The Fellowship for Global Health programme matches skills to needs. Miranda Ingram reports…
As a global healthcare leader based in Kenilworth, New Jersey, MSD, known as Merck & Co., Inc. in the US and Canada, is one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world. It also runs the flagship MSD Fellowship for Global Health – a three month, field-based corporate pro bono programme that lends the brightest and the best of its employees to non-governmental organisations (NGOs) around the globe as part of its mission to help the world be well.
The aims of the programme are threefold: to strengthen the capacity and reach of the NGOs; to provide a unique, rich professional development opportunity for employees; and to apply learnings across the company. The benefits are also threefold: to the Fellow, to the company and to global health in regions where the need is greatest.
“In 2012, the company already had a long-standing, robust volunteer program operating around the world,” says Theresa McCoy, who leads the Fellowship Program in the company’s Office of Corporate Responsibility. “However, after benchmarking against other companies, we realised we could increase our impact through full-time engagement of employees sharing their skills in a more systematic and sustainable way. That’s when the idea of the Fellowship was born.”
In the four years since its inception, the Fellowship has grown dramatically, both in scope and the number of employees involved. Since 2012, 130 Fellows have worked with 33 nonprofit organisations in 15 countries.
“Initially, we pinpointed our emerging leaders and approached them to join the Fellowship,” says McCoy. “The interest level grew so high, however, that in 2013 we introduced a new system that allows any eligible employee to submit a Fellowship application.”
The application period opens annually each February, but before this, MSD identifies the most pressing challenges and chooses the partner NGOs and projects that the Fellows will collaborate on. This way, employees can apply for specific projects and put forward detailed proposals as part of the application process, enabling MSD to match employee skills to NGO needs.
Their tasks can fall into a number of categories, such as branding and marketing communications, international business strategy development, financial modelling, vaccine research and biopharmaceutical R&D training. The aim is to maximise the NGO’s organisational capacity, helping them increase access to health services, products and education in the communities they serve.
“Selection is rigorous,” says McCoy. “Fellows not only need to have the right skill set and be top performers inside the company, but they also need to be able to develop new skills, such as communication, leadership, consultancy, training and team-building when they are in the field.”
Overall, the Fellows’ commitment is for a full year. After being chosen in May, they start virtual training followed by a six-day, face-to-face workshop in July, where they learn more about themselves, their cross-functional team, the NGO partners and the countries where they will be working, including cultural mores, for example. “Our goal is to thoroughly prepare them so that they can maximise their contributions to the NGO partners while ensuring their wellbeing and safety,” says McCoy. “The Fellows have access to coaching, mentoring, security and technical support while they are in the field.”
Upon their return, Fellows are required to spend a further six months presenting and disseminating what they have learned throughout their own department and the company as a whole. In some instances they become champions for helping to solve global health challenges. They may also choose to stay involved in the programme, working as ambassadors for the Fellowship by sharing their experiences and spreading the word to potential applicants. In other cases, they may sit in on selection committees for Fellowship candidates or act as mentors for new Fellows in the field.
“One hundred percent of our alumni Fellows have reported leadership and professional development gains, particularly in self-confidence, as well as an increased awareness of the urgency around global health issues,” says McCoy.
The Fellows continue to grow and develop as leaders after their assignments are completed. For example, 38 percent have been promoted or taken on new responsibilities since their return, with Fellows having increased the number of people reporting to them by three subordinates on average.
While the Fellows develop their leadership skills and gain a greater understanding of the challenges and opportunities in the global health market, the benefits to the company are also clear.
“Fellows come back passionate and more engaged,” says McCoy. “They bring back an awareness of how people experience healthcare in different parts of the world. In the field, they learn to find innovative solutions in resource-constrained environments and can potentially replicate these efficiencies upon their return.”
All the non-profits have reported substantially improved impressions about MSD in the communities they serve, and 89 percent report a better understanding of MSD’s company mission. They were unanimous in reporting substantial or extraordinary capacity gains, particularly in the areas of strategy and planning, training and knowledge transfer, operations, marketing and external relations, and service provision. Such positive feedback demonstrates the company’s commitment to saving and improving lives as well as to corporate responsibility.
The third beneficiary, global health, gains through the Fellowship’s public-private partnerships as well as the growing network of global health advocates within the company.
“The aim is to leave the non-profit in a sustainable position at the end of the three months,” says McCoy, “so that they can continue without us.” However, she adds, she knows that many Fellows keep in touch with the organisations where they have worked, continuing to provide strategic guidance as part of their own volunteer time.
The company’s commitment can occasionally be ongoing, too. In 2014, two Fellows working in Cameroon identified the need for high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) equipment to detect counterfeit drugs. MSD donated the equipment and the following year two new Fellows set it up and trained local researchers to use it.
While NGOs can reapply to the Fellowship with a new project, working as a Fellow in the field is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. “Many of our Fellows would like to go on another assignment,” says McCoy, “but for now, we want to give as many employees, from as many different countries as possible, the opportunity to become a Fellow.”
Find out more about the MSD Fellowship for Global Health and the company’s commitment to employee engagement in its Corporate Responsibility Report on their website www.msdresponsibility.com