2022-2023 F.M. Kirby Impact Prize Winner: Essmart

We are thrilled to announce Essmart as the recipient of the 2022-23 F.M. Kirby Prize for Scaling Social Impact!
Essmart is a for-profit social enterprise in India, on a mission to grow rural livelihoods by connecting local retail shops and the customers they serve with high-impact livelihood products.

The F.M. Kirby Foundation supports CASE to facilitate the Kirby Impact Prize, which consists of $100,000 in unrestricted funds and is designed to help amplify and accelerate the winning enterprise’s impact on global social or environmental challenges.

The Problem Essmart is Working to Solve

Essmart‘s model focuses on the retail shop owners that serve the 900M Indians who live outside of major cities and lack access to products like farming tools that increase efficiency, cooking appliances that reduce cooking time and fuel costs, and solar lights. Despite being a key connection point to rural customers, 83% of the retail shop owners that Essmart serves live below the poverty line. Essmart onboards these rural retail shops into their tech-enabled network, distributes high-impact and environmentally sustainable livelihood products through them, and helps to grow the retail shops’ business and income through sales support, customer connections, and guaranteeing high-quality products. Through this model, Essmart solves many of the challenges that have prevented high-impact products from reaching the last mile, by: making it easier for suppliers to gain access to new markets; providing rural retailers with flexible payment options and the ability to order smaller quantities; providing growth support to those retailers (thereby increasing their earnings by up to 60% per month, and on average 22% every month); and improving the lives of rural customers by providing access and support to livelihood products from trusted, local shops. 

One of the local retail shops in rural India with whom Essmart partners. Photo courtesy of Essmart.

Why We’re Excited About Essmart’s Impact Potential

After ten years in operation, Essmart is already impacting more than one million people and reaching 20% of India’s pin codes, with 5,000 shops on its platform. It is also changing the lives of the shop owners in its network, 83% of whom live below the poverty line, by increasing their earnings. 

We’re excited about the impact potential for several reasons, including: 

  • Essmart’s opportunity to take advantage of increased rural technology adoption and India’s recently-established Open Network for Digital Commerce (which democratizes access to e-commerce for even small retailers) to increase rural durable product adoption more efficiently. 
  • Essmart has developed solutions for the pieces of the value chain that do not exist for its work with durable livelihood-generating technologies that require installation or servicing – such as a technology platform for sales and management, financing options for shop owners, a distribution chain, and sourcing strategies for impactful products.   
  • As a for profit social enterprise, Essmart’s financial sustainability and social impact are foundationally intertwined, as Essmart only makes money when its shops improve their incomes and the shops’ end customers invest in life-improving products that meet their needs.  Essmart’s founders decided to incorporate as a for profit enterprise to ensure that it would be held accountable to add value to the lives of people who have traditionally been treated as passive recipients of aid; for Essmart, these people are valued consumers. 
A woman using a Mixer Grinder she bought – as part of a self-help group – from an Essmart Sales Executive, which she uses to enhance her restaurant’s productivity. Photo courtesy of Essmart.

The Plan to Achieve Impact at Scale

Essmart has worked over ten years to achieve operational modularity, efficiency, and profitability, and is ready to scale to 10,000+ retail shops over the next three years. 

To accomplish this goal, Essmart is planning to deploy the following scaling strategies: 

  • Grow its operations and achieve economies of scale by reaching 50% of India’s pin codes by 2025. 
  • Create more value for shop owners, including support for customer growth, through continued investment in its proprietary technology platform.   
  • Influence the design of better products for rural consumers by sharing its data with suppliers, building upon an initial pilot effort.

Want to see why we are so excited about all  four finalists for the 2022-23 F.M. Kirby Impact Prize? Learn more here about the Connecticut Veterans Legal Center, Hello World, and Kidogo

The F.M. Kirby Prize for Scaling Social Impact is funded by the F.M. Kirby Foundation, a family foundation investing in opportunities that foster self-reliance and create strong, healthy communities. The foundation was established in 1931, and supports a wide array of education, health, environmental, arts, religious, public affairs, and human services organizations.