Click here to order the March 2015 issue in which this article appeared.
Six months ago, I joined the Direct Selling Education Foundation (DSEF) as Executive Director, pledging to raise our visibility within the direct selling community to reinvigorate our effort to educate external constituencies about the value of the entrepreneurial opportunity associated with direct selling.
As we move forward with this work, it is important to note that our close-knit and collaborative community already understands and appreciates the direct selling business opportunity and how it empowers millions of Americans and many more millions around the world. DSEF’s role must go well beyond preaching to an already-committed choir.
Our longstanding mission is to engage and educate the public about how direct selling empowers individuals, supports communities and strengthens economies. The key question is better defining which audiences DSEF engages within the general public. Every organization, even nonprofits like ours, must prioritize their stakeholders and target audiences. To be as effective as we can be in carrying out our mission, DSEF must hone in on the constituencies that offer the greatest opportunities to move the needle.
It is essential that the Foundation educate and partner with leaders beyond our industry that can be most effective in correcting and ultimately changing false perceptions about direct selling over time. Compelling academic research, public discussion and education will go a long way in helping us address the lack of understanding, and even misinformation, which continues to cast a shadow over direct selling. Ours is a different role than the Direct Selling Association (DSA), but complements the Association’s critical work to advance industry interests on many other fronts.
We are committed to continuing to cultivate and strengthen the partnerships with academics for which the Foundation is best known. For example, we are creating a new Academic Advisory Council that will collaborate with us to bring consistent attention and thought leadership to key issues as they publish research and articles as well as engage in public commentary to grow the discourse and advance understanding about direct selling, helping our community communicate a positive story.
We will also expand the reach of DSEF partnerships with consumer organizations to touch those at the state level, particularly in states with high concentrations of direct sellers, and pursue new organizations, such as those focused on economic opportunity, women and Hispanic Americans that can help our stakeholders appreciate that direct selling is an entrepreneurial opportunity for all.
The opportunities that this long-term, focused engagement presents are many and include advancing awareness among DSEF stakeholders about what direct selling is and isn’t, as well as demystifying our business model and explaining how it adds value to the entrepreneurial landscape. Income generation potential is only one aspect of direct selling’s value proposition. Factors such as work satisfaction, life balance for families and a compelling business opportunity are important in attracting the millions to join our industry.
In furthering the Foundation’s role in serving the public interest, we will expand efforts to advance knowledge among important constituencies about consumer protection and ethical business practices. One aspect of that work will be to demonstrate how direct sellers are held to the highest standards of ethics as we seek to broaden public understanding about how self-regulatory instruments, including DSA’s own Code of Ethics, protect consumers.
You will hear from us as we commemorate the Federal Trade Commission’s National Consumer Protection Week (NCPW) this month. The Foundation’s longtime support of this annual event serves as a reminder to the entire direct selling community about the important role that education plays in helping consumers—as well as policymakers and other stakeholders—understand and appreciate our enterprise. I’m excited by what I see on the horizon and hope you will join with us on this important journey.
Gary Huggins is Executive Director of the Direct Selling Education Foundation. Find out more at DSEF.org.