Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Global Health Fellowship - 2013

In early December of last year (2012), I learned that my company, Pfizer Inc, had selected me as one of its Global Health Fellows for 2013. For the next year or so, this blog will be dedicated to this Fellowship program.

Tuesday, Feb 12, 2013 - The Story So Far:

The story really begins back in 2006, when I first heard about the Global Health Fellowship (GHF) program, back when it was still fairly new. I spoke to a couple of colleagues who took part in the program, and it sounded like a life-changing experience for each. This especially intrigued me as I've always felt a calling to service - including considering joining the Peace Corps as a teenager - but because I had always struggled with that big question of What To Do With My Life, I never formulated a plan to put this calling into action. By the time I started business school in 1998, I was married with one child, Veronika (with my second, Josephine, born while there), and an inkling of a potential career, so that calling was put on the back burner.

But only for a while! Hearing about this program gave me hope that I would be able to get at least a taste of helping those in developing countries without having to take the huge risk of leaving my career track (especially with all those pesky student loans). The Fellowships are essentially an opportunity for Pfizer to provide pro-bono consulting to non-profit organizations in developing countries with great need - where everyone gains something (Fellows get exposure to a completely new world, and develop new skills in leading projects; NGOs get months of free time from someone with corporate leadership experience and some form of functional expertise, and Pfizer gets better-rounded employees who develop new, valuable leadership skills). I learned a lot about the GHF program back then, and followed it throughout my Pfizer career, but with multiple job changes and moves to different states (Connecticut, California, back to Connecticut, and now NY), as well as the birth of our third child, Gabriela, the time really never felt right.

But 2012 was different. My wife, Kasia, and I had spoken at length about my desire to take part in this program, and she has always voiced her strong support (despite the hardships I know it would place on her, taking care of three children while also attending to her own career). I came to realize that 2013 may be my last chance for a while to become a Fellow - all three of my daughters would be continuing in their current schools here in NYC for at least another year, but the summer of 2014 will bring college tours for Veronika; 2015 will be the start of her Freshman year, and then the process begins again in 2016 for Josephine.

So, recognizing that this is probably my last chance - at least for many years - to do this without missing these major milestones for my daughters, I watched and waited carefully for the start of the 2013 application process, in July of last summer.

The process entailed a long application, with multiple essays about my motivations for applying to become a Fellow, my experience in working across cultures and traveling to other countries, and my volunteering background. I solicited advice from friends and colleagues who had taken part in the program, and others who have lived and worked in developing countries and who had worked with not-for-profit Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) in the past - my officemate, Rockwell, was an especially great resource, as he had worked for Population Services, International (PSI) in Africa prior to his career at Pfizer. After a month of crafting the essays, and with a recommendation letter from my then-manager, Savitri, I finally submitted my application in August.

The almost four months of waiting for the results was gut-wrenching. Pfizer lets you apply as many times as you want to until you're accepted, but knowing I really just had this one shot to do this really had me sweating. In October, I found that I'd been selected to the final round - very exciting! - but I was still one of four candidates for a Fellowship in India, with interviews with the NGO (CARE India) and the internal GHF team still to go. My interviews were delayed thanks to Hurricane Sandy, stretching out the waiting process even further. Finally, after a great conversation (with lots of questions in both directions) with the CARE team in New Delhi and a brief interview with our GHF team leader, Oonagh, and Pfizer Global Security, I learned on December 4th - in the middle of a huge team meeting - that I was accepted into the program. I would be heading to Delhi for a five-month fellowship!

After sharing the news with my wife, family, friends, and colleagues, I gave myself a little time to celebrate before getting overwhelmed with the huge amount of preparation required for such a journey.

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