Afrika kommt!_Boehringer Ingelheim
23 August 2017
Sarah Pfeffer

Diversity turns Local Insights into Action

Does diversity recruitment mean hiring different people with different backgrounds, or does it mean creating a work-place with different gender workforce? It can be both and more. At Boehringer Ingelheim we believe that diversity with its different forms unlocks innovation and drives the growth of our organization. For us, ‘Diversity is the mix. Inclusion is making the mix work’. A high performing, balanced team is composed of differences and similarities to achieve the same goals. We focus on fostering an inclusive environment which allows diversity to flourish. This is what “Afrika kommt!” is about. Matthias Fuchs is an intrapreneur within Boehringer Ingelheim and a Director within the Corporate Strategy and Development team which develops and evaluates new business opportunities in healthcare beyond Boehringer Ingelheim's core business. In this interview, he  tells us about his experience with the “Afrika kommt!” initiative and the collaboration with “Afrika kommt!” fellow Simon Manyara from Kenya. We asked him how they started to develop innovative solutions together to enable the lower middle class and rural poor to have better access to essential healthcare services in Kenya. A guest feature by Taiseer Kuzbari.

Mr Fuchs, what makes the “Afrika kommt!” initiative go beyond the usual D&I dimension?


First of all, I think it is a great opportunity for talented individuals with solid educational background, some basic business experience and an entrepreneurial spirit to gather work experience in Germany and to learn about German culture, language and work environment within a multinational enterprise like Boehringer Ingelheim.


The second reason is for us, Boehringer Ingelheim, to gain insights about the root causes of healthcare access problems in Africa. This could enable us to develop tailored, systems-changing solutions to address the gaps and improve the overall access to healthcare by leveraging the expertise and insights from a specialist who knows the precise conditions in Africa. The focus is on identifying and serving the unmet needs of these populations.


Last but not least, Boehringer Ingelheim as an organization benefits from a diversity perspective. The sharing of socio-cultural differences and the often harsh realities for a large proportion of the Kenyan population are eye-opening for all of us and I am very grateful for this learning opportunity.


A Diversity & Inclusion concept such as “Afrika kommt!” leads to a better working environment, more agility and better business outcomes.


How effective is working with people from different backgrounds especially in the pharmaceutical industry? And how can that drive innovation at Boehringer Ingelheim?


Generally, when you work in the pharmaceutical industry for a long time, you tend to develop some sort of a tunnel view. Our focus will usually be on the product and disease and we tend to ignore the other healthcare needs of the population that are also quite real. With Simon, we brought in someone with market expertise and understanding of the company that we otherwise wouldn’t have had to this extent at the corporate headquarters.


The contribution of people who see healthcare as a complex ecosystem, with a different cultural and educational background can open our eyes to look beyond “drug development” that in reality is only a part of a solution to restore health.


The digital, financial solutions and services we evaluate within our team support the healthcare sector by offering broader patient-centric solutions beyond drugs. Therefore, we must be agile to find both innovative solutions to improve access to medicines and to develop innovative solutions outside of the pharmaceutical business.


Depending on your experience with the “Afrika kommt!” fellows, how would you describe your current thinking about diversity?


The various dimensions of diversity allowed me to better understand the cultural aspects of a different society and a different health care system in Sub-Saharan Africa. From that perspective, the experience has generated learnings with respect to the importance of diversity of an organization and business diversification.


I dare to say that without Simon’s expertise and perseverance I would not have succeeded with these complex initiatives. The fact that we had on-site support and leadership from three Executives in Residence (EiR: a Boehringer Ingelheim talent development program), all three of them being based in Nairobi, has been a major contributor to the success of the individual initiatives. I have to give lots of credits to a multinational team of six individuals who have never met nor worked together before.


How do you evaluate the contribution of Simon Manyara during his training program at Boehringer Ingelheim? What was the outcome?


The project results within this collaboration exceeded our expectations by far. Simon has been integrating smoothly into the team and was able to build a broad network within the organization. From the very beginning, Simon led one of the initiatives in Kenya, “iSikCure”, an innovative integrated health app to enable Kenyans access to medical practitioners and medicines. This challenging initiative was launched in Nairobi in April 2017. We would not have been able to get to this point without Simon’s leadership and passion.


Simon collaborated with business partners in Kenya and helped to overcome some of the cultural hurdles that obviously come up when working across different continents. Germans can be quite bold, focusing on the opportunities for improvement rather than talking about the positives first and that is something that Africans are not necessarily used to. It is a win-win situation because Simon helped us to better understand how people in Africa think and he also learned to understand the way Germans do business.


 What were the challenges you had to face and how did you master them?


Remote project management across continents and time-zones is always challenging. Running a project remotely from our Corporate headquarters offices in Ingelheim with the aim to improve health care access for a population in Kenya, with multiple private and public business partners is not an easy task.

Simon made a difference by building virtual bridges and encouraging us to learn and understand. Together with one of our Executives in Residence (EiR), Simon arranged for a field trip to meet healthcare providers, physicians, pharmacists and wholesalers in Nairobi and visit local clinics and speak to patients.


 How did you create a welcoming and inclusive environment for Simon?


For me, Simon was an equal partner from the very beginning; I recognized his skills and capabilities. Beyond this individual basis, we proactively brought him together with colleagues from different departments so that they would get to know each other. Whenever we had the opportunity, Simon presented our project progress – also to the senior management – to get more visibility. Beyond that, Simon was approached by colleagues across the organization and asked to share insights from his work in Kenya. This became a mutual benefit, a typical “win-win” situation for Simon to get to know the “Boehringer Ingelheim world” and Boehringer Ingelheim colleagues to develop a better understanding of healthcare challenges in East Africa.


What were the learnings from this program and how can they be shared and built upon for the rest of the company to create a truly diverse and inclusive organization?


“Afrika kommt!” is a valuable initiative for our business and our organization – we need more of this!


And as I mentioned before: during Simon’s assignment we made big steps forward with two of the most complex initiatives within corporate development, both of which were launched under Simon’s leadership. My management up to the ranks of the division head endorsed these projects and showed increased interest and active engagement over time. Simon has now become a contributor to a number of highly innovative projects and also within “Making More Health” (MMH).


In a nutshell: we should take advantage of this program regularly. It has been a privilege working with Simon for these past ten months. I have learned a lot and it has always been fun. My wishes for Simon are only the best for his professional career, health and happiness for his personal life.



"Afrika kommt!" celebrates its ten-year anniversary in 2018. Boehringer Ingelheim and nineteen other leading German companies launched the program to offer training opportunities for young qualified experts and managers from sub-Saharan Africa. The program's fellows have several years of professional experience and have worked in their home countries partly in senior positions in finance, marketing, or engineering and natural sciences.


The core idea of "Afrika kommt!" is to provide the fellows with the chance to gain insights into the work processes and management methods of German guest companies and acquire new cultural and linguistic knowledge. This knowledge makes the participants not only experts in their home country but also important experts in economic cooperation with Germany. At the same time, guest companies benefit from the country-specific knowledge of highly motivated young managers who bring with them new approaches, insights and perspectives.

"A Diversity & Inclusion concept such as ‘Afrika kommt!’ leads to a better working environment, more agility and better business outcomes, says Matthias Fuchs. "
Sarah Pfeffer

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