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Empowering Refugee Leaders:  Spotlight on Pfizer’s Refugee Mentorship Program

June 16, 2023

In 2021, Pfizer established its Refugee Leadership Initiative in response to the refugee crisis in Haiti and Afghanistan, with a commitment of hiring 100 refugees and mentor 150 refugees in 2022. The initiative’s mission to better lives through refugee hiring and mentorship has resulted in a widespread global engagement with non-governmental organizations, who help Pfizer screen potential candidates and connect with mentees. Pfizer Canada is currently working with Tent, an organization that helps support the economic inclusion of refugees and other displaced peoples.

This year, Pfizer colleague Arshia, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Lead and Associate Director, Regulatory Affairs & Intellectual Property Strategies, joined Pfizer’s refugee mentorship program as a mentor. Dedicating her time to the program was incredibly impactful for her.

“Becoming involved in Pfizer’s refugee mentorship program reminded me of how lucky we are to work for Pfizer and live in the safety of our communities in Canada,” says Arshia.

As the child of an immigrant family, Arshia was interested in connecting with someone who was on a similar journey to those whose stories she grew up listening to. She was matched with Weera, an Afghan woman who fled her home country two years ago with the help of her university.

“When I first moved here, I applied for so many positions that I had lost count,” said Weera. She holds two bachelor’s degrees and had governmental work experience, yet her first few months looking for a job were difficult. Through a mutual friend and past mentee of the Pfizer Refugee Leadership Initiative, Weera was introduced to the program and matched with Arshia.

Afghanistan is traditionally a country where access to education and career opportunities for women is limited, so Arshia spent time helping Weera acknowledge her talent and believe in her capabilities as a professional.

“Arshia taught me how to effectively communicate my transferrable skills, refine my CV and interviewing techniques, and most importantly, reminded me of my capability to excel in any role. Given my professional and academic background she emphasized on roles that I could apply for and pursue what truly resonates with me,” said Weera.

“During Weera's interview, it became evident that she possessed a calmness, confidence, and motivation that set her apart,” Pfizer colleague Craig, Director, R&D Lead, International Labeling, and the manager who hired Weera, said. “It wasn't until much later, after Weera had already joined our team, that I became aware of her inspiring story. She impressed us in that interview room and has been a valuable asset to our team.”

The importance of listening to candidates, understanding their perspectives, and seeing their potential could not be overstated for Craig.

“Early in my career, someone took a chance on me,” he said. “They recognized the talent I had in myself and mentored me, setting me up on my career to where I am now. When I became a manager, that became my template. Talent does not always come from the usual spaces. I look beyond the typical indicators of a ‘successful candidate’ listed on a resume, understanding that not everyone takes the same path in life.”

For Weera, this experience was a vital part of her career journey. “I am immensely grateful for this opportunity and for being a part of an environment where I can be myself, grow professionally, and where my unique qualities are celebrated,” said Weera.

Pfizer’s Refugee Leadership initiative strives to support the economic inclusion of refugees and other displaced people through hiring, mentoring, and advocating as a form of bettering patients’ lives. They have created pathways to facilitate hiring newcomers, mentoring refugees, raising awareness about the needs of refugees and mentoring LGBTQ+ refugees. Pfizer is committed to providing mentorship opportunities to 300 refugees around the world between 2022-2025.

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