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Empowering Girls: “Equality only works if everyone is involved.”

Under the motto “We Care Beyond Skin by Empowering Girls” Beiersdorf has been committed to promoting equal rights for girls and young women since the end of 2020. Together with the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) Plan International, CARE and Ashoka, we have set up various projects in Latin America, Africa and Europe. We took this year’s International Day of the Girl Child as an opportunity to ask our colleague Katharina Schulze Herking from the ‘Social Impact Strategy & Partnerships’ team to talk to us about Beiersdorf’s social commitment. In the interview, Katharina, together with Sandra Henseler from Plan International and Bettina Ernst from CARE, talks about what they have achieved in the last two years and how the cooperation between NGOs and companies can have an important social impact.

Katharina Schulze Herking (center), Manager Social Impact Strategy & Partnerships Beiersdorf AG

Katharina, you work at Beiersdorf as Manager Social Impact Strategy & Partnerships. What exactly are your tasks and what do you particularly like about your work?

Katharina: In my day-to-day work, my colleagues and I strategically shape the social engagement of Beiersdorf and our brands. We look for areas and projects where Beiersdorf can have a relevant social impact beyond its own value chain – always in line with our Sustainability Agenda CARE BEYOND SKIN. We are also responsible for implementing these projects, for example through partnerships in various lighthouse projects at global level. In addition, we work closely with our brands and affiliates around the world and advise them on the implementation of their local social projects. It is the combination of business and civil society that I find particularly exciting about my job. I have been volunteering for various NGOs for many years and worked full-time in the non-profit sector before joining Beiersdorf. Working together with a variety of internal and external stakeholders to drive social change – that’s what I like most about my work!

Plan international Logo

At the beginning of the Corona pandemic, Beiersdorf launched the largest aid program in the company’s history. Under the objective “Empowering Girls,” you set up various projects together with Plan International and CARE, among others. Why did you choose this particular objective?

Katharina: The aid program you mentioned was launched in March 2020 – at that time, the mid – and long-term effects of the Corona pandemic were not yet foreseeable. In addition to emergency aid measures and donations of disinfectants, we wanted to work with our NGO network to find out which target groups were particularly affected by the pandemic and its impact. These were and are primarily girls and young women. For example, they often experienced sexualized and domestic violence or were no longer able to go to school after the school closures. Many girls have to contribute to the family income or have had children of their own during the pandemic. For this reason, empowering girls and young women has been chosen as our overarching goal – being fully aware of the fact that we can only achieve this if everyone is involved and is not neglected.

care Logo

And what exactly are the focus areas of your cooperation?

Katharina: With Plan International and CARE, we have partners at our side who have many years of experience and a great deal of expertise and who can draw on good and stable local networks. We set up our projects in Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Kenya, Ghana and Nigeria together with Plan International. The main focus of these projects is to protect against gender-based violence and to provide access to education. With CARE, we are running projects in Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia and Sudan. As part of these projects, we focus on creating equal access to the healthcare system, promoting COVID-19 education and enabling young women to achieve economic security – because many people have lost their entire livelihood as a result of the pandemic.

Sandra Henseler (center), Corporate Partnerships Plan International Deutschland e.V.

Sandra and Bettina, you manage the partnership with Beiersdorf on behalf of the NGOs Plan International and CARE. As non-profit organizations, why do you enter into partnerships with companies? And how do you experience the cooperation with Beiersdorf?

Sandra: As a children’s aid organization, Plan International receives public funding. But private donors – individuals and companies – are also important to us. Partnerships with companies offer advantages for both sides: We help each other gain more visibility externally and learn from each other over the course of the partnership. Together with our partners, we want to support children, especially girls and young women and their families, through empowerment and the chance for a self-determined life. Of course, a close working relationship based on trust, such as the one we have with Beiersdorf, helps immensely for a successful cooperation. Another important basis for successful cooperation is that we conduct regular ethics checks with all our partners.

Bettina: Sandra has already summed up the most important aspect: companies not only bring us additional funds – the synergies and exchange of experience also mean great added value for us! Beiersdorf is one of the biggest partners for CARE, but of course we – just like Plan – look very carefully at which companies we partner with. Shared values are important to us. And active cooperation at eye level. It is also important that the company stands behind the commitment and is authentic in this respect – and Beiersdorf absolutely fulfills this! Overall, the collaboration with Katharina and her colleagues works very well. We have short communication channels and act quickly and transparently on both sides. At the same time, Beiersdorf has a great understanding of the complexity of the issues and the changing needs. This makes the collaboration very pleasant, simple and efficient!

