilson 2004). What is distinctive about Project Shakti is its joining of this marketing model with the mechanisms of development projects such as SHGs, the reliance on...