Welcome as anecdotal evidence like this is, we also require hard numbers so as to improve our effectiveness and to measure our progress. Finding robust and meaningful ways to measure our impact across all our various social programmes has proved harder than we initially anticipated. Indeed, even after ten years, we still don’t have all the answers.
The example of our ‘Opportunities for Women’ goal illustrates some of the problems we are regularly coming up against. Our target: to empower 5 million women. We define gender empowerment in a variety of ways – from promoting women’s safety to expanding their opportunities – and we have corresponding initiatives in place for each.
The first persistent problem is one of accounting. Female empowerment is a complex, multi-layered phenomenon. No single intervention can deliver everything that women need, which is why we often run a number of programmes simultaneously.
We remain confident that this is the most beneficial approach for those we are looking to impact. However, from a measurement perspective, it opens up a risk of double counting. As Anouk Heilen, Unilever’s Global Sustainability Director and gender expert, explains: “Many women may well benefit from two or more separate empowerment initiatives, but we choose not to count them twice”.
Picture a woman involved in our Shakti programme, an initiative designed to encourage rural residents to set up in business selling Unilever products door to door. In an effort to improve her language skills or advance her bookkeeping capabilities, for instance, this same woman could well be participating simultaneously in one of our remote training courses.
“In our overall impact numbers, this woman would appear in the beneficiaries of the first initiative but not the second, with the result that the second is left under-reported,” Anouk clarifies.
Digitally delivered programmes add an extra element of complexity as data protection rules prevent us from knowing for certain who is participating, which presents particular challenges in validating the reporting.