By Caroline Roan, Vice President of Corporate Responsibility for Pfizer Inc. and President of The Pfizer Foundation
Fifteen years into the 21st century, health advances have already resulted in longer lives worldwide. Investments that improve living conditions and reduce infectious diseases continue to have a positive impact. However, many global health challenges remain, such as governments’ inability to unilaterally address populations’ needs, the increasing difficulty and costs associated with discovering new medicines and the additional strains on health care systems caused by shifting demographics. As these and other challenges become more complex, multinational corporations are becoming engaged in development efforts joining governments, NGOs and civil society organizations to help less-developed countries meet the needs of their populations, often through public-private partnerships.
As companies like Pfizer become more engaged in development work, we have a responsibility to learn how it functions and what it takes to succeed. Since 2003, Pfizer has partnered with over 40 international development organizations, including PSI, through our signature international corporate volunteering program, Global Health Fellows (GHF). Through the GHF program, Pfizer employees volunteer in three- to six-month specialized assignments, working hand-in-hand with community-based partners to help improve health care systems while gaining new perspectives on global health challenges and how the public and private sector can work together to address them.
In 2010, Pfizer launched its Global Health Teams (GHT) program to expand and diversify skill-based volunteer opportunities beyond individual Global Health Fellowships. The GHT program offers a short-term, team-based volunteer option. In 2014, a Pfizer Executive Global Health Team (PEGHT) program was created, specifically designed to bring company leaders into the field to enhance their understanding of and engagement in Pfizer’s commitment to improving health care services for underserved communities around the world. The PEGHT was embedded within a leadership development program sponsored by Pfizer’s CEO and created by Pfizer’s talent management function to develop a targeted group of Pfizer’s senior executives. This executive program is designed to deepen leaders’ understanding of how a large biopharmaceutical company engages external stakeholders. The program provides a select group of senior leaders with key experiences including engagement with various global health stakeholders through the PEGHT assignment.
“I left with a much clearer understanding and appreciation of the role of NGOs in the delivery of health solutions and the critical importance of public-private partnerships in addressing unmet health needs.”
The first PEGHT worked with PSI, a global nongovernmental organization with a strong social mission and a diverse client base. In a 10-day pro bono team assignment, 12 senior executives volunteered their skills and expertise to help PSI find new and more efficient ways to support its consumer base. In exchange, team members would learn firsthand about the challenges PSI works to address, such as helping clients understand the threats of HIV and AIDS, a lack of family planning and other barriers to maternal and child health. Their task was to provide a set of recommendations to PSI’s leadership to help them achieve its strategic goals (growth, relevance, value) while maintaining its core mission, to create healthier lives. The PEGHT team visited PSI headquarters in Washington, DC, and spent time at country offices and sites in Ethiopia and India.
Through the immersive PEGHT initiative, Pfizer leaders became eyewitnesses to the challenges PSI confronts in providing access to health in resourceconstrained environments. They also saw public health strategies in action and developed a better understanding of the role global development plays in our own business.
“I observed, firsthand, the delivery of healthcare in India and the complexities that health care workers face on a daily basis in the developing world,” says PEGHT member Chris Scully, Pfizer Global Established Pharmaceutical Business Chief Commercial Officer. “I left with a much clearer understanding and appreciation of the role of NGOs in the delivery of health solutions and the critical importance of public-private partnerships in addressing unmet health needs.”
Following the project, 88 percent of team members found the experience relevant to their work and believed their ability to build external partnerships improved as a result. They also agreed that it helped further shape their global mindset.
Ultimately, our senior leaders were able to share their business acumen to help PSI advance its public health mission. Immersive global pro bono programs like PEGHT offer a compelling argument for encouraging corporate leaders to get away from their desks and into the field.
Watch the accompanying video about the Pfizer Global Health Fellows’ work on strengthening social franchising in Tanzania below.