Avon: 65 Years of Empowering Women Worldwide

29th June by Natalie Deacon

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Recently AAW Insight featured an interview with Refuge’s Director of Fundraising, Louise Firth who reflected on how the work of charity supporting victims of domestic abuse had become more vital and urgent during lockdown.

Thankfully, Refuge has received a great deal of financial support for their work during this period and we are really excited to now shine the spotlight a little on one of their key long-term donors and partners – the Avon Foundation. The foundation supports the charity as part of their continuing campaign to end violence against women and girls.

Recently we caught up with Natalie Deacon from the Foundation. Natalie has two roles at Avon – President of the Foundation and Executive Director of Corporate Affairs.

Together, Avon and the Avon Foundation, have donated millions of dollars to organisations working on breast cancer and to end violence against women and girls.

Below Natalie outlines why those causes are particularly important to Avon and how her work aims to support Avon’s five million representatives worldwide.

Natalie Deacon pic

Tell us about the Avon Foundation

The Foundation was founded in 1955 and is independent from Avon, but with a group of Board Directors from within the company. Our role is to support women in the countries where we operate, not necessarily to further Avon’s commercial goals, but to run in parallel.

The way that we are structured enables us to have a clear perspective of what's important to women on the ground in their countries, so for example on the board we have a General Manager from Ukraine and Georgia, and a corporate affairs leader from Argentina, so they're really well placed to give us that global perspective to help us to join up the dots. The foundation is very lean and one of my objectives is trying to make the most impact whilst working as smart as we can.

Avon is proudly democratic and inclusive– we’re not an exclusive beauty brand.  We are open for all. That said, the bulk of our products are for women and the bulk of our global network of five million Representatives is women, the Foundation tackles the causes that matter most to women, and we focus on empowering women to take control of their own health and safety. We are proud and committed to supporting all women, regardless of gender or sexual orientation.

Our brand activism has three distinct parts:

  1. Speaking up and speaking out, celebrating activists and changemakers. That very much fits with the Avon brand and our ethos which is all about celebrating the underdog and people who are underestimated.
  2. Changing minds and changing behaviours. So, for breast cancer, for example, that’s driving people to do what they need to do, whether it's self-checking in the shower, going to see their GP or getting an annual mammogram.  
  3. Changing systems, for example lobbying governments to keep domestic violence front of mind as we come through lockdown.

Is there a natural link between your two roles?

Absolutely. One of the biggest focuses of my role in Corporate Affairs is to really mobilise purpose across the organisation, so that fits together really well with running the Foundation.

Avon was founded nearly 135 years ago on the premise of women selling to other women predominantly through their social networks to earn money and gain financial independence. This was a time before women had the right to vote and when they didn't earn money or go out and work outside of the home. That means there has always been a core of empowering women that has run through everything that we do. Our corporate responsibility KPIs are fundamentally embedded into the business - the more our representatives earn, the more successful they are, the better we do. Twinned with that, is a broader commitment to supporting the causes that matter to women.

A big part of my Corporate Affairs job is to mobilise our network around those causes. If we take domestic violence as an example, this is an issue that has historically been very difficult to get media attention for, but which has seen a sharp spike in recent months across the globe.

In response, we launched our social media campaign ‘COVID-19: Isolated, Not Alone’ enabling us to raise awareness of domestic violence and flag where to go to for support, with a very simple call to action to ‘share this to speak for someone who can’t’. It’s important to me that our campaigns have consumer friendly, clear straplines and messaging that everyone can understand, to mobilise mass participation.

Since we started lockdown in March, the Foundation has given a million dollars in grants to 37 different NGOs globally. Avon itself also donates $10 million plus every year through fundraising and selecting local charity partners to work with. Much of that is done through work on the ground, whether that’s breast cancer walks which are still popular in South Africa and the Czech Republic, or through sales of cause marketing products.

Both my Foundation and my Corporate Affairs roles are about maintaining focus on relevant issues and ensuring that the charities we are working with in each country support our specific goals.

Part of my role is to bring everything together to make sure they're all working as one.

Tell us more about the charities you work with in the UK for your two main campaigns

In the UK we have long-term relationships with Refuge and Women’s Aid, which are both fantastic charities. One of the reasons we work with Refuge is that they are a frontline service provider and we want to support grassroots frontline services.

In terms of our Breast Cancer Promise campaign, we are currently working with CoppaFeel, a great, growing charity very much focused on taking a much more irreverent approach to a slightly younger demographic. We have been supporting breast cancer for 25 odd years now. When we first started, it wasn't an issue that people spoke about publicly very much, it was a bit taboo but now there is much more awareness. CoppaFeel really get some standout and have a great, great bit of personality.

How has Covid impacted on your two roles?

Covid has changed a lot of things, but it hasn’t really changed what we do or our strategy – if anything it has sharpened our purpose.

The global worldwide recession that we're heading into, and the challenges of the post lockdown world, will expand existing inequalities across all walks of life. We know women are going to suffer disproportionally in the years ahead.

I started working in the area of domestic violence 10-15 years ago and things are getting worse not better. Everyone will know someone in their lifetime that will face this. Whilst the immediacy of lockdown and the messaging around ‘Isolated, Not Alone’ will evolve and our framing will be different, we’re thinking about the long-term on how to keep the conversation alive and help those struggling frontline services continue to operate.

Covid has also made us work harder to support our representatives. We as a company have an obligation to keep all of our Avon reps – whether they are just selling a few lipsticks to friends and family or running full time businesses – up and running and growing when they have not been able to go out and meet people. Whilst we have already moved our selling model online much more, we’ve now had a huge focus on helping those representatives adopt more digital tools so that they can stay open for business and keep income coming in.

We’ve had a huge uptake of those tools that people perhaps weren’t using very much before, providing them more income opportunities and routes to earn.

What are your proudest achievements of the Foundation to date?

Through the Foundation and Avon, we've raised and donated over a billion dollars to women's causes and I’m very proud of the work that has been able to support. I'm also really proud of the work we've done with the ‘Isolated Not Alone campaign’. One of the parts of my job is to serve our teams on the ground who are supporting women in the countries in which they operate, so to be able to deliver something to them so quickly and respond to their cries for help was tremendous.

I love being part of a global network of 42 countries and the sense of companionship and community at Avon; it’s great knowing you’re not alone and that I can pick up the phone to my counterpart in Brazil or Russia and face business challenges together.

It's great having conversations like this interview with AAW, because they help me remember how lucky I am to do my job and how much I care about it.