Skills-Based Volunteering Fuels Innovation


Two BI scientists volunteer at the annual Connecticut Pre-Engineering Program (CPEP) Maker Expo. CPEP aims to increase the number of underrepresented students who pursue STEM careers.
Two BI scientists volunteer at the annual Connecticut Pre-Engineering Program (CPEP) Maker Expo. CPEP aims to increase the number of underrepresented students who pursue STEM careers.

The Boehringer Ingelheim group is one of the world’s 20 leading pharmaceutical companies. Headquartered in Ingelheim, Germany, it operates globally with 146 affiliates and more than 47,700 employees. Since its founding in 1885, the family-owned company has been committed to researching, developing and manufacturing innovative medicines to improve the lives of people around the world.

Boehringer Ingelheim’s success as an innovator is directly linked to the passion and commitment of its employees to not only bring groundbreaking new medicines to patients, but to also make a positive contribution to the communities around them. The company has discovered a number of innovative ways their employees can leverage their time and skills to educate, motivate and provide for their neighbors in need through skills-based volunteering programs.

Skills-based volunteers use their talents, experiences and resources to strengthen an organization from the inside out. These opportunities are designed to nurture relationships with community partners, support the work of local nonprofits, and cultivate a stronger sense of community both internally and locally. Boehringer Ingelheim is committed to enhancing the communities in which its employees live and work.

The company works closely with local partners to create and sustain programs that bring people together and promote better health for them and their communities. This is done in part “through a variety of experiential, skills-based volunteer opportunities,” explained the company’s executive director of learning and leadership development, Julie Staudenmier.

Boehringer Ingelheim’s skill-based volunteer program is based on the idea that active — and proactive — involvement is essential in sustaining and renewing the environment we all share. Experiential learning is the systematic building of new skills and knowledge in the workplace. It is based on the principle that in order to succeed as an organizational leader, you must continually learn in the context of your day-to-day responsibilities.

Capturing and capitalizing on the lessons of experiential learning is crucial to a company’s success, but few organizations and leaders actually know how to do it and put it into practice. As explained in a study by the Harvard Business Review: “When companies fail to develop their best people through experiential learning, they miss the chance to build up the bench strength required to stay ahead of rivals and ensure smooth succession as top leaders retire. And even the most talented executives and managers can’t gain the skills they need to express their full potential.”

The success of Boehringer Ingelheim’s program rests in the idea of empowering leaders internally and defining effective process to spur, support and sustain those leaders’ professional growth. The company’s Making More Health initiative, in partnership with the Ashoka Foundation, offers unique and innovative leadership development opportunities for BI leaders, particularly in the areas of agility, accountability and intrapreneurship. It connects the dots between corporate social responsibility and leadership development.

This program offers a variety of development benefits for leaders. It provides opportunities for social entrepreneurs to solve problems in fields like education, human rights, environmental protection and combating poverty. It also engages young people in designing health care solutions for their communities so that they themselves can become changemakers. Boehringer Ingelheim employees actively support the youth in the program by serving as mentors and coaches, passing on their knowledge, network and experience.

The Making More Health Initiative includes an Executive in Residence program, which gives Boehringer Ingelheim employees the opportunity to actively support social entrepreneurs onsite. It is seen as a huge avenue to increased development of executives. While employees provide specific business skills to Making More Health fellows, they also learn and develop valuable leadership competencies from the experience of working with these social entrepreneurs. The exchange of professional and social skills is an essential experience for all people involved.

Making More Health forms a bridge between Boehringer Ingelheim’s expertise and competence and the innovative capabilities of the social entrepreneurs. It fosters high-impact collaborations between Boehringer Ingelheim leaders and social entrepreneurs with the potential to change the dynamics of traditional markets, enhance competitiveness and create systemic social impact.

However, skills-based volunteering is more than offering free expert services; it matches the right volunteer skills with the right nonprofit’s needs.  Ideally, volunteer projects align with the long-term goals and work of the nonprofit.  A good match, then, leads to real long-term results and even ongoing support from the businesses where volunteers work. Boehringer Ingelheim boasts a great track-record of connecting employees with the right opportunities.

In addition to these larger-scale, skills-based volunteer opportunities like the Making More Health initiative, the company partners with local organizations to provide short- and long-term opportunities where employees can engage in experiential learning. For example, volunteers from Boehringer Ingelheim in Fremont, California, were actively involved in planning, coordinating and managing many of the activities related to the Bay Area Science Festival.

The annual festival, created by area scientific, cultural and educational institutions, including Boehringer Ingelheim, provides a wide variety of both informative and fun activities — from lectures and exhibitions to concerts, plays and workshops. The festival’s goal is to expose as many children as possible — especially those in underserved areas — to the importance of science in hopes that they will eventually pursue a career in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

“As a company, we support STEM education, and the festival is a key STEM activity in the Bay Area,” one of the volunteers said. “It’s an opportunity to participate with our industry partners, support education and inspire the next generation of scientists.”

Boehringer Ingelheim’s corporate social responsibility profile, commitment to sustainability and diverse offerings of skills-based learning opportunities plays a major role in talent acquisition. “It is a big reason why millennials are drawn to working for the company,” Staudenmier explained. “Our employees feel proud to be a part of a broader community.” The successes of company volunteers are shared widely through social media and the company’s social network, BI Buzz. In many ways, skills-based volunteering is embedded into the corporate culture. We can only hope that other companies will follow suit.

Image courtesy of Boehringer Ingelheim

Featured image via Pixabay

Joi Sears

Joi M. Sears is the Founder and Creative Director of Free People International, a social enterprise which specializes in offering creative solutions to the world's biggest social, environmental and economic challenges through the arts, design thinking and social innovation.

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