March 10

My mission at the Society

Not many understand what I do here in Toronto, more so, in the Canadian Cancer Society.

Here are the questions that I usually get about my stint.

  1. What am I here for? Why does GSK spend on me to volunteer for an NGO?
  2. What is my job? (translate: Do I organize charity events?)
  3. What help can I, someone from a developing country, still give in Canada?

These questions sometimes also keep me up at night and, so, I tried reflecting on them the past two months that I’ve been in this journey.


Most reflecting happens here–Yonge-St.Clair at the end of a sunny winter day

What’s in it for GSK to send me on PULSE

PULSE is GSK’s flagship skills-based volunteering initiative. Through it, eligible employees are matched to a non-profit organization for three or six months full-time, contributing their skills to solve healthcare challenges at home and abroad.

Personally, I believe this program benefits all its stakeholders—GSK, the volunteer, and the NGO. For one, this is a unique way for a global pharma company like GSK to give back. Instead of traditional philanthropy, GSK donates its most precious asset—its human resource. Beyond that, it is what the employee brings back in after the assignment that changes GSK. It’s the perspective that there’s something larger than life inside GSK, which allows more innovation to flow.  For the employee, the benefits are clearly personal and professional development. I’m not even halfway through my assignment, but I can already honestly feel that something is changing in me. It is outside of my comfort zone in many ways—the weather, culture, ways of working. All these make up the experience and, in the discomfort, I am becoming different (hopefully better), too. And for the NGO, on top of additional capacity, it gives them an opportunity to focus on something strategically important but are put to the sidelines when the challenge of ever-shrinking resources gets in the way.

There are still many gaps that need to be filled in the world. While this will not solve them all at once, this is one way to make a dent.

What I (try to) do at the Society

When I tell people about this for the first time, the first reaction I get is a puzzled face—something that’s like, “what exactly do you do?” I sometimes get comments like, “Do you do outreach programs?”, “Will you be in the field visiting people with cancer?”, and the list goes on. Fundraising events and support programs are certainly focal to what the CCS does, but my assignment doesn’t quite fall under the two categories.

Since this is a skills-based volunteering program, I am here for what I have skills for, i.e. project management. In GSK Philippines, my background is mostly marketing and sales. Over the years, I have acquired project management skills, which we brand in GSK as “Accelerated Delivery Program” (ADP), through the several major projects that I led and the trainings that I attended. I come here to use that skill set to manage a project that will lay the foundation of the Society’s future success in partnering.

Because of increasing competition in the cancer charity sector coupled with the changing society and donor expectations resulting to challenges in the top- and middle-lines, the Society has to be more strategic in its approach to partnerships and ensure those that we engage in will help drive revenues and allow us to do more with less. Hence, my role is to help the Society refine its partnership strategy and develop an implementation plan that will ensure the delivery of these strategies.

I’ll stop here and not try to drown you in the details, but to put it simply, I’m a project manager (with a project charter as my compass) working in a cube. I spend my day talking to different stakeholders, doing a lot of desk research and data analyses (excel templates, charts, and slide decks, yes), and later on, developing and testing some tools and templates that staff can use to guide them in the partnering lifecycle management. Hopefully, at the end of my stint, I’ll address a REAL NEED, and not just come up with fancy templates that no one uses later on… (fingers crossed!).

Why I was matched here

The last question has struck me the most. When I first heard about the match, I also got curious about going to a developed country as a volunteer. Most PULSE volunteers are deployed to Africa and South Asia. Since 2013, GSK has been sending volunteers to the CCS, but I think I’m the first Filipino to get in. Mostly, indeed, it’s not what we choose, but what chooses us. I was brought here for a reason.

One thing that stuck to me during our PULSE training last year is that there are many faces of the disadvantaged. Because of my background, I am mostly familiar with the face of economic poverty—of malnourished children, people dying of infectious diseases that are otherwise preventable, sights of informal settlers just behind posh villages, and horrendous traffic jams in the metro. These may be remote, or even unheard of, in my current side of the world, but it doesn’t mean that they are free from pain.

I learned that people suffering from cancer, or those battling depression, are just as disadvantaged as those who go hungry. It may be on a different spectrum, but similarly, there is some pain to ease. There is some help needed. Cancer is huge problem in Canada, and I am here to help solve it a bit, fast forwarding to the time that no Canadian fears cancer.

And it is my hope to return to the Philippines doing the same and so much more for the Filipinos.


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