When it comes to legacies, certainly, I couldn’t be prouder of our collective record of business growth and prosperity. From our humble beginnings as an industry a century ago, today, there are almost 200 direct selling member companies in the US DSA, with more joining every day. And who could have predicted that in the United States alone, 16 million people would be actively engaged as direct selling entrepreneurs? Around the world, almost 75 million people are proud to call themselves direct sellers. Globally, direct selling is a more than $100 billion industry, with 60 country DSAs participating as members of the World Federation of Direct Selling Associations.
As proud as I am of these numbers, I’m even prouder of the story behind them. Collectively, direct sellers earn billions and billions of dollars each year. The vast majority is women, and the money they earn helps improve the lives of their children and their families, providing enhanced educational opportunities, better health care and improved safety and security. And when families are better off, societies are better off, and the world becomes a better place.
What an extraordinary legacy we can all be proud of as direct sellers! Our legacy is not a thing of the past, but a living legacy that is even more relevant as our industry enters its second century. With 900 million people worldwide still living on $1 or less a day—and women accounting for two-thirds of the world’s population living below the poverty line—direct selling remains a powerful catalyst for hope, change and opportunity.
But it’s not just the world’s poor who are seeking new avenues of growth. The macro-economic crisis that turned the world upside down in 2009 has paved the way for fresh interest in the power of entrepreneurship. I was so proud of how our industry galvanized last year to let the world know that we in direct selling have the answers people are looking for. Globally, 9 million new independent contractors joined our industry in 2009, a 12 percent increase versus 2008. One million of these new entrepreneurs were from the United States.
And even though the recession seems to be easing, the worst is far from over. According to the International Labor Organization’s “World of Work report 2010,” if current policies persist, a recovery in employment to pre-crisis levels will be delayed until 2015 in advanced economies—two years longer than projected a year ago. In the United States, unemployment remains at 9.6 percent, and many of these jobs will never again return. Globally, while employment in emerging and developing countries has resumed growing, more than 8 million jobs are needed to return to pre-crisis levels. In 35 countries where data exist, 40 percent of job seekers have been without employment for more than one year. Statistically, the longer people are out of work, the greater the difficulty to obtain new employment.
For us as direct sellers, this is the moment to double down on our mission and tap into the growing entrepreneurial spirit. In a recent study I saw from GFK Roper Consulting (Roper Reports US, December 2009 Telecell Q4), 77 percent of women agreed with the statement that “the current economic situation has encouraged me to take more control over my life.” Our own research at Avon confirms this, with representatives telling us that they plan to be with Avon a year from now, even if their own financial situation improves.
So now, more than ever, is our moment to write the next chapter in the exciting history of our industry. I know I speak for all of us when I say there is no other industry that I would rather be a part of and no other personal legacy that I would rather leave. As I reflect on my own personal journey, for me, this new decade will be centered more than ever on Avon’s core mission to be a global force for good. As everyone knows, Avon was founded in 1886, 34 years before women won the right to vote. The company’s dedicated commitment to the economic empowerment of women has been our guiding compass throughout the decades, enabling us to thrive through two world wars, the Great Depression and profound cultural transformation, including the changing role of women. On the eve of our 125th anniversary, we are rededicating ourselves to this powerful corporate mission. We are also rededicating ourselves to our philanthropic causes. To date, the Avon Foundation for Women has raised and awarded $800 million to improve women’s lives globally, and our goal is to reach $1 billion in philanthropy by 2012.
Someone reminded me recently that I was the longest-serving woman CEO of a Fortune 500 company in a job not known for its longevity. People always ask me for my leadership advice, and my response is always the same. I tell them to find work they love that provides personal meaning and fulfillment. When I was young, I believed that I would have to make a choice between a life in business and a life in service. At Avon, I’ve had the wonderful privilege of doing both.
And that’s what we all get to do in this industry, each and every day. We all have the rare and wonderful good fortune to run businesses that make a profound difference in the world around us and that are a source of great personal meaning and satisfaction. As I write this I am reminded of my favorite quote from my favorite business author, Jim Collins, who wrote in his best-selling book Good to Great:
It is very difficult to have a meaningful life without meaningful work. Perhaps then, you might gain that rare tranquility that comes from knowing that you’ve had a hand in creating something of intrinsic excellence that makes a contribution. Indeed, you might even gain that deepest of all satisfactions: knowing that your short time here on this earth has been well spent, and that it mattered.
We in direct selling truly are the luckiest industry on earth, because the work we do matters. On behalf of all of us at Avon, we are proud to be a part of it. And we look forward to the excitement of the next chapter, as together we continue to build our industry’s powerful legacy and make the world a better place for the generations to come.
Andrea Jung is CEO of Avon Products Inc.