Photo above: The Avon team accepts the Bravo Humanitarian Award from John Fleming and Lauren Lawley Head.
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The Avon Foundation for Women began in 1955 as a small, private, corporate foundation funded by Avon Products and has grown to be the largest corporate-affiliated philanthropy focused on women’s issues globally, according to Carol Kurzig, President of the Avon Foundation. Indeed, through the collective efforts of Avon cause-related product sales, the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer donations, and all other fundraising activities, Avon has contributed nearly $1 billion to women’s causes in over 50 countries. This amazing effort earned Avon the 2014 Bravo Humanitarian Award from Direct Selling News.
The history of Avon reveals a heart for women that spans the generations. Just over 127 years ago, long before women were filling roles in the corporate world, 95 years before the first woman was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court, and over three decades before it was legal for women to vote in the United States, Avon was offering women a way to create and manage their own businesses. What David H. McConnell started in 1886 as a door-to-door sales company with an offering of a small line of perfumes has grown into an international corporate icon continuing to offer women a chance at economic independence.
Avon has contributed nearly $1 billion to women’s causes in over 50 countries.
Fast-forwarding from those small beginnings into the mid-20th century provides a picture of Avon as a mature company with the same heart for women’s issues upon which it was founded. The Avon Foundation for Women serves as a perpetual reminder of the heart of the founder revealed in his aspiration from long ago: “to meet fully the obligations of corporate citizenship by contributing to the well-being of society and the environment in which it functions.”
A Dual Approach
The fundamental mission of the Avon Foundation for Women has been to bring an end to two situations that deeply affect women and their families. The Foundation website says this: “The Foundation’s current mission focus is to lead efforts to eradicate breast cancer and end domestic and gender violence.”
Eradicating Breast Cancer
Avon launched its Breast Cancer Crusade in 1992, when Avon United Kingdom created one of the first cause-marketing programs in the world by selling pink ribbon products. By the next year the Avon campaign was adopted in the United States and in dozens of other Avon markets. Now more than 50 Avon countries support the Breast Cancer Crusade, and every October Avon introduces new breast cancer awareness programs and fundraising products. The Avon Breast Cancer Crusade has enabled more than 18 million women globally to receive free mammograms and screenings, and has educated more than 145 million women about breast cancer causes.
But the Foundation doesn’t stop at supporting screenings. Breast cancer strikes regardless of socioeconomic background, and Avon created a program called Safety Net Funding that allows regional and community hospitals to provide treatment and care to those unable to afford it.
It is science, however, that will provide the ultimate eradication of breast cancer, and the Avon Foundation provides significant funding and program development for this urgent mission. For the 20th anniversary of its Breast Cancer Crusade in 2012, Avon launched a Breast Cancer Clinical Scholars Program. “We brought 24 doctors from countries all over the world to a dozen of our Avon-funded medical centers to provide them with advanced training in a field of specialty related to breast cancer,” Kurzig says. “The original idea was to conduct this program in honor of our Crusade’s 20th anniversary, but the countries from which the doctors came have provided such compelling reports of the impact the training has made in their communities that we felt the need to repeat the program and will host another 24 international doctors again this year. The doctors are able to return to their countries and educate other doctors about the strategies and techniques learned, improving care for their patients and advising the Avon Breast Cancer Crusades in their home countries.”
A new Avon program in 2014 will be centered on metastatic breast cancer. “We are leading a new Metastatic Breast Cancer Alliance. Its initial project will be a study to identify and assess the services provided, treatments pursued and the gaps that exist in the care of metastatic patients,” Kurzig says. “We are collaborating with 20 breast cancer advocacy organizations and six pharmaceutical companies to look at what else can be done to better serve and treat patients whose breast cancer recurs.”
Another new initiative is the Breast Cancer Startup Challenge to accelerate production of innovative devices, tests or treatments for breast cancer. Avon is partnering with the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the Center for Advancing Innovation to foster the creation of business plans to actualize some of the most promising research funded by Avon and NCI over the last decade. More than 60 teams have responded to the challenge to carry out one of 10 innovative projects. The projects range from diagnostic tests to possible new treatments.
