Recent press reports have included glowing accounts of the wealth that poor women can earn selling Avon products in such unlikely places as Brazil and Thailand. If these stories are representative—and not just newsworthy anomalies—then such schemes may be an important poverty reduction tool.
Our study, located in South Africa, will assess the size and sustainability of the income Avon representatives earn, as well as the financial and social risks they must take to be in this system. We will also study the way this selling system affects the communities into which it is introduced, to determine whether the Avon scheme actually generates new wealth for impoverished communities or whether it simply redistributes scarce resources among the poor.
As part of our assessment of the effects on the community, we will also compare Avon products to available, potentially cheaper substitutes and inquire into the purposes of product use by African consumers. We will also study the communications between the Avon corporation and its local sales force, with attention to race and gender issues as reflected in both product offerings and marketing materials. Finally, we will also be looking at the organizational structure to find guidelines for both public and private adaptations.