“If you want to get kids interested in science, you need to start early,” Ute Krupp, Henkel’s senior manager for education relations and the founder of Forscherwelt, says. “If you start when they’re teenagers, they have so many other things on their minds. Young children are so naturally curious and they love doing research.”
The programme started in 2011, originally as week-long holiday programmes for the children of Henkel employees. Since then, it’s grown bigger than Krupp could have ever imagined. More than 81,000 children have taken part in activities across South and North America, Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Asia. The classes are based on the four research areas that Henkel specialises in – adhesives, laundry and home care, cosmetics and sustainability. Children learn skills around critical testing, analysis, interpretation of data, teamwork, as well as scientific methods. One experiment using vinegar applied to eggshells, for example, teaches students about tooth decay by showing the impact of acidity on surfaces that contain calcium compounds.
The feedback from schools after a class of children has visited is always very positive, Krupp says. “Usually primary school teachers don’t have an in-depth scientific background, they tend to be generalists. So they’re happy to add this to their curriculum.” In the lab the children are allowed to run their own experiments using proper equipment (with a tutor’s supervision). “It’s very hands on and they can really take their time with the professional equipment we have here,” says Krupp. And while the lab is unique in Dusseldorf, Krupp trains Henkel colleagues and tutors around the world to deliver their versions of the programme (often in collaboration with local NGO – non-governmental organisation – partners), and shares modules and lessons based on the original course programmes.
Supporting thriving communities is one of the goals outlined in Henkel’s 2030+ Sustainability Ambition Framework, and Forscherwelt is just one example of a wide array of social initiatives that the company runs and supports. As well as educational programmes, there are social partnerships in the communities where the company operates to support local initiatives and public institutions. Employees are also encouraged to volunteer their time to a variety of causes, such as the “trashfighter” initiative – a programme that raises awareness of waste in the environment – or supporting Habitat for Humanity, a nonprofit that helps people around the world build or improve a place they can call home. And finally, the organisation provides emergency aid where it’s needed, through its Fritz Henkel Stiftung Foundation. Recent efforts have focused on supporting projects working in the aftermath of wildfires in places such as Algeria, Greece and Italy.