TODAY   |  December 26, 2013

Avon using products to transform lives in Africa

The popular American beauty brand is picking up representatives in some of South Africa’s poorest townships, and their new representatives are becoming an inspiration for many living in poverty. NBC chief medical editor Dr. Nancy Snyderman reports.

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>> t. story about the power of beauty. a company known for its makeup using products to inform the lives living in poverty. chief editor dr. nancy sneiderman has the story.

>> it's morning in a south african township where half the people are unemployed. but this woman is getting ready to go to work for a 120-year-old american icon. she an avon lady .

>> this is the edition from a avon.

>> reporter: she is a role model for many african women ready to lift themselves out of poverty by becoming entrepreneurs.

>> avon is a company for women. it putsed into on your table and must gather.

>> a pretty good thing [ music playing ] always take time out for beauty.

>> avon calling .

>> reporter: it's hard to believe the avon lady we remember from generations ago is shriveing in one of south africa 's poorest townships. 150,000 people are crammed into tiny tin shacks built right next to open sewers. yet, this is not a place of despair because just like alice , many women here who would never imagine the life of prosperity are learning to believe in themselves.

>> we're empowering women to be financially independent if they can fight, then they can join also to the people out there.

>> when a woman gets that first piece of money in her hands, what's her reaction?

>> she's excited.

>> yes.

>> you didn't know that?

>> i didn't know this.

>> i think that's the whole point.

>> i will give a speech.

>> reporter: alice now earns ten times more money than when she was cleaning houses. she has recruited hundreds of other avon ladies and tracks their deals on her laptop. once computer illiterate , these women are taught basic business skills and they must make a motivational picture of all the things they want to buy. it's called a dream board.

>> then the blackberry. and it was a my washing machine.

>> reporter: for alice , the dream was tending her boy to school.

>> on the dream board. what is left.

>> i think you won't.

>> economic freedom also means freedom from guns and domestic violence. she is now alice 's business deputy. not so long ago, an fa says she was selling hot cakes at the bus stop and being brutally beaten at home.

>> you were in an abusive marriage?

>> i remember the one day he beat an axe on my back.

>> with an axe?

>> an axe.

>> now he's gone.

>> now he's gone, out of my life.

>> you feel safe?

>> i feel safe. within i wake up, i just think about my job and i love my job.

>> anna has inspired her daughter to get into the business, too. she just opened her own beauty shop from money she earned as an avon lady .

>> how do you think what you are doing is going to change the economics of south africa ?

>> i think i am going to be an example to most of the young girls out there. they have to be independent.

>> you can call me and give me your orders.

>> for what you have learned, do you feel a responsibility to bring women along with you?

>> yes. . because if it is somebody to help economics, to pick up the be to teach others to do the same. so it all goes on and on. everyone is self sufficient.

>> for "today," nancy sneiderman, south africa .

>> you can see their faces and eyes, it's amazing.

>> getting that first dollar. you know.

>> is that the new tag line? mascara on your eye?