International Women's Day: Championing Entrepreneurship Through Partnerships In China
In honor of
International Women’s Day, we are highlighting Mary Kay China and their advocacy
of women’s entrepreneurship. Enjoy!
When I met Lee in Aoniben, China for the first time, she was
too shy to look at us. Partnering with the United Nations Development Program and
the All China Women's Federation, we aimed to reduce poverty at a village level
by helping local women collectively start a business. When we asked the group
of Yi women what kind of start-up they’d be interested in, Lee pointed to her Yi
style outfit and asked us to start Yi Embroidery.
In the first year (2011), the UNDP helped the women register
as a cooperative. The women practiced their embroidery extensively, and for the
first time in their lives, they had the opportunity to travel outside Yunnan –
they took an exploration tour of Hangzhou and Suzhou, cities known for good preservation
of traditional embroidery heritage. In 2012, the ACWF helped them secure a distribution
channel to sell to tourist attractions. Mary Kay provided them with a business
loan, and Lee set up a point of sales in Chuxiong. We launched a publicity
campaign on China National TV network featuring these women, and Yi embroidery
became better known among the Chinese people.
In 2013, I met with Lee again and noticed that she was a
completely different person. She was demonstrating her products in Mandarin
Chinese with confidence, like a businesswoman! I introduced them to Mary Kay
China’s Vice President of Marketing to teach them about product positioning,
and to teachers from the China Academy of Art to teach them about designs. They
began to identify their own ethnical art symbols.
Mary Kay placed an order for commercial use in 2014. Lee and
her cooperative members had all officially escaped poverty. We had a total of 2,385
cooperative members in three villages, whose personal income increased by 73%
to 1300 yuan a month. Almost 500 women returned to the villages to practice
embroidery and live with their children, instead of working in the cities away
from them. Lee bought her first car, so she can commute and sell in Chuxiong.
In 2015, Nepal was hit by a terrible earthquake. Lee asked
if we could give them a piece of their embroidery and tell them that they care.
We were so thrilled. The UNDP China arranged a meeting for us with the Nepalese
minister in Beijing to share China's experience with helping women start a
business to reduce poverty. I was proud as a Chinese woman to share our experience
to a foreign country. The ministers told me that the earthquake had destroyed
70% of Nepal’s handicraft industry, which is the pillar of their economy.
However, despite the energy scarcity in the wake of the earthquake, the
Nepalese women still insisted on the 11-step hand make process to produce
pashmina, to ensure the premium quality and to prevent any woman from losing her
Women at Mary Kay relentlessly help each other to pursue
their career. Leveraging our resources and connections in the fashion business,
we invited designers to a crossover project, integrating Yi embroidery and the
Nepalese pashmina, putting their works on the runway of Shanghai Fashion Week
on the 1st anniversary of the earthquake in Nepal. These works were
then auctioned off, and the UNDP brought the $20,000 raised to Nepal, funding
10 women's micro-businesses. Lee was invited to the show in Shanghai. When the
music hit and the models striding in Nepalese pashmina and Yi patterns on the
most prestigious runway in China, Lee looked so proud.
Visiting many women helped by our loan, I know their stories
are nothing like those people with sophisticated business models. Yet, these
stories impress with their courage and determination to make a change, just as
Mary Kay staked all she had in 1963 for a business of her own. As for Lee and
her peers, they wanted to earn money to continue their lives in Aoniben, raising
their children and giving them a better future. They wanted their cultural
heritage to be passed on, and they wanted their songs to be heard.
Why is Mary Kay China so passionate about helping these
women entrepreneurs who are not a part of our cosmetics business? Because Mary
Kay was founded to enrich women’s lives. That's why our founder Mary Kay Ash
opened the doors to all women with aspiration to make a change. As Mary Kay Ash
once said, P&L is more than just “Profit and Loss.” It also means “People
Coco Zhang with Patrick Haverman, Deputy Country Director of UNDP China and Jun Liu, Director, International Center for Economic & Technical Exchanges, Ministry of Commerce
is from Coco Zhang, Vice President of External Affairs at Mary Kay China. Coco
has worked at Mary Kay for 20 years and oversees government affairs, media
relations, corporate social responsibility and customer service for Mary Kay
tagged: Mary Kay Ash, International Women's Day, Entrepreneur, Mary Kay China, Shanghai Fashion Week, Entrepreneurship, Female Empowerment, Women's Entrepreneurship, United Nations Development Program, embroidery, earththquake, UNDP, Aoniben, Chuxiong, All China Women's Federation, ACWF, Nepal