ICV Spotlight: Six Months in Kenya, Changing Lives

Douglas Mackie, an IT Business Analyst for the past seven years at GlaxoSmithKline from Cinnaminson, NJ, was one of the winners of this year’s ICV photo contest, announced at the 4th Annual ICV Conference this April.

See more photos from the ICV Photo Contest and the ICV Conference here.


After the announcement, we asked Doug to relay his ICV experience. The father of three college-age children, Doug, a self-proclaimed “classic American” had never had a passport or left the United States before his GSK PULSE assignment in Kenya. Following his assignment, Doug’s perspective on life, work, and GSK has been changed forever. Here, Doug shares his story in his own words.

I come from a family of helpers and volunteers. It’s in my genes to assist wherever and whenever I can. When I learned about the PULSE Volunteer Partnership program, I couldn’t wait to sign up. After seven years at the company, I wasn’t sure when the right time would be for me to leave my home to spend six months in Africa, but fate had its own plans. Three years ago, I was diagnosed with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL), and I knew I couldn’t wait any longer. I had to complete the fellowship program before I needed any treatment. It made me think of The Shawshank Redemption—I had to “Get busy living, or get busy dying.”

My PULSE assignment was with the OGRA Foundation, an NGO in Western Kenya that was started in 1998 as a youth development group. Today OGRA is one of Western Kenya’s leading medical emergency and relief organizations. In rural Kenya, poverty makes basic nutrition and health a challenge for most of the population, and in Ombeyi, where most of my assignment took place, HIV prevalence is 25%, more than three times Kenya’s national average. OGRA’s core mission is to promote and improve health and socio-economic development among the resident communities in Nyanza Province. The NGO is actively involved in HIV prevention, treatment, care, and support. At the same time, the organization plays a significant role in economic empowerment by supporting Income Generating Activities (IGAs) and trainings in technical areas that increase productivity and self-reliance.

My assignment focused on data management and improving the use of electronic medical records and other relevant information technology (IT) in all of OGRAs’ medical facilities. Updating and integrating OGRA’s IT and communications systems would improve the organization’s ability to provide critical healthcare services to the community’s most vulnerable and hard-to-reach populations.

While my IT skills were immediately useful, I also had to draw upon my other personal and managerial skills to gain trust from the local people. My life philosophy is, “Nobody cares what you know until they know you care,” so before I rode in on a white horse trying to solve every problem, I took the time to know my audience before suggesting anything.

Though I was deeply moved and motivated by my entire PULSE experience, one memory stands out more strongly than the rest. I had been working in one particular clinic for nearly two months, centralizing two systems onto one network and adding workstations as needed. After the second month, I observed a trend in when and why certain patients arrived. On the third Thursday of the month, there always seemed to be more children in the HIV clinic.

One such Thursday, I was installing a new PC workstation in the HIV clinic, and I noticed a little girl sitting all by herself in the waiting room. She was holding the dreaded HIV Assessment blue card, given to every HIV patient and used to track her health and blood counts for the rest of her life.

After raising three children of my own, I couldn’t imagine my child sitting by herself at a doctor’s office, waiting for a blood test. Many questions raced through my mind… “What is going on here? Why are this girl’s parents not with her? This is madness!” I thought to myself.

I learned from the Clinical Officer that this 10-year-old had lost her parents to HIV/AIDS, and she was at the clinic that day for a monthly checkup and to receive her monthly dosage of antiretroviral medication. At that moment, I felt an overwhelming urge to do something to make her day better.

As luck would have it, that morning a GSK colleague from Germany had handed me a few stuffed animals to give away to the locals, so I pulled out a stuffed baby lamb from my bag and handed it to the girl. “What’s your name?” I asked. “Amanda*,” she said in a whisper.

I checked on Amanda later that day and didn’t see the stuffed animal, so I asked her what happened to it. She signaled to me that she had to hide it so that nobody would take it away from her, even in a room full of adults. Ugh - another heart in my throat moment! “I must not cry in front of her,” I thought.

After winning the first-place prize for the ICV photo contest, I immediately thought of sending the money to Amanda. I made arrangements through my Kenyan friends to take her the money, which she used to purchase a new dress, a new school uniform (very important in Kenya!), and some school supplies. They were also able to pay off her school bills. The remainder went to her caregivers for food.

During my time at PULSE, I also met Christine, a widow and mother of three children. Christine had been our waitress at a local eatery, and her children were involved in an OGRA Foundation feeding program. I could see that Christine was struggling to raise three children alone. My GSK colleague from London, Matt, and I wanted to find a way to support her. Christine’s biggest struggle was her house—the mud and stick structure was prone to damage during rains and bad weather—so Matt and I arranged for the walls to be reinforced with concrete. Matt also helped buy new clothes, school supplies, and a bike, now the main transportation vehicle, for the family. In a wonderful twist of fate, Christine has volunteered to return this kindness by adopting Amanda, ensuring that she will no longer have to wait at the clinic alone.

During my time in Kenya, I experienced moments of overwhelming joy and sadness, but I couldn’t imagine my life without all of these experiences. PULSE helped me push my boundaries, physically and mentally, and it helped me realize that I can do much more than I ever thought possible! It also reinforced my confidence in my ability to work in other ‘non-IT’ areas of the business that utilize my management skills.

In the seven years before my PULSE assignment, I never met a patient at GSK. During my time in Kenya, I saw and met hundreds of patients in clinics suffering from different types of illnesses. Meeting young, orphaned children with HIV who walked into the clinic all alone, from very long distances, facing a very bleak future was beyond gut wrenching. I wanted to scream “Help! We have to do more than just hand them some pills and send them on their way. It’s not enough to simply treat the disease!”

I now realize why “focus on the patient” is such a celebrated pillar of our culture at GSK. Through PULSE, I was able to connect deeply with GSK’s mission, to help the world “do more, feel better, and live longer” …one patient or person at a time.

*Changed for privacy.

Alicia Ness

Alicia Bonner Ness

Alicia Bonner Ness (@AliciaBNess) is the editor of the The New Global Citizen, where she seeks to showcase the impact of beneficiaries and implementers alike, empowering all those engaged in furthering social good to learn from one another. She is also the Communications Manager at PYXERA Global.


  1. Pingback: GSK Pulse in Kenya | New Global Citizen

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