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GlaxoSmithKline: Leading the way in corporate philanthropy

Q: Could you discuss the origins of corporate social responsibility (CSR) and corporate philanthropy in GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) in Slovakia? Where did the idea of being active in CSR and corporate philanthropy come from? A: In 2001, when we first established the company, corporate philanthropy and CSR were not being discussed very much. Activities toward this end began with the aim of helping individuals and organizations who needed help and asked for it. Our mother company belongs among the world leaders in corporate social responsibility and philanthropy, but rather than the mother company and its activities, the focus came from people working for the company in Slovakia who wanted to help. Since 2003 – when we founded the GSK Fund – we have started to work systematically in philanthropy and social responsibility.

(Source: Courtesy of GlaxoSmithKline Slovensko)

Q: Could you discuss the origins of corporate social responsibility (CSR) and corporate philanthropy in GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) in Slovakia? Where did the idea of being active in CSR and corporate philanthropy come from?
A: In 2001, when we first established the company, corporate philanthropy and CSR were not being discussed very much. Activities toward this end began with the aim of helping individuals and organizations who needed help and asked for it. Our mother company belongs among the world leaders in corporate social responsibility and philanthropy, but rather than the mother company and its activities, the focus came from people working for the company in Slovakia who wanted to help. Since 2003 – when we founded the GSK Fund – we have started to work systematically in philanthropy and social responsibility.

Q: What are the differences in the approach towards CSR and corporate philanthropy in Slovakia and abroad? Are there differences that are specific to Slovakia?
A: I would like to compare the situation in countries with developed civil societies to the west of Slovakia, and their approach to commercial society and media. The difference lies in people and their perceptions and feelings; in their sensitivity towards the hardships of others and in their behaviour and willingness to help. In those countries, the principle to help those who are weaker, handicapped or ostracised is already ingrained in young children in families, kindergartens and in communities. The feeling of being co-responsible for others, the need to help and the good feeling stemming from helping are part of a general education – as well as the feeling of solidarity towards the community in which one lives. This element is still missing here in Slovakia on a wider scale, although it has been changing gradually. In Slovakia, we have too brief a history of a truly civil society. Moreover, a certain form of social responsibility is expected from successful commercial companies in developed countries, and local media can also appreciate and praise CSR activities and philanthropy.

Q: What problems, according to you, can companies solve through CSR and corporate philanthropy in Slovakia? Which rules should companies stick to so that the benefits of the philanthropic activities are not just short term or one-time?
A: The span of CSR activities of the GSK company ranges from programmes of employee care – working mothers, work-time flexibility, workers’ development, health care, activities for employees’ families, philanthropic activities, donations, education activities for the youth, support for Roma communities but also for top athletes, cooperation with the academic community, third-sector organisations. I will mention specifically only a few projects – the GSK Fund, the ‘Kričím telom’ / ‘Shouting with My Body’ project aimed at increasing awareness of anorexia and bulimia, a project to improve health in Roma communities, the Transparentnosť v slovenskom zdravotníctve / Transparency in Slovak Health-care conference, PharmMarket in cooperation with the University of Economy, the Game Over project. We have also been focusing on seniors over the last two years - incorporating them into society and helping the communities in which they live. It makes sense to us to engage in these areas, and we would like to inspire others and show that it is normal to give back part of one’s success to the community.
In terms of rules, I propose three. Companies cannot expect to single-handedly solve problems through CSR activities; they need partners, often NGOs, and should recognise that the partners are the ones who are really tackling the issues. Short-term support can be wasted: companies should support initiatives were a short term boost of support can have a long term effect, but more preferablely should focus their CSR where the company can provide long-term support because the project is in line with their values and their expertise. Finally, CSR can be view cynically by some people, and therefore companies must be open about whether a project is purely philanthropic or whether there is a business benefit. Socially responsible business projects whether society benefits and the business benefits can be some of the most effective CSR because of the sustainability, but transparency is essential.

Q: The GSK Fund annually allocates financial grants to projects that strive to improve the lives of disadvantaged groups, to do away with barriers and to help those who need it to live a better-quality and full life. In the case of some of the grants bestowed, those were small amounts, even amounting to mere dozens of euros. What is the philosophy – or what goals does the GSK follow when allocating financial grants to individual projects?
A: The goal of the GSK fund is to support projects that reflect the demand of the whole society and which bear importance for specific groups of people who need help the most. These include, firstly, projects to help seniors, ill children and the physically or socially handicapped. The decisive criterion for evaluating the projects is the direct impact on including the physically and socially disadvantaged in society. Grants should not serve as a one-time material aid, but we view inclusion and integration as a long-term and measurable process, or a goal. The final re-allocated amount also depends on the quality and long-term effect of the projects. The number of projects that will receive financial aid is not pre-set in advance. Our ambition is to help in several places, but also to help meaningfully and effectively.

