Volunteer stories

What is PULSE?

PULSE is our employee volunteering programme where eligible employees are matched to a not-for-profit partner, such as Save the Children, for a three-to-six month assignment. Volunteers contribute their skills to solve healthcare challenges at home and abroad.

On this page, you can follow the journey of a selection of our employees currently on a PULSE assignment. Each of the three employees listed below will be sharing their story on a regular basis.

PULSE Volunteer Partnership, Cover image, 2016

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Tommy Smith employee
Tommy Smith

Hello, I’m Tommy, and I’ve been with GSK since 2000. Currently I am a Senior Sales Representative in the respiratory division in the Bloomington, Indiana territory.

I am embarking on a six month PULSE assignment as a communications specialist with PATH in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, working on the Communities for Healthy Hearts programme, which aims to increase awareness of cardiovascular disease and where to access screening and treatment.

Video Blog #3 - October 2017

In his third vlog, Tommy shows us just how hectic the traffic in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, is and why this is a big source of stress for the locals. Stress is one of the biggest contributors to hypertension and Tommy talks about a “stress relief” campaign that PATH is running to raise awareness of hypertension, including screenings.

Video blog #2 - August 2017

In his second vlog, Tommy reflects on his first month in Vietnam and how Ho Chi Minh City has surprised him (including the traffic!).  He also gives an update on PATH’s Communities for Healthy Hearts campaign and why this is more than just an awareness campaign.

Video Blog #1 - July 2017

In his first vlog, Tommy gives an introduction to himself and discusses what he’s excited about for the next six months, and what his hopes and fears are ahead of his PULSE assignment.

Alex Van Asch employee
Alex Van Asch

Hi, my name is Alexandra (Alex) and I am Regional Head of Supply and Demand for our Latin America and Brazil Pharmaceuticals organisation. I am based in Panama.  From October 2017, I am going to be spending six months with the Clinton Health Access Initiative in Kampala, Uganda as Oncology Associate.

During my assignment, I will be providing Supply Chain expertise to help the government scale up access to cancer treatment and to create a roadmap that other countries can follow.

Blog 1: October 2017

Cabin crew: prepare for landing

After more than nine months of thinking about PULSE, talking about PULSE, dreaming about PULSE, preparing and planning… the ‘all about PULSE’ becomes a reality.  It hits home on that final flight, close to destination, when you hear the captain’s voice: ‘Cabin crew: prepare for landing’…

I land in Uganda on a mild Sunday night. All I have is six months worth of bags, a frazzled brain from the past few weeks of handing over the role I am familiar with (to the best team, if I may say). I’ve packed up my life again, yet feel surprisingly calm and ready. 

Prepared?  I am landing in a new country, where I don’t know anyone and have a vague understanding of what the next few months will look like.  Nevertheless, the essentials are there: some supply chain skills, an open mind, curiosity for what is to come, trust in myself encouraged by those who have supported in the process. Throw in a touch of courage and I think I am good to go!

Prepared or not, I have landed: Kampala, the capital city of Uganda, I am here!  I overheard some inspiring conversations on the plane about why Africa attracts people who want to make a world of good?  Volunteers, doctors, engineers, nurses... a variety of skilled individuals who have one thing in common- a shared passion and a purpose to help others. 

After a few hours’ sleep (under a mosquito net), it is day 1 in the office and I am being introduced to my new colleagues and office for the next six months: Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI) has an instant good energy about it. The organisation’s mission (now mine too) is to save lives by helping people gain access to essential medicines and Healthcare.  As an entrepreneurial, mission driven organisation, CHAI works in partnership with governments to bring transformational change, proud of their people who innovate and challenge the status quo with strong commitment to the urgency of saving lives.

Human development comparison map
Human development comparison

I am to spend most of my time working with a newly created cancer team focusing on improving access both in the public and private sector, partnering with the American Cancer Society (ACS) and Ugandan Cancer Institute (UCI). In addition, I will also support with their supply chain strategy in other areas (HIV, Vaccines, Integrated Child Health). 

I am already humbled and in awe of this team. Every conversation has the patient front of mind. Professionals of all backgrounds (from investment banking consultants, to doctors, pharmacists and everything in between) are all focused on not just making a difference, but making it a sustainable impactful change. 

I am lost for words. All I can say in my first attempt at explaining my first 3 days Kampala with CHAI is ‘WOW’! I don’t think I have ever learned as much as I have in less than 70 hours and been so moved by the work already done by just a small team. I hope I can make more sense in what is to come in my next blog.  Watch this space.

Caroline Modave employee
Caroline Modave

Hi, I’m Caroline and I am an Organisational Development Consultant. I work in HR, and support the Vaccines business and am based in Belgium. From September 2017, I am going to be spending six months on a PULSE assignment with UNICEF. I will be doing this in my home country.

On my assignment, I will be supporting the executive team and HR at UNICEF Belgium to help shape the people and organisation strategy for the company. I’ll be focusing specifically on leadership capabilities and engagement levels.

Blog 2 – October 2017

It is amazing how time flies. I started at UNICEF in early September but it feels like a lifetime ago; so much has happened!

In my last blog, I told you I was curious and excited… and clearly I had a lot to discover!

