The Impact of Corporate Volunteerism on Global Health

New York, New York, June 14, 2013
By: Alison Brandt
International Corporate Volunteer Symposium

How can corporate volunteers play a role in improving global health and at the same time improve their own skills and careers? 

Project HOPE hosted a symposium in New York City on June 12 to answer that question, uniting global health experts from pharmaceutical companies and nonprofit organizations.   

The consensus of the meeting was that international corporate volunteer (ICV) programs help corporations attract talented employees; take corporate volunteers out of their comfort zones to transform them into globally literate leaders; bring down “business silos” by having employees from different departments and offices volunteer together; and send employees home from assignments more engaged, motivated, and productive. 

Amanda MacArthur, Vice President of CDC Development Solutions gave the keynote address and three panels of experts discussed past and current volunteer processes and experiences to suggest how to create and implement successful ICV programs. 

Panelists from the Merck Foundation, BD, Eli Lilly and Company, GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer tackled both the social impact and ROI of international health missions by corporate volunteers and offered insight on how stakeholders can work together to make a profound impact on underserved communities in the developing world.   

NGO panelists from GBCHealth, Project HOPE, and PSI offered the following key takeaways: 

  • When choosing a volunteer assignment, make sure to find an area with a clear, documented problem that needs solving, set realistic goals for each volunteer and know exactly what skills are required to be effective.
  • Once volunteers are onsite, make sure they have access to Internet, telephones, and transportation to make their experience more positive; if volunteers can’t contact their families and feel unsafe, they are more likely to abandon the assignment.
  • Be prepared for volunteers to initially feel culture-shocked. 

How to make ICV programs more effective?

International Corporate Volunteer Symposium

All of the representatives agreed that it was best to have a very concise set of goals and realistic performance expectations for each volunteer prior to his/her assignment.  It is best to find a concrete, documented problem that needs solving and to understand the exact skills needed before choosing a volunteer for a particular opportunity.  

It is also important to ensure volunteers have access to internet, telephones and transportation as they may abandon assignments if they are not able to stay in touch with their families at home and feel safe.  It is crucial, the panelists agreed, to understand that many of the volunteers may not have travelled outside of the U.S. previously and may experience shock and confusion by their initial exposure to impoverished environments. 

The symposium closed with a lively discussion by corporate volunteers who described their experiences in ICV programs as "life changing," rewarding experiences they will never forget.  

Janet Taylor, who volunteered in Development and Communications at Project HOPE said it was an adjustment for her to get used to the culture and environment at a nonprofit organization because she was so used to working in a sales/marketing environment at GSK.  

A number of the volunteers had thought about leaving on the first day, but were glad they had stuck it out.  They were glad that they had gained awareness about foreign markets.  One concern that was shared was that they wished they had known prior to their volunteer assignments "what a good performance looked like" and "what a great performance would look like."  All corporate volunteers at the symposium agreed that setting expectations and benchmarks would yield better results in the field.


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