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Building bridges between people

The World Refugee Day on June 20 focuses on the fate of refugees. Beiersdorf has had the opportunity to support some of them in their integration and start of their career in their new home country. This commitment is having an impact.

Zakia fled Afghanistan alone with her five children; Danny turned his back on his homeland Syria in search of a safer future. They have both experienced a lot in their countries and on their journeys through life. Two stories amongst many. Around 79.5 million people are on the run worldwide, forced to flee their homes due to war, persecution and the impacts of climate change. Fear is always present, for their own lives as well as those of family and friends. None of them flee their home, their village, their apartment voluntarily – every year on June 20, the United Nations draws attention to this fact with the World Refugee Day. This day also enables Beiersdorf to reinforce the important topic of refugee inclusion.

Sonia Reichensperger
Sonia Reichensperger

Assistance and fair opportunities

In 2015, at Beiersdorf our Corporate Social Responsibility Headquarters team developed a program to support refugees, engaging various cooperation partners for its implementation (see Infobox). In Sonia Reichensperger’s view, this approach fits in seamlessly with the “Care Beyond Skin” strategy and Beiersdorf’s commitment to diversity and inclusion. At the same time, it is a matter close to her heart for the Social Responsibility Manager: “I have always found it important to build bridges between people. It should always be about the question of whether I like my counterpart, irrespective of where they are from. Then it’s relatively easy to meet each other openly and break down any barriers and differences, it’s really about empathy and trying to put yourself in someone else’s shoes.”

Sonia became an integration manager and is especially committed to fostering a welcoming culture: “The people who come to us as refugees are initially no longer self-determined. In the beginning, everything is thrust upon them.” As part of her engagement, she got to know great personalities, Sonia says. It was not uncommon for her to get goosebumps when she heard about what some of the people had gone through in their home countries and during their flight: “Sometimes the lives of these interns are unimaginable and show once again how well off we are. As a company, we want to provide start-up assistance, offer fair opportunities, and break down prejudices.”

Anja Nienaber
Anja Nienaber

Support from “buddies”

Anja Nienaber, Digital Transformation Manager Supply Chain, also provides support. Like other colleagues, she accompanies interns as a “buddy”, assists newcomers with all their questions, introduces them to people, and helps to build up a small network. Her involvement was triggered by the contact with a Syrian refugee family in her own community: “Back then, we invited the family to spend time with us. Many times, we just listened while having tea – just to let them know we were interested in them, their culture and their history, we wanted to learn more about their experience. It opens your heart when people accept this. The family’s four-year-old daughter was very fun-loving and got along well really quickly. She showed us self-painted pictures of beautiful eyes with eyeballs in which she had painted destroyed landscapes, very gloomy and detailed. It was impressive and sad at the same time.”

Sonia, Anja, and many other colleagues will continue their commitment – at Beiersdorf and beyond. This support will hopefully help Zakia, Danny and others that find themselves in a similar situation to settle a little bit more easily in a foreign environment. In addition, their stories and experiences which they so openly shared, with empathy and kindness, have touched the lives of many people around them, providing the opportunity to challenge some beliefs people might have had and creating a more inclusive, dynamic and diverse work environment.

Zakia, Afghanistan
worked in her home country for an NGO focusing on women’s and children’s rights +++ ran a fitness club for women on the side +++ is currently taking further training in social work

“Looking back, I think I was very brave,” says Zakia, not talking about her arduous escape, but about her first internship in the workplace health promotion program “GOOD FOR ME”. It was a big step for her – with little knowledge of the language, in a foreign culture, in a large corporation: “A great experience, I felt very welcome and learned a lot – technically about health and ergonomics, about computer programs and different departments. People and their careers motivated me, especially women. You have to take advantage of your opportunities, learn and make something of yourself.” Zakia completed further language courses and internships after her time at Beiersdorf, completed trainings in rehabilitation sports, among other things, and is currently teaching sports classes and is taking further training in social work. “I want to work with people and give something back.” Life in Germany is still not easy for her, but Zakia feels well integrated, looks with joy at her children and says about herself that she is a fighter. Hearing her speak, you believe her immediately ...

Danny Kikoloff
Danny Kikoloff

Danny Kikoloff, Syria
Studied pharmacy in Damascus +++ has a license to practice as a pharmacist +++ currently works at Beiersdorf in Research & Development on a permanent basis  

“There was a point in time when I thought, now I have to go,” says Danny Kikoloff. The decision wasn’t easy. He went alone, leaving his close relatives behind with his mother and sister: “We asked ourselves whether it was safe to stay, and if so, for how long, and then decided that I would try to get a foothold in Germany and bring my family with me. Safety is a very high commodity. You know that when you come from a country like Syria.” In Hamburg, Danny learned the language, completed his first internship at Beiersdorf and followed it up with another. “The colleagues made it easy for me – through their openness, the shared lunches and other meetings. That gave me courage.” While his heart remained in the company, he first successfully sought recognition as a pharmacist. The chance to return to Beiersdorf came through an interview in the NIVEA Shower development lab. The rest is history. Today Danny works in Research & Development for medical skin care. He is also involved in the Corona pandemic, currently helping the internal vaccination team, and previously developed the formula for Beiersdorf’s disinfectants. He was able to bring his family to Hamburg two years after his arrival.

Facts and Partners

Beiersdorf works with various cooperation partners to arrange internships. Part of the network are Verikom (Verbund für interkulturelle Kommunikation und Bildung e. V.) as well as W.I.R. (work.integration.refugees), now Hamburg Welcome Center. Further support for the organisation of private meetings is provided by Our Newstart. Beiersdorf has offered a total of 44 internships for refugees since 2015, twelve of which have been extended. In addition, three interns were subsequently offered apprenticeships, four were offered temporary contracts, and a further four were offered permanent contracts. 

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Diana Lühmann

About the editor: Diana Lühmann

Since autumn 2019, Diana has been responsible for corporate communication related to HR and inspiring people at Beiersdorf. These include the areas of Diversity, Learning & Development, Career, Leadership, and Health. Previously, she was in charge of R&D Communications and explored the exciting world of our research and development.