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A Great Day at Work

As some of you know, I work for a Boston nonprofit that specializes in helping refugees, political asylees and recent immigrants. I'm the small business counselor, which means I help people start and grow businesses. I help Bosnian construction companies, Russian computer programmers, and East and West African artists and importers. One guy, from Congo, specializes in the decorative mineral malachite Another, a photojournalist from a South Asian country that shall remain nameless, took pictures that earned him the ire of the local mullahs, and had to flee for his life. He was granted political asylum here and I'm helping him start a photo studio.

My workplace has an extensive ESOL (English for speakers of other languages) program, and during the days hundreds of women - mainly, stay-at-home moms and night-shift workers, I'm assuming - take classes. (The evening, after-work classes have more men.) They appear to be mainly from China and Somalia, with some Afghanis and others mixed in. Why can't some of them start businesses, I wondered?

So I called Avon and on Friday the district manager for Avon and one of their top saleswomen came in and gave a terrific presentation. Avon is all about helping poor women start businesses - they've done it for decades, and have their act together and offer tons of support. The Avon women talked about their program and then did some very entertaining skits showing how to sell. The students were fascinated, and two of them, from the Philippines and Morocco, signed on (for $10).

Not to turn this into an ad or anything, but Avon gives a 50% commission on many products, which is huge. The products are inexpensive, making them a good fit for immigrant communities. And, in huge contrast to many other companies, an Avon salesperson does not have to pay for product up front - they show the customer the catalog, take orders, and get paid, and only after the product is delivered do they send Avon the money. This is like Avon lending its sales reps money for two weeks.

Avon's not for everyone, and we'll see how our students fare. But so far, it seems like a match made in heaven.

Helping disadvantaged immigrant women supplement family incomes and gain confidence AND a toehold on the American dream - that's a great day at work.

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