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Actress Finds a New Stage

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Claire Dixon uses her skills as a trained actress every day to tell the stories needed to drive social change around the world. She recently moved within GlaxoSmithKline to become Vice President of Corporate Responsibility. GSK has make a pledge to A Billion Plus Change, providing a total of over 25 years of GSK executives' time to NGOs around the world in the next year. Claire and I recently spoke about her path to GSK and their premiering PULSE program.

You began your career as an actress. Do you find that you still use those skills today?

Absolutely, I use those skills every day. Being an actress taught me how to tell a story. Not only in terms of honing in on what is most intriguing to really grip my audience, but also how to be authentic. The best actors portray someone else perfectly because the portrayal is rooted in truth. People can really sense that, and they know when something is authentic and when it's spin.

A pharmaceutical company is an interesting character. Your work saves countless lives but you are also a business.

Unlike many companies, we are on neither extreme -- pure business nor pure social responsibility. We need to have a commercial product, but we also need to understand our role in access and innovation as it relates to our products. That means thinking innovatively about pricing and distribution. For example, since 2009 we have capped the price of GSK patented products in LDCs at no more than 25% of the UK price with an average reduction of 45%. This has really increased volume of sales with the benefit that you are reaching many more people. GSK has really led the industry in this respect.

We bring business to mind even when working with the developing world, and we are innovative about pricing and distribution. We might charge $100 for a product in the UK and sell 10 of them, while in Africa we will charge $10 and sell 100 given the same input. The outcome for us is the same, but it reflects the differences in the communities where we operate and our role in providing critical medicine.

Your PULSE program places executives on 3-6 month full-time engagements with NGOs using their skills.

Yes, PULSE allows our strongest leaders to contribute their skills, and gives them the opportunity to grow personally and professionally. We have found that it really changes the way they see their job -- and almost all of our executives maintain relationships with the NGOs that they've served with after the engagement is over.

The program has grown from 50 to 100 placements in the last year, and we now reach over 25 different countries. We have found that there is a huge appetite for it. We had, for example, one of our senior brand marketers placed with AMREF, a health-focused NGO based in Kenya, to look at their global brand strategy and how they market themselves. It's a great story of how our people can use their specific skills to support the work of charities.

The Billion + Change campaign aligns so well with this strategy, which is part of the reason that we're hoping to make 100 placements for 2012-2013.

How can GSK work without these talented executives for such extended periods of time, given the competitive business you are in?

It's funny, I've never heard anyone ask that before. I think people come to GSK because they really want to help people, and it's really just part of our DNA. Rotations are built into executive roles at GSK, and the benefits are clear. In terms of the value that comes back- there's such high energy and a renewed vigor when our people return, as well as a new sense of loyalty. Given this, we have tremendous managerial support for the program.

So, what would be YOUR ideal placement for volunteering with this program?

Well, I have two small children at home so this is a bit of a dream -- but I would love to be out in Africa, actually seeing the amazing work that goes into developing the health care infrastructure. I would be most useful, of course, working with a NGO in a role that addresses their communications strategy and how it can develop their business. Personally though, I would hope my energy and creative problem solving abilities would be helpful. I would really love to be out in the field and actually see what's happening out there, and identify creative strategies for how my skills can be applied to really address the needs of these folks. The opportunity is very compelling.

GlaxoSmithKline has taken the Billion + Change pledge, volunteering its best business skills and talents to serve the needs of nonprofits and communities at home and around the world. Together, Billion + Change pledge companies are inspiring the largest commitment of pro bono and skilled volunteering in history. Has your company taken the pledge? Learn how at www.abillionpluschange.org