When I was visiting India recently, a rather unusual product and branding concept came to my attention. Lijjat Papad is a bread product, known to all throughout India. The fascinating thing about the product lies not in the taste of the bread but in its production and distribution.
You see, this bread is not mass-produced by a commercial bakery. It's baked by thousands of women in their own homes. During the early hours of the day, the Lijjat Papad trucks visit these countless cottage bakers to collect and deliver the popular staple to the millions of mom-and-pop stores across India.
In the context of this economic model, the term "homemade" takes on real meaning: The bread is produced by the people, for the people.
The philosophy behind Lijjat Papad is not unusual on the subcontinent. Telecommunications, cosmetics, and newspaper companies all leverage the power of the people to build their brands.
Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, for example, has become famed for its Nobel Prize-winning microfinancing and microcredit facilities for the poor, and has given birth to a range of socially enabling programs. Its Village Phone Program, started in 1997, provides an income for more than 200,000 Village Phone operators in rural areas. Mostly women, the Village Phone operators invest in a mobile phone, which they are able to rent to other villagers as required.
The unique program is administered by Grameen Telecom Corporation for the benefit of rural communities. A byproduct of this service, and of Grameen Bank's microfinancing services, is that millions of people all over Bangladesh have become ambassadors for an accidental brand—Grameen. The name is revered globally as well as locally as a leader in corporate social responsibility.
Hindustan Unilever Limited's (HUL's) initiative in rural development is known as "Shakti," which means "strength." Launched in 2001, Shakti builds on a four-decade-long commitment to integrating local business interests with national interests.
Shakti creates Shakti Entrepreneurs and aims to reach 500,000 villages, and affect the lives of 600 million people, by the 2010. It creates income-generating capabilities for underprivileged rural women by providing a sustainable micro-enterprise and improving health and hygiene awareness.