Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. – Mark Twain
Wow can you believe that by this time next week I’ll be in Maseru, Lesotho working for the Clinton Health Access Initiative? I don’t think I’m actually going to believe it until I touchdown in Maseru this Sunday.
I wanted to take some time and tell you about my PULSE journey. While I only applied for PULSE this year, my journey with this program started 4 years ago. I had been at GSK for a year at this point when I discovered this amazing program called PULSE. The PULSE program has three-fold mission: Change communities, Change yourself, Change GSK. This is accomplished by sending employees on a 3 or 6 month assignment (depending on the type of assignment chosen) to an NGO where we volunteer our skills and expertise to accomplish a certain task(s), in order to achieve sustainable change in the communities we serve. While doing this, GSK fully supports its employees taking part in this program to a level I’ve never seen in any other organization that has similar programs. Since the inception of PULSE in 2009 GSK has sent 635 employees, from 60 countries, to work with 112 nonprofit organizations in 65 countries around the world. This year, GSK is sending 73 employees from 21 countries on PULSE assignments. No wonder GSK was ranked #1 in Fortunes 2016 Change the World List. I feel very proud to work for this organization.
As soon as I read about PULSE, I knew I wanted to participate in this program. But here’s the catch, I had to wait until I was at GSK for at least 3 years before I could even apply. So for the next two years I kept going back to the PULSE website, checking out blogs from volunteers, looking at the application form, thinking about what I would write in my own application to explain why I wanted to do PULSE. I talked to every boss I had about wanting to do PULSE, and put it in my development plan. Finally, I had made it to 3 years with GSK and I could apply for this amazing program. Except, as it turned out, I couldn’t.
You see, I had been selected to work on this amazing project called CERPS (SAP implementation). Working on an SAP implementation is something I had really wanted to do in my career, for probably the last 10 years. Yes I know, I’m a nerd. This is why you all love me so much 🙂 While I was really happy to be working on CERPS, this meant I couldn’t apply to PULSE for the next two years as CERPS spanned two PULSE cycles.
For the next 18 months, I worked on CERPS, and got to grow and stretch both personally and professionally. In my opinion, my experience on the CERPS project made me a better candidate for PULSE. Things really do happen for a reason.
Last year, I had the wonderful opportunity to attend the Network of Executive Women (NEW) Leadership Summit with some of my fellow NEW members from GSK in the U.S. It was here that I got to speak with Maryanne McTighe who had just finished a PULSE assignment with Save the Children Philippines. She told me all about her assignment and experience. Having that conversation with Maryanne just reaffirmed how much I wanted to do PULSE.
I knew this was something that I wanted to do for about the last 3.5 years. But saying you want to do something and actually doing it are two very different things. At the same time, I got to see Amy Purdy speak at the NEW Leadership Summit. This woman is absolutely amazing, and awe inspiring (I highly recommend checking out her TED talk). One of the things she said that really stuck with me was “Don’t hope to do something, don’t try to do it, declare it and do it”. So, I declared my intention to apply for PULSE.
It’s funny, when you actually state out loud what you want to do, the universe provides you with the means of getting it done. When I got back home, I booked a meeting with my old boss (Rob Zielinski) from CERPS and my then new boss (Sara Braun) in Demand Planning to speak to them about my PULSE application. I knew I would need both of them to fill in the Line Manager Sponsorship form, before my application would even be supported.
I was a bit nervous heading in to this meeting, as I would be asking two very busy people to add more work to their already full plates, and I would be asking my boss to let me leave the business for 6 months without getting a backfill for my role. I was amazed and humbled by both their reactions. They both did not hesitate to support me in this endeavor. Sara’s reaction to me asking for a 6 month leave without backfill was “this is for your development, we’ll figure it out”. I’ve tried to express my thanks to both Rob and Sara but I don’t think I’ve done a good job of articulating to them how much their support means to me. Thank you both so much. This opportunity means the world to me, and I wouldn’t have been able to do this without you.
So having the go ahead from Rob and Sara I began filling out my application. Some people wonder why I would want to do this. I’m going to share with you the answer I gave to this question in my application. I feel extremely blessed in my life. I live in an amazing country where as a woman, I can own a home, have a job, vote, and have access to clean water, free healthcare, and education. The reason I have these things is not because I am better or more deserving than anyone else, but because I won a birth lottery. I was born to wonderful parents in one of the best countries in the world. I never had to worry about where my next meal was coming from, where I would sleep at night, or if I would be safe. I was always told I could be anything I wanted to be. Yet, in so many places in the world children and women do not have these same freedoms. In the developing world diarrhea is the second leading cause of death in children under five. A disease that is preventable through safe drinking water and sanitation. The fact that almost a million children are killed a year due to a preventable disease is not okay. It’s up to all of us to help in any way we can. I am so grateful for the life I have and I want to express my gratitude by helping people who haven’t been as lucky as I have. This is in part, why I want to do a PULSE assignment and why I’m so honoured and thankful to have this opportunity.
After submitting my application, I had to wait about a month to see if I would progress to the next stage. When I got the email from the PULSE team telling me that my application had been progressed to the next stage, I let out a little scream I was so excited. Since I work in an open area, some of my colleagues looked at me as if I had lost my mind…
As the next few months went by, I progressed through the diagnostic test phase, the interview phase, and the matching phase. Then I got the email that said I had been matched with the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI) in Maseru, Lesotho. I would be working as an Associate Nutrition Volunteer to develop a business case aimed at providing nutritionally complete fortified blended food (FBF) for all children in Lesotho, aged 6 to 24 month. I will do this by creating an investment case financial model for the program.
After reading and re-reading the assignment a few times, my first thought was where in the world is Lesotho? I soon discovered it’s a landlocked country completely surrounded by South Africa. My next thought was what have I gotten myself into? Sometimes the scariest thing in the world is achieving the goal(s) you set for yourself. But, I am determined to do a good job for CHAI and for the children of Lesotho I have been tasked to help.
I also wanted to thank others who have helped me on my journey: Dee Blair, Trish Coppola, Ryan Keith, Carissa Vados, Alison Pozzobon, Helene Pineau, Christos Nicolaou, Simona Bosello, and of course the entire PULSE team. Thank you for taking the time to talk to me about PULSE, or put me in touch with other volunteers I could talk to. Thank you for answering all of my question and helping me navigate this road as I get ready for my assignment. I am so proud to now be part of the PULSE family.
I also want to give a huge thanks to my parents who will be looking after my cat and my home while I’m on assignment. Knowing things are taken care of at home will help me concentrate on doing the best job I can for my assignment. Thanks Mom and Dad, I love you both.
Lately we’ve been seeing a lot of terrible things in the news. It’s easy to get apathetic and think what’s the point of doing anything, nothing will change. All I can say to this is something a former boss of mine used to say and that is “Be the change you want to see in the world”. The worse thing that can happen when we try is that we don’t succeed. But even when we fail, we learn lessons that help us succeed next time we try. When we don’t try at all, nothing changes, and nothing is learned.
I know this has been a long blog post, I’ll try to keep the future ones a little shorter.
Thank you all for your love and support, you have no idea how much it means to me. I will be carrying that with me for the next 6 months.
See you when I get back, but we’ll definitely be in touch while I’m away.