The inspiration by the cause: why people come to work

Since entering the UNICEF building on day one, I’ve been warmly welcomed. The people I have met, the support I have received and the generosity in sharing day-to-day life and challenges at UNICEF has been striking. I’ve also been amazed by the commitment of each and every one to the cause of children’s well-being all around the world: I have heard it from every single person I have talked to. It is a lot like GSK; the mission of the organization is at the heart of the company.

The power of stories

The mission of the Belgian office is to advocate for children’s rights locally and to raise funds for projects around the world. Although not being located in a developing country, I can sense the work being done in those countries. Many opportunities are created to interact with UNICEF employees working in developing countries. They come over to tell the story of the country they live in, the story of the children and the story of their challenges in improving children’s lives over there. Through pictures, videos and Q&A discussions, I have started to grasp the complexity of their environment and jobs. Testimonials help to raise awareness, understand priorities funded and give visibility to donors, governments and stakeholders of the impact of the work in the field.

…and the power of ‘Gemba’

‘Gemba’ is going intothe field and observing/asking questions to better understand the work and activities. For me it is not only about intellectual understanding, it is also about feeling how it is to do the work. Last week, I was lucky enough to participate in the kick-off event ‘Rights Respecting Schools’, which is a key partnership between UNICEF Belgium and a number of schools in charge of educating our future teachers. Through a multi-year programme, future teachers will work on how to include children’s rights into their future classes and schools.

Hundreds of future teachers attended the plenary session and different workshops. Focus, attention, questions but also challenges were raised. Difficult topics like diversity and equality were covered, opening the debate and creating the starting point of a journey towards respect for all, as from the early age. It made me curious about the approach UNICEF is taking to build partnerships, but made me feel confident about future generations of teachers. The event also challenged my thinking by presenting different points of view, and I was impressed by the professionalism and expertise of the advocacy team. There were a lot of learnings I can take forward in my role both here and when I go back to GSK.

Its never too early to think long-term

I want to have an impact that is sustainable over time.

My role here is to support the organisation in delivering its 2018-2021 strategic priorities by designing, with HR and the executive team, a fit-for-purpose strategy and I am learning lots.

  • Questioning, listening, listening, and listening. Through my observations, discussions and ‘gemba’ walks, I took the time to make sense of the context and understand different perspectives.
  • Context is key. Somemethodologies,capabilities and tools can be transferred from one sector to the other. However, to engage and position initiatives properly, it is dependent on three things:
    • The specific ‘moment in time’ of the organisation
    • The people at the organisation
    • The culture -to have a sustainable impact the approach needs to be specific to UNICEF Belgium.
  • Prioritising and building capability. I’ve only been here for a short period of time, but I realise at this point in time in my assignment that setting priorities is really important. I am also aware that I am only here for a limited amount of time so I need to think about what capabilities I transfer to the team.

Blog 1: August 2017

Back to school: I’m about to start a new adventure!

While many kids around the world are about to start a new school year, will meet new faces, study in new classrooms and learn new concepts; I will be leaving the GSK office, my current role and my colleagues to start in a completely different environment. My PULSE project is about to start!

The GSK PULSE programme is a fantastic opportunity for employees to devote time and skills to not-for-profit partners and in doing so, live out our mission to help people to do more, feel better and live longer.

I will spend the next six months volunteering (full-time) at UNICEF, being part of their day-to-day work and helping them delivering their vision: a world where all children, especially the most vulnerable and disadvantaged, have equal opportunities to survive and thrive.

Why it is so important to me?

An economist by background, I have spent most of my career in Human Resources, first at Accenture, then at GSK. I’m passionate about people, teams and organisations. I’m driven by supporting them in unlocking their full potential to increase their positive impact in the world. This is why joined GSK almost 10 years ago.

I’m also a big believer in teamwork and collaboration: breaking silos to be more effective and accelerate change. Partnerships between private organisations and not-for-profits are increasingly fundamental to tackle world’s most pressing issues. I want to actively contribute in building those bridges across sectors.

‘Now’ is the moment

When I volunteer, I feel energised, positive and resourceful. I’m connected to humanity. While volunteering is about ‘giving’ (time, skills), it is amazing how much I get back. I learn, I develop and I’m shaking up my assumptions of the world. Now is the right moment for me to do more of that: Get more involved, change communities and, importantly, change myself.

While many of GSK’s PULSE volunteers work in developing countries, I choose to volunteer in my home country, Belgium, at the UNICEF Brussels Office. As a mum of three, I didn’t want to wait for them to grow up before I applied for the PULSE programme. Volunteering locally helps me fulfil my mission while being present for my family, which is so important to me.

Caroline Modave with her family on the beach
Me with my three children

Every little counts

Curious and excited… that’s how I feel now!

I’m curious to better understand UNICEF activities and see the impact on children. I’m curious to discover why UNICEF employees and volunteers come to work every day. I’m curious to sense their organisational culture and ways of working. And of course, I’m curious (or rather, impatient) to see how I can contribute.

I’m excited to discover a new world, excited to meet new people and excited to start building the famous bridges.

Will I have an impact? That’s my wish and my hope. I will keep on thinking ‘do your best’ and ‘every little counts’… and I will give you some more news in a few weeks from now!

And finally…

I wanted to say ‘thank you’ to GSK, my line manager and my colleagues to give me this amazing opportunity and letting me focus my energy, attention and skills in serving the community in a different environment, and in a different way. I also want to thank UNICEF for opening their doors and welcoming me.

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