10/11/2012 12:08 pm ET Updated Oct 11, 2012

Using The 'Avon' Model To Empower Women In Africa


What if every time people came up with a new product, they also had to devise a completely new way to sell it? Imagine that we had no Amazons, eBays, Targets or Walmarts — no distribution chain at all, and no stores near potential buyers. Nor is there a way for potential customers to learn about the product. Oh, and they can’t afford it anyway — they can’t afford much of anything.

Many of the world’s poor occupy this alternate universe. Every week someone comes up with an ingenious new water filter, vitamin packet, solar lamp, efficient cookstove, fortified food, new medicine. But these great ideas often fail, or simply don’t reach many people — for want of a business model.