Like a dream come true
I still remember the day a year ago, when I had my first interview with the PULSE team contact at GSK, offering a few options of roles I might be interested in for PULSE. The first 2 options they talked me through were similar to roles I had already had at GSK. The third option was “out of the box”. It was in an area I had no proven expertise in, but I had put in down as the area I wanted to develop in. I remember the PULSE contact saying “This would be a challenging role – I assume you want to be really stretched?”. I said “Yes” confidently, however the thought in the back of my mind was “This is the role I am going to spectacularly fail at. At least it won’t be at GSK!”.
I have always regarded myself as a “Jack of all trades, Master of none”. But, my PULSE assignment was a great opportunity to test myself in a totally new team, within a new sector, where I had no core expertise in the areas the organisation were focused on. And, after 11 years at GSK, I was ready for a change. I was paired with Malaria No More (MNM) UK, an advocacy and communications based charity with extraordinary ambitions to make malaria no more within a generation. MNM UK focus on building strong links with political leaders (particularly the UK government) and creative partners to deliver Global moments and campaigns that have a global reach. I had never worked with politicians, or in a communications teams. My initial assignment was to build a European strategy for MNM UK.
I was MNM UK’s first PULSE volunteer. 6 months had passed from when MNM UK had requested a volunteer. Just as I arrived in June 2018, the organisation embarked on a Strategic review to decide on priorities for the next 3-5 years. This was expected to complete by Oct 2018, and consequently all future activities (including Europe work) were put on hold. So, I spent the first couple of months convinced that my prophecy was going to come true, that I would fail to add any value to the NGO. I had to curb my expectations and tell myself that I was going to enjoy having a break from GSK, and learn about a new sector. I asked my NGO supervisor to keep me busy and he got me involved in a new policy area for MNM UK, and asked me to work with other teams on their wish-list. One such project was to build a CEO round-table. Another was to secure a fundraising partnership with a new corporate partner. I looked at the impossible tasks before me, and thought the least I could do was test the water – but no one would be surprised that I hadn’t achieved these things.
As I explored the CEO round-table options, I started to think that it would be much easier to go where the CEOs already convene (like Davos). So, I approached the World Economic Forum (WEF), who convenes Davos, and asked them if they would be interested in a partnership. To my surprise, they were interested, and I managed to have a few meetings where we agreed to collaborate on a high level event at the World Bank Annuals in October 2019, which is attended by several CEOs and Finance Ministers. In 2019 this will be one of MNMUK’s key ways of building on the momentum from last year’s malaria summit and Commonwealth commitment. Before I left, I had initiated conversations with other malaria partners on this event to develop an “Innovative Financing mechanism” for malaria.
Fundraising is key for charities, but it’s also soul-destroying, as people switch off as soon as they hear the word “charity”. I felt passionately that the only way to secure a fundraising partnership is by attending networking events, where people cannot ignore you. So, I investigated a good forum to attend an event, and suggested it to the Fundraising team at MNM UK. They were very supportive of me attending, and it led to several opportunities, not least being advertised by a Chamber of Commerce in their magazine which has a readership of 18,000 business contacts based in the UK. I also motivated an influential London-based philanthropist to get involved in a couple of high-profile MNM UK events, and who could put MNM UK in touch with other influential political and fundraising contacts.
I also explored a new policy area of “Substandard and Falsified drugs” on behalf of MNM UK, with academics, public institutions, NGOs, Private sector, etc. The initial contact was to establish if MNM UK could add any value in these discussions. We heard from many partners who felt that MNM UK could add tremendous value. Slowly it led to gaining internal support within MNM UK for this area, and then exploring a tangible opportunity in Rwanda, a key country that MNM UK are focused on. I built relationships with a wide variety of stakeholders that MNM UK had previously not been in contact with. But, my most important contribution was at the first Global conference on this topic, where I spoke up towards the end of the conference and was instrumental in developing the final statement from the conference, calling on governments to act.
My most important lesson from the assignment, is that “It’s always worth challenging yourself, as it is so much more gratifying when you can pull it off, but most of all trust you are good enough”. I am so grateful to the NGO for taking a chance on me and investing, supporting, coaching, and trusting me to help them. The MNM UK team were inspirational to work with, and I am so proud of what they have achieved, and am glad to say I have been part of the team. This assignment has been nothing short of a dream come true.
I have now been back at GSK for a couple of weeks, but am desperate to make sure that I keep supporting my NGO! So, for the month of Feb, I will be giving up chocolate to raise some funds. Please sponsor me on the JustGiving page where I will tell you the connection between chocolate and malaria: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/ambily-banerjee