I am a former gymnast. And I do stress the word former. I also coached gymnastics for 20 years at a very high level. I always say if you can teach young kids in sports you can do just about anything. Being a former gymnast I am quite flexible and I do a lot of stretching still. Even though I do get a lot of backhanded compliments like “Wow you flexible for a guy your size.” So stretching is a way of life for me. It is a habit.
While on my Pulse assignment I have had to learn to stretch in totally different ways. I have been with GSK 12 years. I did not have a business background so when I got hired I had to learn a lot of new skill sets and stretch my perception of myself and evolve a lot to be successful. This experience here in Vietnam is very similar. Even though I use all the skills that I implement at GSK, I am being asked to do things that I do not do or do not do on a regular basis to build up that mental muscle memory. Most of my blogs have not talked about my actual work here so let me take some time to explain where I am stretching and having to be flexible.
When I first got here I was given a Scope of Work (SOW). My main responsibility was to help create demand for a high quality condom that is now being manufactured here in Vietnam. I work on the Healthy Markets team which is in charge of advocacy, commodities and demand creation for HIV related goods and services. I work with 3 people on my direct them and then very closely with the BCC (behavior change communications) team as well as the graphics team. Basically I was tasked with creating an entire advertising and promotions campaign for this new condom brand called Gallant. Oh my. I do promotions at GSK of course because I am sales. But this would be the equivalent of the sales marketing team, direct to consumer marketing team and channel distributions team combined all in one. So to say the least I had to get up to speed quickly! I had to learn about the market (there is tons to know about condoms…more than I ever thought possible), how products are distributed here, health care system, and partners that will help us do what we want without a lot of budget. So within the first week I created a comprehensive advertising proposal for the distributor of this condom. And the new core message is: Be stylish. Be modern. Be Gallant! Because a Gallant man will always protect you! Hey for my first foray into marketing I was very proud:) This proposal has direct to consumer pieces, TV promotions (on MTV), radio, celebrity endorsements, sales material (and now a sales training project), sample program, educational material and distribution plan. To say I had to stretch for this is an understatement. But when being flexibly you have to bend and bend to get into the position you need.
Well that went very well and we are in the process of implementation of the plan. With this being my main project, we can just say I have some free time. They have now integrated me (or in one project I have integrated myself) into all their HIV related projects.
A big aspect of NGO work is finding strategic partners that can help you achieve your goals. That means negotiations, budgets, contracts and persistence. The persistent part I got down. But I really do not have any negotiations experience. Unless you count me talking little girls into flying around a bar, letting go, flipping and then catching it again. Oh and budgets and contracts…there is a reason I am not an accountant or lawyer ya! But in my mind this is about those patients we are helping. If a condom is too expensive, or a needle is not the right size for a drug addict or they do not understand how lubricants can help, then I will stretch everything part of my brain to do what I can to help them. In the end the stretching helps you but it is for them. In the past few weeks I have really become quite the negotiator. I now have two new strategic partners on contract with PATH. Both of them are gay dating aps that can advertise directly to one of the hardest hit key populations with HIV rates (around a 20% infection rate here for the gay population). They are very excited to have these new partnerships that will long outlast my 6 months here. I have also started to negotiate with lubricant companies and low dead space needle companies. Starting dialogues, finding common ground and then asking them for things that I am not used to asking. I will say me closing a doctor now won’t ever be a problem.
In the coming weeks I will be helping create all the banner ads for the applications, help design an app for PrEP trial users and create sales training and educational material as well. PrEP is taking HIV drugs as prophylaxis to prevent you from getting it. This is an exciting new tool in the arsenal of safer sex tools to help reduce HIV transmission here. We want an app to help with education, adherence and a calendar for doctors appointments. I am not a computer expert (and thankfully they have them here) but I will learn and design. I will stretch again to help.
The last area I have been stretching in is English. No really. They email me documents and ask me to edit or to make sure the grammar is correct. Let me remind everyone that I went to public school in Kentucky. We rank 48th in most educational standards. So this may be the biggest stretch of all. Acting like I know my own language!!! 🙂
I would not be able to stretch without the amazing people I work with. They are all top notch talent in their fields and they are gracious with their knowledge and background. I am thankful for them (Yen, Tuan, Tham, Bao, Kim, Thuy…)
and they have really taken to my ideas and thought process. So I will continue to stretch daily. I will gain flexibility and I will bring that flexibility home with me. Because the best teacher is experience and I getting more experience than I could possibly every dream possible.