Impact At Scale

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GU Impacts Reflections: The Yanbal Opportunity

Connor Bellows, College, Class of 2016, Major: Government
GU Impacts Summer: GU Impacts Summer: Yanbal, Lima, Peru
Hometown: Portsmouth, NH

Yanbal is a for-profit company manufacturing skin treatment, makeup, jewelry, and fragrances for Latin American women. At the core of Yanbal’s business model is the social responsibility of providing employment opportunities to female micro-entrepreneurs who sell products to customers in their communities.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

I have a confession. I have never purchased a cosmetics product in my life. I’ve never bought a nice set of lotions for my mother for Mother’s Day or nail polish for my little cousin for Christmas. I’ve never bought a fancy perfume for my girlfriend for an anniversary (though after she reads this that might change…), nor have I ever bought myself cologne because my grandparents have always bought me some for my birthday.

But if I were to buy these things, I would head to the nearest mall, walk into the makeup section at Macy’s and pick out a nice-looking product. I think most people from the US would take the same actions when trying to purchase cosmetics, too.

In Peru, however, and in much of Latin America for that matter, this thought process is quite different. Instead of debating from which store to purchase her makeup, a Peruvian woman will consider from which friend or family member to purchase. In the US, the direct sales model, in which representatives from a company sell products directly to customers without a storefront, is hardly noticed: everything we want is purchased in stores or online. Long gone are the days when people would gather at a neighbor’s house to have a few cocktails, socialize, and peruse the latest Tupperware catalog… Yet in Peru, direct sales is thriving, especially for the beauty industry. In beauty categories like makeup, fragrances, body lotions, and skin treatment, the majority of sales made in Peru are a product of direct sales, rather than storefront or online sales. There are billions of dollars to be made in Latin America through this system of selling cosmetics.

The reason why I bring this up is because before I came to Lima, I was skeptical of the depth of the opportunity that Yanbal provides for Latin American women looking for work. I looked at Yanbal through an American lens, expecting this system of direct sales to be small and insignificant in the beauty market.  Yet I could not have been more incorrect. As I said, direct sales is alive and well here in Peru, and both Yanbal and its saleswomen are reaping the benefits. The Yanbal opportunity is a very significant opportunity for the women who take advantage of it. 95% of Yanbal’s saleswomen in Peru are in the middle or low socioeconomic classes, having a monthly household income of 1000 USD or less (usually much less). Before joining Yanbal, these women are contributing very little to that family income, and they spend the vast majority of their time being mothers and housewives. But from what I have discovered through my experience at the company, many of these women have their lives changed by seizing the Yanbal opportunity. The direct sales model allows these women to continue to care for their children and homes, as motherhood is incredibly important to the Peruvian culture, but also gives them much needed additional income to continue to care for their families and provide opportunities for their children. Women who work hard as saleswomen are able to build large networks of clients and thrive as businesswomen, acquiring practical business skills while gaining financially from the flexible, part-time position. This company is no joke: it is very successful, earning 1 billion USD from sales last year. But at the same time, it takes care of its own and truly provides a unique and valuable opportunity to women who are willing to own it.

As I enter the last five weeks of my stay here in Peru, I hope to have the opportunity to speak closely with some of the women that have benefited from the Yanbal opportunity. Unfortunately, all of these observations I’ve shared with you have been made at my desk in an office building. It is one thing to read the numbers displaying the success of this system, but it is another to speak with the beneficiaries. Fortunately, I will be traveling into the field during the coming weeks where I will have the opportunity to speak to a number of Yanbal saleswomen, and I look forward to sharing that experience with you all in a future blog post. Stay tuned.

About the Author

Connor is a senior in the College majoring in Government. Connor spent the summer on a 10 week GU Impacts internship at Yanbal International based in Lima, Peru working in the Market Research and New Products Development departments. During his project he had the opportunity to visit low-income areas of Peru where women in the sales force gather for workshops. On campus Connor is Co-Chair of the George F. Baker Scholars, a Senior Supervisor for the Georgetown Student Guards Program, and a Georgetown College Peer Advisor.

The views, opinions, and positions expressed by the author of this article do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of the Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation at Georgetown University or any employee thereof.

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