GIVEs volunteers in sub-Saharan Africa reduce health disparities - Bristol Myers Squibb - Our stories
GIVEs volunteers in sub-Saharan Africa reduce health disparities
The importance of public service has been instilled in Alexandra Hill as far back as she can remember. Working at Bristol Myers Squibb has given her incredible opportunities to serve the world the past couple of years.
Hill was recently chosen for two of the company’s marquee volunteer opportunities: Global Initiative for Volunteerism and Engagement (GIVEs), where she was one of a half-dozen employees to travel to underserved communities in Africa in 2022, and C2C4C, where employees participate in BMS cycling events around the world raising money for cancer research, in 2021.
GIVEs is a collaboration between the Bristol Myers Squibb Foundation and the company’s Global Business Operations (GBO) that launched in 2011. Employees go to southern Africa to help nonprofits that have received funding from the Foundation build skills and capabilities they need to serve their communities.
We were in very rural parts of those countries with NGOs, who had so little but gave so much. The small, small seed of help and hope you’re bringing is making such a tremendous difference.”
Connie Walters, Vice President, SS&P Corporate Functions and Initiatives
Hill was teamed with James Byrnes and Claudia English, both of whom she had never met. Byrnes is a senior manager in Facilities, English is an associate director in Global Procurement and Hill is an associate director in U.S. CAR T forecasting. But those differences only enhanced the work they were able to do for the nonprofits and the overall GIVEs experience.
The three came from “very, very different backgrounds,” Hill said, but that only enriched the experience.
They spent the first day at a cancer disparity conference, where teams talked about research, funding and cancer outcomes. “It was incredible to hear,” she said. “BMS is funding so much in the region.”
They also visited the Senkatana Oncology Clinic, which opened in Lesotho in February 2021 with financial help from the Foundation. A patient there received the first chemotherapy infusion in the country in 2022. Hill said they also visited an HIV/AIDS clinic the Foundation helped open more than 20 years ago.
She also helped check patients in at a community health clinic put on by Black Women Rise in Bloemfontein, South Africa, while other BMS employees helped comfort patients in the examination rooms. The trip was a great opportunity to work on teamwork and teambuilding, Hill said.
“It is truly the highlight of my BMS experience so far,” Hill said.
And based on others who were in the program before her, it will feel that way for a long time.
Connie Walters had been with BMS for a few weeks in 2013 when she heard about GIVEs during a company Town Hall meeting. She then learned employees had to be with BMS two years before they could participate. So, Walters marked her calendar and waited. And waited. And waited. Three years later in 2016, she was selected.
Walters and a colleague from Israel worked with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to teach them how to write grants and ways to tighten their controls so organizations will continue to fund their work.
“We were in very rural parts of those countries with NGOs, who had so little but gave so much,” said Walters, who is now a vice president in Strategic Sourcing and Procurement and has been leading the GIVEs program since 2017.
She said the experience was life-changing, knowing “that the small, small seed of help and hope you’re bringing is making such a tremendous difference.”
The program is clearly life-changing for those who receive the help, but it teaches participants something about themselves. “When you return, you have a lot more capability than you thought,” Walters said. “It shaped who I am today as a person and as a leader.”
Like many former GIVEs ambassadors, she remains in touch with the NGOs she worked with and supports them any way she can.
“The work they do literally changes lives. We are privileged to be a small part of that,” Walters said.