Schwarzkopf’s Million Chances initiative supports projects that give women and girls prospects for a better future. Saskia Schmaus is responsible for the initiative at Henkel Beauty Care. In an interview, she explained what Million Chances stands for and why the initiative is so dear to her heart.
Saskia, what is the goal of Schwarzkopf’s Million Chances initiative?
Strengthening the self-confidence of women and girls and offering them new perspectives in everyday life – that is the mission of Schwarzkopf’s Million Chances initiative. Female empowerment is the key to taking on the challenges that women face around the world. Million Chances gives thousands of women globally the strength and the opportunity to take care of themselves and their children again.
What does female empowerment mean to you?
Female empowerment begins with each and every one of us: We must practice what we preach, at work and at home with our families. Not just for ourselves, but also for the next generations. That also means making our own decisions and not letting anyone influence us when it comes to having both a family and a career.
I’m firmly convinced that, as a working mother, I have a positive impact on the values of my two sons and thus contribute indirectly to female empowerment that way. On some subconscious level, my sons’ future spouses will no doubt be grateful to me for this.
Equal opportunities for women and girls are not guaranteed in many countries. Have you noticed any specific causes for this in different countries?
So far, I’ve seen three main phenomena: Families often can’t afford the tuition fees that, unlike here in Germany, have to be paid to attend school in many countries. Sometimes, girls have to start working at an early age to earn money and support their families.
In many countries, cultural factors also lead them to believe that they are worth less than men – and they end up behaving as if that were true. “You don’t stand a chance” is the key phrase that inspired us for Schwarzkopf Million Chances and eventually moved us to launch the initiative about two years ago.
What helps girls to become strong women?
Education, including learning how to read and write, should be a universal basic right for boys and girls alike. In my opinion, the way girls are raised is critical: are equal rights a matter of course to them? Do they have strong female role models to support them and help them find direction? It’s important for girls to be able to acquire traits like self-confidence, courage, a healthy dose of ambition and endurance.
Has any particular project in the last two years stuck in your memory?
At the start of 2018, I was in Port-au-Prince in Haiti, one of the world’s poorest countries, where the population is still suffering from the aftermath of earthquakes and tropical storms, and where pollution from plastic waste is omnipresent. Women there live at the breadline and often have to take care of themselves and their children on their own. In partnership with the social enterprise Plastic Bank, we opened collection centers on the island where women can exchange the plastic waste they’ve collected for cash, charcoal bricks for cooking or electricity for their mobile phones. This way, plastic waste becomes a currency – and the environment is rid of plastic pollution in the process. It also fosters women’s independence and self-esteem, because the extra income allows them to improve their lives and those of their children.
Another project under the umbrella of the Million Chances initiative is “Shaping Futures.” What is that about?
Shaping Futures is an amazing initiative that gives underprivileged youth access to training in the basic techniques of professional hairdressing. The project by Schwarzkopf Professional and SOS Children’s Villages thereby allows young adults to build a better future and an independent life for themselves. Thanks to the passionate, voluntary engagement of our numerous hair stylists and employees, more than 2,200 hairdressers have already been trained in 30 countries since the project began in 2010.
Last year the Million Chances Award was presented. What are those all about?
Aside from cooperating with Plastic Bank, our initiative draws additional strength from partners like Plan International and impacts women and girls who face the most hardship and discrimination around the world – including in China, Colombia, and Egypt. However, there is also a lot to be done on our own doorstep. The Million Chances Award was created to recognize non-profit initiatives or projects in Germany, Austria and Switzerland that operate in the fields of education, economic emancipation, rights and integration, or even healthcare for women and girls.
These are the winners of the Million Chances Award
You have taken a big step in the direction of equal rights with the Million Chances Award. Where do you see the greatest need for action from policymakers, companies or society as a whole?
Policymakers and companies in Germany need to improve the framework conditions for equal pay, flexible work hours and career opportunities. In addition, I believe that we as a society should rethink traditional gender roles – especially when it comes to women with children reentering the workforce. It is unacceptable that we are the only European country whose language includes words like “Rabenmutter” (German idiom to describe an uncaring mother), and where men are reluctant to request parental leave at work because they fear it will put their career in peril or cause them to be branded “unmanly.”
How long has the Million Chances initiative been around?
The initiative was launched by Schwarzkopf in November 2016.
How many women and girls has the project reached so far?
To date, the initiative has reached a total of around 115,000 women and girls in cooperation with international nonprofit organizations, thanks to the voluntary engagement of Henkel employees. By 2020, we plan to impact the lives of more than 140,000 women and girls.
How many different projects did the initiative support in 2018?
Last year, Million Chances supported 20 projects around the world – including in China, Colombia, Haiti and Egypt – that aimed to give women and girls a better future.