Doug Wilson (it’s an outdated Weeds reference people, — please try to keep up with my creaky analogies) isn’t the only yearning male entrepreneur who saw the simple brilliance in adapting Avon’s door-to-door cosmetics peddling strategy to fit his own schemes. The ironically-surnamed Chuck Slaughter, founder and president of the not-for-profit company Living Goods, has discovered that the ‘Avon lady’ business model is perfectly suited to undercutting the counterfeit prescription drug market in Uganda, and delivering life-saving drugs and medical goods to the country's poorest residents.
Obviously, Slaughter and his Living Goods team are far more altruistic than Doug Wilson and Celia Hodes, but where would we be without constant television references? Hopelessly lost and without any frame of reference, that’s where. Though one might be tempted to think of direct cosmetics sales as an almost tawdry business compared to the distribution of vital supplies in a struggling east African republic, Slaughter drew his inspiration from Avon’s origins as a 19th century innovation to reach out to rural American women. He explained:
Avon is very much a direct inspiration. Much to my surprise, I found out it started in the 19th century in rural America and of course, when we think about the developing world today, it's a lot like that. You had women who needed a source of income, but there was no employment economy and you had these very tight social connections.
In order to erode the demand in Uganda for counterfeit drugs (which, according to Slaughter, can be sold on the street at a price that’s 300 to 400 percent more than their manufacturing costs), Ugandans have to be able to purchase drugs and other goods from people they trust. Hence, Slaughter’s “Avon ladies” — members of the community working for Living Goods — travel door-to-door, selling medicine to combat the spread of malaria and other waterborne diseases during the rainy season.
Living Goods isn’t a charity and doesn’t pass out its goods (which include things like cellphones and solar lamps) for free, but that’s only because, says Slaughter, “when someone pays something, even if it's a small amount, they're more likely to use it.” The price of Living Goods’ vital drugs is usually very low, much lower, anyway, than the price of drugs in a Ugandan hospital.
Image via Getty, Marco Di Lauro