Write Her Future: Lancôme’s war on illiteracy

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Françoise Lehmann

Lancôme has teamed up with CARE to launch Write Her Future, a multi-country programme that aims to combat illiteracy among girls. Françoise Lehmann, Chair of Lancôme International, explains why the brand is taking on this initiative.

Fighting illiteracy around the world

76 million*. That’s how many young women worldwide lack basic reading and writing skills. What’s more, while poverty is on the decline around the globe, female illiteracy levels are unchanged, which is widening the gender gap. This hidden handicap, says Françoise Lehmann, puts women in complicated family and social situations. “The consequences are severe for these women and the people around them: not only do they suffer reduced life expectancy, but the impact on their children’s education and on their future is a huge concern.” She adds a further note of caution: “When we talk about illiteracy, we often think about developing nations, but it’s a widespread problem in developed countries as well.”

To tackle this issue, and in keeping with its determination to work for women, Lancôme has partnered with CARE, an international humanitarian organisation, to create Write Her Future, a programme dedicated to women’s literacy. The initiative’s goals are completely in synch with Sharing Beauty With All, the programme spearheaded by L’Oréal Group Chairman and CEO Jean-Paul Agon, who has insisted that modern companies must play a social role.

By standing up for women’s education, Lancôme is taking on a challenge that is consistent with its values of self-esteem, empowerment, sharing and fulfilment. To coordinate its efforts globally, the brand turned to CARE, which provides support to some 60 million people in 90 countries and is highly attuned to local issues. “The cause is an ideal fit for the brand’s targets. By reaching out to girls the world over, Write Her Future is a perfect match for Lancôme”, says Françoise. What does the initiative hope to achieve? “We want to give illiterate women faith in the future and help them build their happiness.” To do this, Lancôme and CARE have simultaneously set up programmes in three countries in three different continents: Morocco, Thailand and Guatemala.

Different causes, different challenges

Illiteracy has many faces

Because illiteracy has many faces, Write Her Future will adjust to suit local conditions. In Morocco, the programme is focused on supporting young mothers, helping them to be part of their children’s education and so indirectly fighting school failure. In Guatemala, the emphasis is on integrating Maya women in a country where they don’t speak the official language. Since everything is done in Spanish, Write Her Future will help them to understand paperwork and stand up for their rights. In Thailand, the idea is to build women’s networks through education. Write Her Future wants these women, who have been pushed outside the world of work, to be recognised as economic participants. While CARE selected the three countries because of its strong local organisation, Lancôme has been very vigilant to ensure effective use of resources. “We want to adapt to local conditions”, explains Françoise, “so that we can provide appropriate solutions that address the actual causes of illiteracy”.

“Making the invisible people visible”

Lancôme is harnessing its social reach to give the cause a higher profile. On 20 February, the brand launched Write Your Name So She Can Write Her Future, a digital campaign aimed at raising awareness. The multi-stage campaign kicks off with a film that takes online viewers into the daily lives of illiterate women. Next, each of the brand’s ambassadors, from Julia Roberts to Penélope Cruz, Kate Winslet and Lupita Nyong’o, will play their part in driving the campaign onwards. In the final stage, Lancôme will invite opinion leaders with ties to the brand (Mert & Marcus, Alexi Lubomirski), influencers, decision-makers and employees to take over and give maximum resonance to the crippling issue of illiteracy among young women.

Locally grounded through partnerships

Staff at Lancôme’s subsidiaries are getting to work on the ground as well. “Each country subsidiary has been tasked with forging local partnerships with NGOs”, explains Françoise. In France, plans are afoot to launch initiatives over the course of the year to show that the problem is not confined to developing nations. “I was very struck by Alexandra Alévêque’s documentary 21 Jours (‘21 Days’)”, she says. “Today, even a developed country such as France has 2.5 million illiterate people. We are committed to giving them a second chance.” Since reading and writing are vital to using many digital technologies, the initiative is all the more timely to ensure that digital does not further deepen inequalities.

8,000 beneficiaries over five years

Lancôme plans to use its power to turn the spotlight on illiteracy issues. Number-wise, the brand estimates that about 8,000 people will benefit directly from its programme over the next five years, along with another 40,000 indirect beneficiaries. While the programme is already up and running in Morocco, it is still at the preparation stage in Thailand and Guatemala. “We need to find local partners and recruit teachers”, explains Françoise. Because Lancôme is taking a long-term view, a first progress report is scheduled for the end of year one to give the project time to bed in. Meanwhile, new candidate countries have already been identified. In Europe alone, subsidiaries in Germany, Spain, Italy and the UK are all setting up partnerships with NGOs.

Women’s literacy is a cause that is dear to Françoise’s heart. The child of teacher parents, she sees education as providing a structured and positive way to approach life and tackle its challenges. “It gives you distance and the ability to make judgements. Even if it is harder for adults, learning is ultimately a pleasure.” And a way to look with confidence to a future in which women play an even bigger role in building prosperity.


* Source: UNESCO, 2014. International Women’s Day


CSR | March 2018