Corporate Case Study


Teach to Work

Pfizer, the pharmaceutical company, has a long history of fostering a volunteer culture within the organization. Beginning in the 1940s, ad hoc company volunteers stepped up within their own communities to assist schools with science studies and other educational programs. These activities had profound effects among employees, and today Pfizer is one of the biggest philanthropic givers in the United States.

In the 1980s, then-Pfizer chairperson Ed Pratt requested that greater strategic importance be placed on science literacy and American competitiveness. He made it clear this would require more than just a dollar investment mandated from the executive suite. The effort grew over time. By 1993, Pfizer was giving away $9 million annually and had volunteer-driven education programs. At two of Pfizer’s research and development sites (Groton, Connecticut and Sandwich, England), Pfizer was the largest company in town. Pfizer employees at these locations began volunteering in the local schools, and a shift in attitude toward the corporation began to take shape. This involvement put a new face on the “big corporation” because Pfizer scientists had begun working hand-in-hand with local students. When Pfizer sales reps called on pharmacists and doctors in town, the families these people were serving had benefited from Pfizer firsthand through their work in the schools. The volunteer program provided a link, a feeling that they were all part of the same community. Volunteering built a common ground.

Program size:

$98 million and 20 locations in 2008

Program types:

Short term. Employees worked alongside students and teachers, helping students with projects, guest lecturing, or assisting with science fair preparations or other presentations.

Long term. Employees worked in classrooms over the course of the full academic year, sharing expertise in science and other fields and assisting in building curriculum and capacity with teachers.

Departments involved and skills they fostered:

  • Research and development: science education
  • Manufacturing: logistics, engineering timetables/projections, and organizational skills
  • Human resources: conduct and professionalism
  • Sales: marketing and presentation skills
  • Headquarters and finance: financial projections and math applications

Departments involved and skills they fostered:

  • Engagement with the community. Community involvement helps build science and math skills in the communities Pfizer serves, establishing a future employee base.
  • Goodwill. Legislators notice the good works in the community.
  • Community building. Working in schools where Pfizer is based puts a face on the company, and often builds common ground between Pfizer employees and other local families, who benefit from the knowledge sharing.
  • Connection. Volunteering builds connections and team spirit among employees.

One Pfizer senior scientist who had been with the company for twenty years loved the company, worked hard, but had not left his mark in the sense that he was never part of creating a ‘blockbuster’ drug or a medical breakthrough. Through his work with the students, however, the scientist regularly saw lightbulbs go off in their heads, and those results were payback for his years of scientific effort. It’s tangible, there is a sense of accomplishment.

Rick Luftglass, former director of The Pfizer Foundation’s education volunteer programs

Did you ever consider that by simply showing up, sharing your professional experience, and describing how you overcame bumps along the way, you could inspire a lightbulb moment for a student?

Teach to Work