Global Pro Bono Converts Insight to Innovation

Merck Leverages Service Fellowships to Advance Learning, Employee Engagement & Impact
Nov 5, 2015 10:15 AM ET
Article

Over the last ten years, leading companies have begun investing their greatest asset—their human capital—in “giving back” by improving lives around the world through global pro bono programs. Such programs place employees in short-term volunteer assignments within local social-sector organizations for a period of three weeks to three months in emerging or growth markets, from India to Brazil. While the pursuit of philanthropic community impact will likely continue to underpin such initiatives, some corporations are realizing that deploying employees as pro bono consultants can have two other significant and desirable effects as well. First, such programs can help leaders develop the ability to manage in highly complex, rapidly changing, resource constrained environments, in a manner that is significantly more experiential (and as a result, sustaining) than many standard corporate leadership development offerings. Second, if volunteer assignments and corporate priorities are strategically aligned, companies can benefit from valuable market insights that volunteers gather while on assignment. When nurtured correctly, these insights can fuel new thinking and innovation across the organization.

To maximize all three of these opportunities for impact, companies have tried various program formats, with varied results. While serendipitous outcomes may occur, programs deliberately designed to address these outcomes can increase the potential for significant and sustainable results.

One company seeking to more fully achieve these opportunities for impact is Merck, known as MSD outside of the United States and Canada. Two years ago, Merck embarked on a journey to evolve their program design with the goal of broadening and deepening its impact. As a result, Merck began actively building a systemic approach to achieving the triple impact opportunity of the program by focusing on alignmentcapability, and community within its Merck Fellowship for Global Health.

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