Being the world’s first mobile skills university for women, Fair and Lovely Career Foundation from Unilever, has set a unique precedent in reaching out to women who wish to learn, earn and grow. In this Skill Story, Anjalli Ravi Kumar, Social Mission Director, Unilever, shares the journey of Fair and Lovely Career Foundation in impacting women through career guidance and skills. Let’s read on to understand how Unilever has leveraged latest mobile and digital technologies to create a platform that offers various free and paid courses for livelihood enhancement and career improvement.
Q:Let’s get started by learning more about Unilever’s Global Sustainability Programme. Could you share the big picture of skilling and livelihood enhancement.
A: Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan is aligned with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The Unilever global plan is built on 3 broad pillars; health and hygiene, improving the environment, and enhancing livelihoods. Unilever has been quite progressive in delivering on this plan. We do not have an exclusive CSR department or a dedicated sustainability department; CSR is the responsibility of everybody in the firm and it forms a part of the agenda of every function in the company. For instance, we support the health and hygiene needs of communities and design programs to create awareness, for instance, Domex has a programme around building toilets, Lifebuoy’s ‘Help a Child Reach 5’ initiatives is used for promoting hand washing, etc. In Unilever’s global sustainability agenda, all the brands and all the functions have a very important role to play.
Q:What about the skill development initiatives?
A: Our skilling initiatives form a part of our enhancing livelihood vertical of programmes. Unilever has a variety of skilling initiatives- internal skilling initiatives such as upskilling employees, salesmen and saleswomen through training programmes that are directed at improving and enhancing their skills and livelihood. We extend this skill training in sales to people who are not formally on the role but want to work as entrepreneurs. The Shakti programme trains women to become micro-entrepreneurs and mini distributors of HUL products. There’s another programme called Prabhat, which we run around our factory locations, where we recognize that the communities around our factories need to make progress as well. Skilling is a key method to their achieving progress because not everybody can be employed inside a factory, but everyone can be trained to become self-reliant. Based on that philosophy, we set up skilling centres, some of these are in partnership with LabourNet. More than 6 lakh people have benefitted from HUL’s diverse skilling initiatives. Click here to read more about Unilever’s skilling initiatives.
Q: How does your employee, consumer and partner network contribute to skilling?
A: We believe in benefitting all people in our value chain- from potential consumers, present consumers, factory workers, farmers who grow the ingredients, etc. – all fall in our value chain and we are interested in enhancing livelihood for all. But, practically, we have to make some strategic choices. So, every brand and every function makes a strategic choice on who they are going to focus on and who they can reach. The factories have adopted communities around those areas, as they can reach those communities effectively and monitor the progress of the skilling centres as well. We stress on how the skilling centres are performing and not just spending money and setting up the skilling centres. We need to have a strong system in place.
Q: How does Fair and Lovely CareerFoundation help women learn, earn and grow?
A: I lead a brand-led initiative, Fair and Lovely Career- Foundation, which was set up in 2003 to help women access career guidance and skills for self-reliance. Since 2003, we have run a wide range of programmes, one of the most popular being the Fair and Lovely Scholarship Programme for higher education of women. About 2000 women have benefitted in the last 15 years through our scholarships. In 2015, we took a bold decision to expand our outreach.
The brand itself reaches more than half of India’s households, so we realized that we can play a much bigger role and have a greater impact. But we had to identify the right way to do it. The answer was found in mobile-based education, because women across India have enormous challenges in travelling outside their homes to access skill training or education, as proper transportation systems still don’t exist in many places. It may even be unsafe to travel and in some cultures, it is not acceptable for women to leave homes and travel. We want to reach women where they were, as women have the aspiration to learn and get skilled even if they cannot leave their homes. Hence, the mobile-based application was the solution. Keeping in mind the diverse skilling aspirations of our audience and the vibrant and growing eco-system of e-learning companies, we decided to launch a marketplace to provide women access to quality skilling content anytime, anywhere.
The platform fairandlovelyfoundation.in links women to providers who offer free courses and a mix of free and paid courses. All the courses and trainers have been curated by the Fair and Lovely team according to the quality of the courses and their relevance. We would love to have more partners especially for vocational training and vernacular language-based skilling for diverse skills, who can share high quality mobile-based learning content through our platform. Anjalli Ravi Kumar
We launched the online platform with three partners: edX.org, NIIT and English Edge, later, Testbook.com and idreamcareer came on board. But we believe there is scope for many skilling start-ups and companies to reach a very large set of women belonging to tier 3 and tier 4 rural places, who aspire to be skilled and be educated, in order to achieve their goals of self-reliance, get a job, or just be skilled. Now, we have 450,000 people on our platform, who have discovered and accessed courses in English speaking and communication, workplace skills like MS Office and Powerpoint, and even software programming from MIT. There is also a whole section of women preparing for Banking, Railways, RBI exams through Testbook.com.
In this way, we are promoting the cause of women taking charge of their own lives and acquiring the relevant skills to succeed. Most of the courses are free on this platform, and for many courses, you only need to pay if you want a verified certificate, for example, for edX .org courses. English Edge does not charge for the 25 courses it offers through our platform. Testbook.com has a fair selection of free mock tests based on the test materials for competitive exams. Even if a student pays for a course or test materials, it is very minimal and a fraction of what it would cost her to travel far and take courses.
This is how we have combined the aspirational value of education with skills and career growth. We believe that online courses in skilling or education can help in career guidance so that the candidates can try out courses from different fields and then take a decision with confidence. Click here to read success stories of our students.
Q: How does Unilever encourage and support women entrepreneurs?
A: From Unilever’s perspective, reaching every household is a challenge. You don’t always have the distributors who are willing to set up stores in remote places. Yet, you always have people who have entrepreneurial mindset and are willing to sell your products in these remote areas. We have identified such women in 40,000 plus villages and we have trained them to become micro-entrepreneurs. They store Unilever products and manage like a kirana store, but from their homes, and use their personal network to sell our products. They are powerful part of our sales and distribution network.
Q: Would you like to share the impact of your organisation’s sustainable livelihood programmes?
A: Unilever is absolutely aligned with the government skilling agenda. The Fair and Lovely Career Foundation has an MoU with NSDC for a long term collaboration. We believe that soft skills need to be delivered alongside technical skills and that all candidates have to continuously upgrade their learning and skilling. Women play a critical role in many industry sectors, they can benefit a lot from skilling and contribute to the economy if they are skilled. Based on this belief, we want Fair and Lovely Career Foundation to be the platform where women can discover mobile-based skilling and education courses, and we would like training partners to tie up with us and we would help create awareness in the market for their mobile-based courses through our platform. The courses should hold a lot of appeal to women, particularly for those who want to become travel agents, banking correspondents, and working IT/ ITES sectors.
Q: What about collaborations with academic institutions and future plans.
A: We are definitely interested in partnering with academic institutions who are looking to reach a wider audience through their high-quality and reputed mobile-based courses. We have discovered that an expert in education is not necessarily an expert in online education. We focus on online education and online trainers, as online education has a very different ecosystem of players. We look for academic partners who are very closely aligned with our mission and objective. We would definitely want to expand our partnerships with distance learning institutions as well. We are also looking to tie up with content providers- skilling content providers for women- both in English and in vernacular.