Bel partners with the International Finance Corporation, a member of the World Bank Group, to boost the social impact of its unique inclusive business program, Sharing Cities

The Bel Group announced today that it has partnered with the International Finance Corporation (IFC), a member institution of the World Bank Group, to expand the social impact of Sharing Cities, a unique inclusive business program developed by the Bel Group.

The Sharing Cities program is aimed at complementing traditional sales channels for Bel products with inclusive distribution networks originating from local purchasing practices. Accordingly, in several major cities in emerging countries where the Group operates, Bel uses existing street vendor distribution networks to sell The Laughing Cow®. This innovative business model enables the Group to broaden its consumer base, while helping to make the business activities of its street-vending partners more sustainable.

“The business model we have developed merges growth with solidarity,” explained Alexandra Berreby, who heads the Sharing Cities program within Bel Explorer, the Bel Group’s idea incubator. “We help street vendors grow their business and sales, while facilitating access to health coverage, banking services and professional training.”

The support stems from discussions undertaken with street vendors in each of the cities where the program is deployed. “During these discussions, street vendors aired their various concerns, such as a lack of social protections and difficulty in getting training, as well as a feeling of being at a disadvantage vis-a-vis the growing modernization of the economy in their countries,” Ms. Berreby added. “It was these priority needs on which the Group decided to focus its action.”

First launched in December 2013 in Ho-Chi-Minh City, Vietnam, the Sharing Cities program has since been rolled out in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, Hanoi, Vietnam, Dakar, Senegal, and Antananarivo, Madagascar. Today, it encompasses more than 6,000 street vendors, including 1,500 who benefit from health coverage, 900 who now have a bank account and over 600 who have been trained to manage their business.

A buoyant partnership to expand the program's social impact and accelerate its development

By working with the World Bank Group, part of whose mission is to encourage the private sector to engage in aid and development, Bel is seeking to broaden the social impact of its Sharing Cities program, particularly in the area of healthcare. With the backing of the World Bank Group’s technical expertise, the Group will be able to develop and offer preventive healthcare and health educational support to street vendors through this collaboration. The initiatives will benefit street vendors as well as their entire communities.

“We are very proud to be partnering with the World Bank Group, a first-class institutional partner that is enriching the program with considerable experience and a high level of technical expertise,” said Caroline Sorlin, General Manager of Bel Explorer. “Thanks to the World Bank Group, we will be able to accelerate the development of our initiatives in healthcare, prevention and access to social protections. In three years’ time our programs could benefit more than 200,000 people.”

By 2025, Bel aims to extend Sharing Cities to 24 new cities and to have some 80,000 street vendors, while continuing to tailor its model to local particularities. By developing new partnerships with various players, the Group is seeking to strengthen the support it offers street vendors to assist them in the transition from an unofficial to a legitimate business in a modern economy.

Key figures

Sharing Cities today

  • 6 cities
  • 6,000 street vendors
  • 1,500 vendors with health insurance coverage
  • Over 900 have opened a bank account
  • Over 600 have received training to manager their business

Sharing Cities in 2025

  • 30 cities
  • 80,000 street vendors
  • Over 30,000 vendors with health insurance coverage
  • Over 7,000 trained to manage their business
  • Over 200,000 people with raised awareness of health challenges

About Bel Explorer

Founded in 2011, Bel Explorer is tasked with linking the Bel Group’s growth strategy to the values of sharing. A true incubator of ideas for new business models that are sustainable, profitable and highly socially impactful, Bel Explorer is an entity dedicated to developing brands for populations with very modest purchasing power. A team of seven people develops alternative approaches to products, distribution channels and manufacturing, to make Bel products more accessible by finding the right balance between economic viability and maximum social impact. Bel Explorer is the recipient of the 2017 Espoirs du Management award.