What’s Your Excuse?
Madina Sautova (MS): Karolina, as a DSM Sustainability Ambassador you are campaigning for skin cancer prevention. Can you tell us a little more about this?
Karolina Strauss (KS): Let me give you an example. Last Monday I visited my old school, St. Johann Blönried, in southern Germany, to talk to a group of nearly 180 students aged 15 to 17 years about staying safe in the sun. We know that today’s UV filters offer a very efficient UV-protection, yet the incidence of skin cancer is continuing to rise. Every year two to three million new cases are seen worldwide. As a leading supplier of sun and skin care ingredients, at DSM we have a responsibility to help educate people about how to protect their skin from UV-damage.
MS: What made you choose to go to a school with this message?
KS: My colleagues and I have been thinking a lot about how we can make a change in this area, and we became convinced that a new attitude to sun protection is called for. We want it to become a natural part of people’s daily routine, like cleaning your teeth. And the time to form such habits is when you’re young! Small children have to rely on their parents to take care of them, but adolescents are old enough to make their own decisions, yet young enough to take new ideas on board easily.
MS: How did you put your message across, and what was the response?
KS: We covered many aspects of staying safe in the sun, not just sunscreens, and I tried to emphasize that you can still have fun in the sun, if you just take a few precautions.
The students seemed to like my presentation, which I made interactive. I used a UV camera so the students could see the protection level when they applied sunscreen. It was noticeable that they were unsure how much product to apply to achieve the SPF shown on the bottle, and they often missed crucial areas like the nose and ears. The demonstration made this really visible.
The students asked a lot of questions: which brands would I recommend? Which hair products contain UV filters? Is the sun’s intensity higher in the mountains? What special precautions should they take on holiday?
A question that came up again and again was how can they avoid leaving a visible, greasy shine on their skin and the hands.
MS: Why did you become a skin cancer prevention ambassador in the first place?
KS: The original impulse came from my colleagues who were already involved in DSM’s commitment to meet this societal challenge. It immediately seemed like a really worthwhile project. And I really wanted to do something I’m passionate about personally that is linked to my work, which I’m also passionate about.
We know that DSM has unparalleled expertise when it comes to selecting UV filters and formulating them to provide optimum UV-protection. And we have the sensory modifiers to make sun products that feel light and pleasant on the skin. We’re already working closely with our customers to create novel products to make sun protection more appealing and practical, like the new Transparent Sun Stick formulation that enables hands-free application and is invisible on the skin, and products that integrate sun care into the normal skin care regime.
So, we have the products, but we also have to get the message out there:
Reduce your risk for skin cancer caused by the sun.
MS: Wanting to make the world a better place is great, but most people don’t know where to start. How did you start on this road?
KS: We all have our excuses for not doing anything. Too much to do, not enough time, and often the issues seem overwhelming and too big for one person to make any impact. I changed my mind about this when I heard a presentation given by a colleague who became a One Young World ambassador. I was very impressed and told her I would love to do something similar. Sometime later she got back to me and asked if I was still interested, because DSM was looking for people between the ages of 18 and 30 (I’m 26), to attend the next One Young World summit in Bogota, Columbia.
In the end, DSM sent 21 delegates, including myself, from all over the world to the conference, and we all returned as sustainability ambassadors, highly motivated to play our part, however small, in making the world a better place.
MS: Can you tell us a little more about One Young World and its ambassadors?
KS: One Young World is a not-for-profit organization that gathers young leaders from around the world to develop solutions to the world’s most pressing issues. In 2017 around 1400 young people from all over the world came together to discuss five key topics: education; environment; leadership & government; poverty alleviation & economic development; and peace & reconciliation. Presentations were given not only by world leaders in their field, but by ordinary people like you and me, who maybe founded their own organizations and set something in motion. They talked about their experiences and motivated us to start something for ourselves. They helped me to understand that every big change is the result of many small steps, and anyone can be part of the process. In fact, there’s no excuse not to do something, however small it may seem.
After you’ve been a One Young World delegate you automatically become a Sustainability Ambassador. The idea is that you motivate other people to make or propose small changes that in time lead to advances in sustainability or generally bring about change for the better.
At the summit I talked to the other 20 DSM delegates about focusing on skin cancer prevention. We’d been talking among ourselves about what are our goals, what do we want to achieve, and what are the next steps. Although only two of us work in Personal Care, everyone agreed that this is an issue that’s really worth supporting.
MS: So what’s next? Do you plan to roll put this initiative further? Are you searching for more ambassadors?
KS: Yes! We’ll achieve our goals fastest if everybody’s on board. At DSM, this attitude is already built into our culture, with its motto One DSM.
One of my own next steps will be to feedback to my colleagues on what I learned from giving the presentation at the school. I look on this as a pilot project which can give my colleagues ideas for doing something similar. I’m hoping to inspire them to give presentations themselves – in schools or at events like conferences. Then I want to reach out to people beyond our business unit, maybe starting with the other DSM delegates to the OYW summit. They work all over the world, in all sorts of businesses. I would like to motivate them to pass on this message, maybe help them with training.
But I don’t want people to be put off by the word ambassador, which sounds a bit grand. The point is, anyone can join in. It doesn’t matter where, or how you become involved. It doesn’t matter whether you reach out to children, young people or adults, at work or during your leisure time. In fact you can talk to anybody, anywhere, at any time. The important thing is to pass the message on.
Could you bring a new perspective to this campaign? Or perhaps you have your own ideas and want to start a different project. Why not? Maybe we could get together, brainstorm and see how we can make progress. That’s my dream!