Bettina Ernst, Manager Corporate Partnerships CARE Deutschland e.V.

Let’s talk about your project work on site. How can we imagine it? What have you achieved together with Beiersdorf in recent months?

Bettina: To ensure that the work on site runs smoothly, there is a CARE office in each country. In the case of our cooperation with Beiersdorf, there is also a dedicated project manager in the countries where we run joint projects together who coordinates everything on site. We develop our projects “from the bottom up”. This means that we first get a picture of the needs on site in order to set up our projects accordingly. A large part of our project work has been and continues to be education around COVID-19; for example, we have introduced distance rules and hygiene measures. Strengthening health services is an important focus of our work overall. In Kenya, for instance, we are working together with around 200 health centers to ensure improvements in health care. We also aim to improve the economic situation of young women as part of our projects, through business training and mutually supportive small savings groups with the opportunity to borrow money interest-free.

Sandra: In our projects, most of the work is done through our country offices as well. Based on local needs, we set up projects in Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Kenya, Ghana, and Nigeria together with Beiersdorf. In Colombia, for example, we have already implemented many concrete measures: The distribution of hygiene kits, a back-to-school campaign or the establishment of a “safe space,” a youth protection center in Bogotá. In addition to educational opportunities, we also facilitate leisure and sports activities there, thereby creating a space for social interaction. We accompany many young people over a very long period of time in the “safe space” and experience first-hand how much of a difference our work can make. We have also been able to make great progress in other countries thanks to Beiersdorf’s support: In Kenya, for example, we have equipped 50 schools with a water system that ensures daily hand hygiene. In Nigeria, we supported young girls who had become pregnant at an early age due to various circumstances and gave them prospects for the future. For us, these are many small successes – for those affected themselves, our measures are often vital for their survival!

“Safe space” for children and young people in Bogotá

Katharina, you and Sandra were in Colombia at the beginning of September to get a better idea of Plan International’s project work. What impressions did you take away from there?

Katharina: The project visit to the Colombian capital Bogotá was a unique experience for me. Being on the ground strengthened my connection to the projects. You see firsthand what is being implemented, you see the needs but also the great progress that has been made. This is something completely different from the regular written project reports that we receive from our partner organizations. We also had the opportunity to talk to some of the beneficiaries. The “safe space” mentioned by Sandra, for example, was very impressive – they created a youth center out of an empty warehouse, enabling local children and young people to feel safe and develop perspectives.

Young people in Bogotá

Some projects are already close to completion, others are still in progress: What is your personal conclusion? What have you achieved so far – and what still lies ahead?

Sandra: We are starting to evaluate the projects and see very clearly the positive impact they have in the communities. Corona was and still is a big challenge for our on-site work, but we have adapted flexibly, digitized particular aspects and thus made an important contribution to systemic change in the countries. And we still have a lot planned, especially in Kenya, Ghana and Nigeria. In Ghana, for example, we will equip 16 child protection zones with bookshelves, seating and televisions so that young people have a place to go where they feel safe and welcome. This is particularly important as young people need a trusted place to go to report cases of violence.

Bettina: The final evaluation is still pending for us as well since the projects are still running until the end of the year. Until then, we still want to implement a few more measures, such as promoting more small businesses. But what we can already say today is that we have achieved a lot in the short time available – and given the special challenges because of Corona. COVID-19 education was important, but the impact of our work is particularly noticeable when looking at the small savings groups we initiated. This measure helped young women get the financial opportunity to build their own small business and be independent. This is very important not only for them, but also for their social environment because the support has a positive impact on their whole family. The financial improvement means that women can send their children back to school and that there is a perspective on how to manage the future.

Empowering Girls

Katharina, what do you think about Beiersdorf’s social commitment from today’s perspective? And can you give us an outlook for the future?

Katharina: As Sandra and Bettina have already pointed out: What we have been able to achieve through our “Empowering Girls” projects is remarkable. Together, we have been able to reach over 180,000 people to date. And we are not yet at the end of our activities! The projects will run for a few more months and we are already evaluating new ideas for the time after that. Sustainable, social change can only come about if different actors work together reliably and for the long term and are able to adapt processes to current local conditions. In doing so, we always keep our overarching social vision in mind: To foster a more inclusive and cohesive society.

Thank you very much for the open conversation!

The following video gives you an insight into the project visit to Colombia.

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Anna Hewing

About the editor: Anna Hewing

Anna is part of the Corporate Communications team and responsible for the topics of Sustainability and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) as well as Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DE&I). Her stories are about inspiring personalities at Beiersdorf and the company’s social commitment.