Ending Domestic and Gender Violence
In 2004 the Avon Foundation felt it was capable of taking on a second cause. “Consulting firm McKinsey & Company provided pro bono services to us to discover what cause would resonate most with Avon’s representatives and consumers around the world,” Kurzig says. “The research indicated that domestic and gender violence and dating abuse are among the top three causes of concern to women in every Avon market.” Since this cause is consistently identified as important to women all over the world, and because Avon is a company primarily for women, the choice made sense. McKinsey also suggested that this was a cause in which Avon could make a significant difference because, unfortunately, there are so few organizations currently providing funding in this area.
The U.S. Avon Foundation leads Avon’s Global Speak Out Against Domestic Violence initiative, which was launched in 2004 and has donated nearly $58 million across the world to these causes. According to the Foundation website, one of the chief goals of the mission is to break “the public and private silence that surrounds domestic and gender violence and abuse, which shames victims and excuses and encourages abusers.” By encouraging conversation about domestic violence, and by providing services and outreach for victims, Avon’s goal is “the successful interruption of the cycle of violence for victims and their families.”
The Foundation also partnered with Vital Voices and the U.S. State Department this year to launch Domestic Violence Justice Institutes. “Many countries have laws against domestic violence, but often they are not well known or understood,” Kurzig says. “Often they face challenges from cultural traditions, or are not well enforced.” These Institutes will offer a four-day program conducted by U.S. and international experts to train and unite judges, prosecutors, service providers and law enforcement officers to help them better understand how to implement laws to save lives in their communities. The four countries to receive the first institutes in 2014 are South Africa, Mexico, India and Nepal.
Providing Training and Help
“The results of a recent survey we funded revealed that 70 percent of people know someone who is in an abusive relationship, but most are not talking about it,” Kurzig says. As a result of the survey findings, the Avon Foundation is funding the development of a training curriculum, including videos and role-playing that will be offered to schools, workplaces and anywhere people gather to support them in talking about domestic, gender or dating abuse. These materials will be available by the end of 2014, with the goal of educating people about how they can encourage victims to feel free to talk about what they are experiencing.
Kurzig says that the Avon Foundation is continuing its efforts to bring awareness of this issue to the forefront. “In March, the results of the Annual Domestic Violence Census funded by the Avon Foundation were released by the National Network to End Domestic Violence. The Census reports how many individuals were helped by domestic violence service programs throughout the U.S. and how many service needs went unmet due to lack of resources and funding,” Kurzig says. “Like so many of the programs we fund, the Census will increase awareness of the issues surrounding abusive relationships, which will hopefully create a basis for providing help and will ultimately lead to change.”
Another important Avon Foundation initiative is providing peer counseling on university campuses in order to assist victims of abuse and help alert young women to signs of potentially abusive situations. “In response to alarming reports of abuse and violence committed on campuses, we have funded the creation of model guidelines for colleges to adopt in an effort to reduce and better respond to dating abuse and violence,” Kurzig says. The guidelines alert the institutions and students to the danger of “The Freshman 15.” That term is commonly related to the 15 pounds of weight gained in a student’s first trimester of college. “But it also relates too well to the danger to young women in those first 15 weeks of school,” she says. “New students often don’t know anyone and are vulnerable to the potential for controlling and abusive relationships.”
Causes that Matter to Women
Since one in three women around the world will be a victim of domestic, gender or dating violence, and one in eight will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime, most women are personally affected by these causes and welcome the chance to make a difference by embracing the mission of the foundation.
Since its inception, Avon has been forging new territory to offer opportunity and hope to women. “Avon is the company for women,” Kurzig says. “We take our commitment to women’s issues very seriously, and in both causes we currently support, we are committed to working as hard as we can to find solutions that will change and save lives.”