Creating Shared Value: GSK and Direct Relief Fight Ebola

(3BL Media and Just Means) - I’m not going to lie. I never intended to use my sustainability, storytelling company to talk about one of world’s largest pharmaceutical companies, Glaxosmithkline (GSK). But, I found myself talking about their work with my husband, my mom and with my running partner. GSK's PULSE program is creating hope and change. PULSE connects GSK employees with the needs of NGOs to create long-term impact. They offer their business expertise, internal best practices and create shared value across organizational distinctions. It’s a story worth telling.

And here’s one great example: Over the last five years, Direct Relief International, a nonprofit that provides medical assistance to people around the world who have been affected by poverty, natural disasters, and civil unrest has received over 50 PULSE volunteers from around the world. Bhupi Singh, the Executive Vice President, Chief Operating Officer, and Chief Financial Officer of Direct Relief, calls the PULSE team a “potpourri of the United Nations,”

“We love the PULSE program,” says Singh. “ It’s one of the best programs we work with. There’s no way a nonprofit can get the skills and expertise the GSK PULSE volunteers offer.”

And often, it’s the expertise Direct Relief needs at just the right time. This September, Direct Relief knew they wanted to help fight the spread of Ebola by making a contribution to the people of Sierra Leone and Liberia. In the history of the organization, it was the largest contribution they ever delivered. The Direct Relief team organized 100 tons of medical supplies and spent $450,000 to charter a plane to deliver some of the supplies to remote villages. They distributed 2.8 million pairs of gloves and thousands of drugs via the contribution of large pharma companies like GSK. As soon as the Direct Relief staff made the decision to put these pallets together, it was time for the warehouse team to start packing. And, Peter Albert, a PULSE volunteer from GSK’s Nigerian office, was part of every step.

“Peter was in the thick of it. He worked with our operations team on the outbound and the inbound side to make things more efficient. He did process mappings to figure out bottlenecks and he worked to help make our Ebola shipment happen in ten days,” says Singh.

Albert began his work in the Direct Relief warehouse by implementing the ‘Toyota Way’ and manufacturing concept of Gemba, “to go and see, view and understand the working process.”

“I knew that [before I began to make recommendations] I needed to have the agreement of all stakeholders. After observation, I began to think more like them. I identified warehouse activities [which needed changed] and I slowly drove the process,” explains Albert.

As an operational excellence manager at the GSK office in Nigeria, Albert knew he could provide the Direct Relief warehouse strategies in which to reduce inefficiencies and eliminate time-wasting activities. After a period of observation, Albert identified a way to cut down on paperwork by introducing technology to reduce human errors. He helped to improve the process of receiving the donated, inbound, medical supplies and he led process mapping of the warehouse as Direct Relief prepared for the Ebola shipment. 

“I was touched by people who were dying from an incurable disease. And, I was excited to find myself working directly with an NGO who was sending materials to West Africa. It was an honor to be part of such a team,” says Albert.

According to Singh, Direct Relief experiences a different level of commitment from PULSE volunteers. Often, he says, they stay in touch and maintain friendships. He tells a story of an employee from Egypt who helped Direct Relief find a way to distribute a rare drug.

“Four years ago, we entered into a new partnership to distribute drugs for a rare disease. There was a patient in Egypt we wanted to help, but we didn’t know how to get the drugs to him. I knew we could reach out to a former, PULSE volunteer at the GSK office in Egypt. He helped us to find a way to reach the patient with the drugs . . . . There’s just an incredible number of GSK partners keeping in touch with our employees at Direct Relief,” says Singh.

The partnership between GSK and Direct Relief represent cross-sector collaboration at its best. Both organizations benefit and grow from one another, offering expertise, inspiration and vision. See what I mean? It’s a story worth telling.

Learn about PULSE and Direct Relief. Watch a clip about their joint work to fight Ebola.