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BBC Documentary on Avon in Africa

This lovely young woman sold Avon cosmetics through her beauty salon, located in a small village. Many of the women we interviewed used Avon to flesh out offerings of other services or products in their existing businesses.

The research team on the Avon project is thrilled with the BBC World Service coverage that came out this weekend. There is an extensive article with original work done by Penny Dale, a link for downloading the case, as well as related stories about women’s leadership in Africa.  But the best is the radio documentary, which features the voices of some women we met in our work!  It was so good to hear them again.

I was especially touched to hear Eunice Maseko, who helped us enormously with this research.  Eunice tells the story of how she worked on ending the apartheid regime in South Africa and how the dangers from that activity ending her dreams of being a doctor.  I know Eunice has done well with Avon, but it was a reminder of one of the repeating themes we observed:  many of our respondents had dramatic stories of struggle, displacement, and tragedy.

I was also very pleased that Penny spoke directly with some of the respondents about the potential racial tensions that the Avon women, both black and white, have to negotiate in their work.  These questions were answered with candor and dignity.

It is easy for people to laugh about women selling Avon–to turn it into some light-hearted lipstick tagline–and for readers to infer that anyone who does this work must be fluff-brained and a little daft.  But these ladies are not only serious businesswomen, they are people who have experienced life challenges that would destroy most people and nevertheless have triumphed.  They are inspiring women and I admire them.  Sitting here, early in a dark morning in California, I am so touched to hear their voices again.

I should mention also that I had a nice surprise on my recent flight to China:  I had picked up a copy of The Economist that was a couple of weeks old, but with a cover story that I still wanted to read (the one about how humans are superorganisms for bacteria).  I was happily thumbing through the pages when I stumbled upon a story about Avon in Africa. You can imagine my surprise.  Our press office is brilliant and always tells us when we have coverage.  I am sure they told me about this, but I inferred that the story was only online.  When I mentioned it to Catherine, she also did not know about this nice surprise. Josie Delap did a great job on this story and we are grateful to her as well.


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