Q: Last year, GSK Slovensko got the honorary award Via Bona for adopting measures and standards to increase transparency in the pharmacy industry. Could you specify which measure and standards were involved and what reasons were behind the decision of your company to introduce them? Are you continuing these activities?
A: We try to set an example for how a pharmaceutical company can operate successfully over the long term thanks to – and not in spite of – working ethically and applying in practice the principles of honesty and transparency. If a health-care system is to work well, this requires a high level of trust.
It is important for patients to be treated with medication that helps them: with the right medication at the right time for the right reasons. GSK believes that transparency is the basis of trust for the communication and interaction of all groups involved, and it is also crucial for securing the long-term success of GSK. We appreciate transparency in a company, both internally and externally, when contacting our clients and the public. We want to spread all the results of clinical tests in a transparent way, and we created a website that includes an online registry of all our studies and their results. If GSK is involved in any event or cooperation with another organization, our participation is always published in a transparent way.

Apart form this, however, GSK went further long before the current law became effective, and we separated the medical education from our commercial and promotional activities. For example, our education centre Mediforum is managed by the medical department - not the commercial one – and our brands are not promoted through it. Our commercial teams do not participate in allocating financial grants of donations either – all donations are controlled by a selection committee and we give them solely to non-governmental organisations.

We also have “advisory groups of experts” where experts advise us and oversee us so that we do not accidentally promote a product in a wrong or inept way.

Q: Does your company guide its employees systematically toward philanthropy and volunteering? In which ways can they engage in philanthropic or volunteering activities, or can they choose them voluntarily?
A: Apart from financial support of non-profit organisations in the form of allocating grants, GSK puts a lot of emphasis on corporate volunteering. This includes support for volunteering projects of non-profit organisations through joint aid of both the company and its employees. Employees contribute with their voluntary work and engagement, and the company covers the related costs, offers paid time off and organises the event. Each year, our employees participate in the Days of Volunteering and they can choose how to help. The Fund supports projects filed by institutions/organisations, not by individuals. To support the applications of individuals, we established the HOPE project, in which employees get the chance to contribute individually – financially or materially – and GSK Slovensko contributes with the same amount as its employees.

Q: Corporate philanthropy is mainly about helping the more vulnerable people in society. What benefits does corporate philanthropy bring to GSK Slovensko?
A: In an ideal world, successful people should feel the need to give thanks for their success at least by supporting society, the communities in which they operate, groups of individuals or someone or something that makes sense to them. In this way, they strengthen their success. Socially responsible enterprise and philanthropy is one of the ways to sustain the development of our company. By giving, we certainly gain more. As human beings, we get the feeling of solidarity, the feeling to “be well-grounded”. We are well aware that the line between success, health and an unexpected life situation in which anyone of us can need the help of others, is very thin.

Q: Has the current economic crisis had any impact on CSR and the philanthropic activities of GSK Slovensko? Have you changed the aid schemes, or have you introduced any new ones?
A: The current economic crisis has had no impact on our philanthropic activities. For example, the GSK Fund gets each year the same amount of finances from the company’s profit, thanks to which it can continue to help. We started the project of supporting health in Roma communities, as well as the HOPE project.

Q: Which of the CSR and philanthropic activities are “closest to GSK Slovensko’s heart”, and why?
A: All our projects make sense to us and our partners, and help us. We feel that we have to and want to help on one hand, those who are most vulnerable and those who cannot help themselves, but on the other hand, we want to be inspired and to inspire exceptional people. Probably the GSK Fund, the project of support for health in Roma communities as well as the support for the Olympic winner Michal Martikán are closest to my heart.

The project of supporting health in Roma communities is about educating the health mediators – people directly from Roma settlements. These people are able to help their neighbours with health issues, offer first aid, call an ambulance for an injured child or a delivering mother, can help get mothers to baby clinics, and to facilitate cooperation with paediatricians and GPs… We are proud that we can be partners of the international project ACEC- The Association for Culture, Education and Communicaiton led by Ľuba Slušná.
And why do we support Michal Martikán? Martikán has already become a legend; a legend of canoeing, the first Olympic winner in the era of independent Slovakia, our most successful Olympic athlete, the most successful wild-water canoeist ever. Michal is an inspiration for me, how one can, through modesty, passion and hard work, be able to get results in the long term – results that most people and athletes can only dream of – while also staying well-grounded.

All questions have been answered by MUDr. Pavol Trnovec, Corporate Affairs Director at GlaxoSmithKline Slovensko and Chairman of the Board of the GSK Fund.

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