Rural women are key agents for achieving sustainable development and contribute significantly to the economy. While their representation in the workforce remains low, the past two decades have seen rural women’s labor participation in Pakistan double from 16% to 32.9%. Yet, many of them continue to seek work opportunities that can enable them to contribute to their family’s income and improve their living conditions.
Keeping this and their vision of creating shared value for communities, the Nestlé BISP Rural Women Sales Program was envisioned to provide livelihood opportunities to the poorest of the poor women, helping them become financially independent. Not only does this program empower women but is also aligned with Nestlé’s values of diversity for social impact and empowering women.
Under this program, rural women are trained on the fundamentals of sales, pricing, and profit margin and are made aware of product nutritional benefits and methods of preparation and use. After this training, they become retailers (who own and sell at shops) or sales agents (who sell to shops as micro distributors, engage in door-to-door selling and sell products from their homes).
Nestlé extended PKR 2 million as revolving credit to Akhuwat Pakistan, (the largest interest-free microfinance program) to provide microloans to sales agents who, as a result, have opened their own shops in their villages. To date, 200 microloans have been given with an average of PKR 15,000 per beneficiary.
So far, the program has enrolled and benefited over 2200 BISP beneficiaries; almost 1400 retailers, and over 900 sales agents, but its real impact extends far beyond numbers and can be seen in the lives of the women who are now earning and leading their families to a better life.
From a dependent to a breadwinner
Razia, a mother of two from Sheikhupura, would rely on her husband to sustain their family until he began finding it difficult to find work and earn money. Struggling to make ends meet and left with little or no choices, she decided to do something herself. “I had never worked earlier, and it was tough, but I made myself strong in the face of adversity”, recalls Razia, who opened a shop in her village after her husband lost his job.
“Our living conditions were deteriorating, and my children were not going to school. Then one day, representatives of the Nestlé BISP Rural Women Sales Program got in touch with me and after some discussions, facilitated me to get a loan from Akhuwat”.
Razia used this loan to set up a shop and keep affordable nutritious products including Nestlé Bunyad, Cerelac, Everyday, and Nesfruita. Soon, she began making reasonable sales and today her incremental income is almost Rs. 4000, which she uses to run the house, and has put her children in school. She believes that wives must work alongside their husbands to improve their living conditions and is a testament to that belief herself.
Finding financial empowerment in the face of adversity
Naseem, a beneficiary of the Nestlé BISP Rural Women Sales Program from Mian Channu lost her son, who was an earning member of the family. Not only did she have to grieve the loss of a son, but this loss also came along with additional financial challenges.
To support her husband, Naseem opened a small grocery shop in her vicinity with limited products. During one of their visits to the village, the Nestlé team visited her and offered her a loan to procure healthy Nestlé products that she could sell to the community.
This has resulted in an incremental income of Rs. 6000 per month on average, which Naseem now contributes to the household. Not only has she gained financial empowerment in the face of adversity but has also become a symbol of hope for many other women in her community who hope to become strong financially as well.
The journey from a dependent to an entrepreneur
Riaz bibi sold limited grocery items in Renala Khurd and had a minor turnover. Then, one day a representative from Nestlé visited her village and told her about a range of products. “I told her I didn’t have enough capital to invest in the business, so Nestlé’s representative offered me a loan, which helped me stock products that weren’t available at most stores in our village”.
Gradually, Riaz expanded her product portfolio including healthy and nutritious products like Nestlé Bunyad and Cerelac, after which, her revenue grew as well. She is now able to educate her children and feed them healthy food, which for her as a mother, are two of her greatest achievements.
While these are a few stories, the program has touched the lives of over 2200 individuals and their families across 25 districts of Pakistan. This year, 2022 marks five years of the Nestlé and BISP partnership, and the program now plans to expand to more districts including Haripur, Abbottabad and Mansehra in North, Hyderabad in the South, and Sialkot, Jehlum and Narowal in Punjab. With this expansion, Nestlé hopes that it will be able to reach more rural women with earning opportunities that can lead them to financial empowerment.
These efforts are in line with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals: 3 – Good Health and Well-being, 5 – Gender Equality, 8 – Decent Work and Economic Growth, and 17 – Partnerships for the Goals.