OLAthon: Collaborative crowdsourcing to help patients in need

September 18, 2019     

The Organization for Latino Achievement (OLA), Bristol Myers Squibb’s Latinx networking group, hosts an annual innovation challenge and calls on its employees to try to solve some of the distinct health challenges in their community.

It’s a crowdsourcing event called OLAthon. This year OLA invites competitors to propose ways to tackle a distinct challenge around lupus, a hard-to-treat disease highly prevalent within the Latina community. The specific focus of the 2019 lupus OLAthon is to drive diversity in clinical trials by building relationships and trust within the Latinx community. 

Marisa Co (from left), David Gonzales and Melissa Harris listen to crowdsourcing ideas at last year’s OLAthon event.

Marisa Co (from left), David Gonzales and Melissa Harris listen to crowdsourcing ideas at last year’s OLAthon event.

At the core of OLAthon’s goal is an understanding that different diseases affect locations, ethnicities, ages and genders differently, and a commitment to addressing these disparities to ensure therapies can reach patients who need it most.

“During OLAthon, we put our innovation muscle to work,” says Maribelis Ruiz, medical director at Bristol Myers Squibb’s Puerto Rico site. “Companies that foster innovation need to continuously instill in employees at every level the desire to think, propose ideas and identify ways to make those ideas viable.”

Throughout the year, OLA focuses on increasing cultural awareness and fostering an understanding of the ways Latinx employees add value to all aspects of Bristol Myers Squibb, while also serving as a way to provide leadership development and networking opportunities for Latinx employees. 

In addition to OLA, the seven other People and Business Resource Groups (PBRGs), have more than 12,000 members combined. Members work to ensure that diverse voices are represented and brought to the forefront of key conversations happening around the company and outside in the community.

Diverse Perspectives Come Together

Last year, OLAthon challenged employees to find solutions for nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) – another disease highly prevalent in the Latinx community, and an example of a disease area facing difficulty with representation in clinical trials. More than ten cross-functional areas from across Bristol Myers Squibb formed OLAthon teams to attempt to make strides in addressing this issue – including a team from Bristol Myers Squibb’s site in Puerto Rico.

Over the course of the next month, teams worked to finalize their pitches, before eventually submitting their proposals for review. Finalists were chosen to present their ideas to a panel of judges. The winning team would ultimately go on to work with R&D leaders to implement the plan.

Last year’s winner for the NASH OLAthon was a team formed from members of another company PBRG, the Black Organization for Leadership Development (BOLD).

“The 2018 OLAthon was a great example of a diverse group of perspectives and experiences coming together to rally behind a common cause,” said Leticia Ferri, lead of OLA. “This serves as a testament both to the importance of our PBRGs, as well as the companywide commitment to thinking critically about issues facing minority communities.”

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