Avon Institute Social investment aligned to business
Since its early stages, Avon's cosmetic and fragrances business has always valued women. Besides being consumers, women can earn income as resellers – and naturally are the focus of the work of Avon Institute, established in Brazil in 2003.
The causes supported by the Institute are the same as those of the Avon Foundation – an international foundation that leads Avon’s social investment all over the world. Through global research on women’s needs, Avon found that not only was breast cancer of great concern, but the occurrence of that disease was increasing partially because of unhealthy habits, like sedentary lifestyles. In light of that, early in the 1980s the Avon Foundation decided to fight breast cancer to save the largest number of lives as possible.
As of 2003, Avon funded a wide range of causes in Brazil, but with short involvement. When it created the Avon Institute (assisted by the IDIS – Institute to Develop Social Investment) the corporation also targeted its Brazilian social investment to fight breast cancer. The disease causes the death of nearly twelve thousand women every year in Brazil, because in most cases it is diagnosed in an advanced stage. One of the main obstacles to fighting breast cancer is limited access to diagnosis services through medical visits, mammography, clinical exams and biopsies, and treatment.
Knowing that 90% to 95% of the cases are curable if diagnosed at an early stage, the Avon Institute focused on the promotion of early detection. Since then it has invested $ 38.5 million in detection centers, donated equipment, and 1.5 million mammography and ultrasound exams. Its vision for the future is to significantly reduce the rate of mortality from breast cancer.
Avon’s activities are funded through the Institute’s operational expenses, but the resources applied to these projects come from the sale of its products: 7% of the value of some cosmetics and fragrances (depending on the catalogue) are allotted to the Institute. The catalogue offers products that inform on the cause like bracelets and T-shirts. Products are defined jointly with the corporation’s marketing department.
To fund projects, the Avon Institute issued some calls for proposals related to early detection of breast cancer, and started analyzing projects as these were submitted. Today, it supports more than 80 small and large projects. However, the organization is now trying to focus on big public health centers of high complexity services for breast cancer (offering diagnosis and treatment from beginning to end). With larger resources the Institute supports two or three centers a year, such as those in Salvador (BA), Goiania (GO), Recife (PE), Barretos, Poá, and Jundiaí (SP).
In 2008, the Avon Institute decided to expand its work to comprise the second cause supported by the Avon Foundation: the fight against domestic violence. Avon had worked in this field since 2004, when a movement of organizations bound to the USA government invited corporations to join the struggle against domestic violence and Avon decided to participate. According to the Institute CEO, Lírio Cipriani, this cause may be even harder to address than breast cancer, as families tend to hide violence, and many people consider gender inequality as something natural.
The Avon Institute’s work to prevent domestic violence is still growing. Since 2008 the organization has funded smaller projects with reference institutions, trying to get aligned to public policies. One of the works performed by the Institute was to publish a photo novel to the young audience, depicting the origins and repercussions of domestic violence. In 2014 it intends to launch a call for proposals on this topic to improve the support allocation. In the future, as happened with breast cancer, it will define a specific focus to domestic violence and increase investments.
As of 2013, the Avon Institute invested R$ 4.9 million to fight domestic violence (only 15% of the amount it has invested in breast cancer prevention) but intends to balance both causes in its work. In both cases the Institute’s work is mainly focused on disseminating information and supporting projects to provide medical assistance; to that end, it funds operations and training courses.
Besides granting resources to the Institute, Avon also makes its infrastructure and capacity available to the causes. The product catalogs display information on breast cancer and domestic violence. Other publications (like the hotline 180 bulletin) are sent jointly with sales materials, and many resellers (more than 1.5 million today) ask for more copies to distribute to their broader networks aware that, this way, they are contributing to Avon’s causes.
The corporation staff is informed about the causes during their recruitment, and many of them ask for additional material to distribute in their communities. Moreover, Avon organizes visits to the medical care centers supported by the Institute.
The corporation also advocates for its causes at an internal level, and pays extra care to its female staff: it has expanded maternity leave to 6 months, provides nurseries, includes breast exams in both pre-employment and annual exams, and provides a health insurance plan that covers diagnosis exams (and treatment, whenever required). All over the world, women hold the main offices and 50% of the corporation’s executive board.
One could say the work to fight breast cancer and domestic violence is not restricted to the Avon Institute, being spread all over the corporation. Lírio Cipriani believes that social investment aligned to corporate businesses generates better and more efficient results at lower costs. In fact, both Avon Corporation and Avon Institute share the value of promoting Brazilian women’s quality of life through different actions.
“Avon also advocates for the cause internally, and pays extra care to its female staff: it has expanded the maternity leave for 6 months, has nursery, includes breast exams in both pre-employment and annual exams, and provides a health insurance plan that covers diagnosis exams”.