Coming full circle

The first time I thought about applying for PULSE was the day that Andrew Witty announced the program. At the time, I thought that it was for higher level employees — certainly such a wonderful program would not be available to the rank and file GSK employee. It wasn’t until a few years later, when a Philly colleague took part, that I realized it was open to the entire organization. It was not practical for me then as a single parent of young kids, so I needed to wait awhile until I could apply. However, this did not stop me from putting it on my PDP (Performance Development Plan) in 2011, and 2012, and 2013… you get the point. I know I could have done a local assignment, but I really wanted to get back into the international arena.

To explain this, let me give you some of my background — I have always been an internationalist, even as a young child. At age 7 I borrowed library books that would help me learn French (with the help of Babar the Elephant). As an adolescent, I was fascinated with researching my family’s history since my great-grandparents came to the US from Europe in the early 1900s. My undergraduate major was international studies, my master’s was international business (with an internship in Germany), and I had toyed around with the idea of doing the Peace Corps, so this program seemed to be a perfect fit. It would give me the opportunity to give back, and also have the opportunity to see if Peace Corps was something I might want to do in my future (faraway) retirement.

One of the requirements for applying to PULSE is to have your manager buy-in as s/he must be willing to let you go for 6 months, without backfill from the company. Managers also fill out an application, and budget to send you to orientation. In January 2018, after 7 years on my PDP, everything fell into place and I was finally at the point where I could apply for the program! I was so excited I wanted to scream when I finished the application. It was almost a month before I found out that I had moved on to the next stage of the process and would get an interview (scream again!). I went through the interview process (scream again!) and then was matched with Jhpiego as a communications evaluation specialist because of my background in promotion and marketing (scream again!). The final stage was the actual interview with Jhpiego to see if I would be a good fit. Once I had that interview and passed, it was settled.  I had come full circle to once again being in the international arena. I started following everything I could on various forms of social media to start getting familiar with the country as well as with the various non-profits in the HIV space.

Jhpiego (jhpiego.org) is an international non-profit affiliated with Johns Hopkins University that has operated for over 40 years, and is dedicated to improving the health of women and families in developing countries. I was assigned to Lesotho to evaluate their communication and service delivery models for PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis for HIV).  They have been working in Lesotho for several years performing voluntary medical male circumcision (VMMC) as a means of HIV prevention, but were now also offering PrEP. Lesotho is a small country of about 2 million people that is surrounded by South Africa. It has the second highest incidence of HIV in the world with approximately 25% of the adult population infected.

On arrival in London in May 2018, I knew I was in the right place. I had not been overseas in several years, but immediately felt at home. The orientation was amazing, as was the instant bond with GSK colleagues from all over the world. We became the family of PULSE10, all united for a common purpose — to give back to communities that could benefit from our expertise. The PULSE motto is change yourself, change communities, and change GSK. We had an incredible 3 days, learned a lot about public/private/non-profit partnerships and each other as well. We did this through lots of practical exercises; presentations from instructors, PULSE team members and alumni, and NGO partners; and shared experiences over the time in London. These included the once in a lifetime bonus of the royal wedding festivities in Windsor with 200,000 of our closest friends. We returned home with lots of energy and some time to spread the PULSE word around our units before we deployed to our assignments.