Employee Volunteerism Ignites Social Innovation At GSK
By Ahsiya Posner Mencin, Ph.D. Director, PULSE Volunteer Partnership
How do you capture the fresh insights and ideas that about 100 high-performing GSK employees develop each year as a result of their PULSE assignments? This is a question that the PULSE Team and I have asked ourselves ever since it launched in 2009.
The PULSE Volunteer Partnership matches highly skilled employees with volunteer positions for up to 6 months full-time, with the “three-fold change mission” of:
1) changing the NGOs and communities they serve through donation of the volunteers’ expertise and knowledge
2) changing the employee volunteers’ leadership skills, global perspective and ways of working
3) changing GSK by bringing the “outside-in” and enabling us to stay in step with society. Since its 2009 launch, the PULSE Volunteer Partnership has enabled 486 employees from across 54 different countries to work with 92 nonprofits in 60 countries.
Ever since PULSE started, we’ve always strived to support a successful re-entry process for our 100 volunteers annually who had just spent 6 months in the field and often came back telling us that they just had a life-changing experience. After such intensive time working on the ground with NGOs and communities, our PULSE volunteers would show us time and again that they were well-positioned to bring home fresh ideas, bring us closer to the patient, and help us figure out how to do more with less and how to do things more simply and creatively. But there was no clear funnel or forum to collect, capture or at least hear their ideas, so it was only happening accidentally at best – and this was a tremendous loss to the company.
In 2012, through the passionate and determined help of four PULSE alumni, we launched an innovation incubator called the PULSE Lab with just this purpose. This was really tough work to launch, but the hard work paid off and the PULSE Lab enjoyed several great successes. These include the low-cost diagnostic tool that is currently being developed within GSK to help save the lives of countless people who die every year from preventable diseases in the developing world, as well as the global micro-volunteering framework for GSK employees to ramp up their skills-based volunteering, which will be launched world-wide in September 2014.
There were also some challenges and learnings from the 2012 PULSE Lab, which we took to heart and integrated into our launch of the inaugural PULSE Innovation Challenge this year, including:
1) Timing is everything. The PULSE Team aims to catch our PULSE Volunteers as the majority of them return to the business in January each year
2) The power of crowd-sourcing. We’re now running our Challenge on the IGNITE platform to allow for employee voting/ comments/ questions so that it can galvanize the GSK work-force rather than exist as a top-down competition
3) The value of being business-led. The Challenge is framed by key problem statements received from senior business leaders when we ask them “what keeps you up at night?” Therefore, we are more likely to receive targeted and strategically-aligned ideas from our PULSE Alumni that GSK has an appetite to act on, rather than receiving lots of random good ideas that the business doesn’t have capacity to absorb
4) The importance of rules of engagement. The Challenge has clear terms that are communicated to participants from the start, including: process, timeline, application selection criteria, an appropriate judging panel, and also distinct prizes for winners.
With the above ingredients, our 2014 PULSE Innovation Challenge has been a huge success. We had over 30 quality ideas submitted, and 5 PULSE Alumni’s innovation proposals were just selected as winners given their promise to deliver both business and social benefit. Below I have included an audio clip from each of the winners describing their ideas.
1) Donna Accetullo from US Pharma proposed an idea to address illiteracy by providing patient information in our prescribing information (PI) on audio.
2) Florence Richard from Vaccines proposed introducing a “protected child” diploma to increase immunization coverage in rural areas.
3) Kirby Amponsah-Manager from R&D proposed a "Nutrient to Retention" idea that supports our Africa 2020 strategy to increase access and innovation on the continent
4) Lidia Serina from Vaccines proposed the idea to meet our customers and patients to stimulate creativity in our R&D process.
5) Vivian Cheng from R&D proposed improving access to medicines for children in emergencies/disaster situations through more robust partnerships with NGO partners on the ground.
We’re proud of this year’s winners and the positive change that their innovations promise to affect for our business and society – and we can’t wait to see what new ideas are unleashed through our next Innovation Challenge in 2015!
Audio clip links: