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      My unexpected journey to improving caregiving in Portugal
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      My unexpected journey to improving caregiving in Portugal

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      The year 2020 will be remembered as anything but predictable. While the COVID-19 pandemic has caused immense hardships throughout the world and upended personal and professional plans alike, it’s also forced us to reimagine how we can give back to our communities in a meaningful way despite limited time face-to-face.

      On the first of March 2020, I arrived in Lisbon, Portugal excited to start my six-month Johnson & Johnson Secondment with the Aga Khan Foundation (AKF Portugal). As a part of the Johnson & Johnson Talent for Good strategy, the Secondment program offered me an opportunity to contribute my skills as a District Manager for #Janssen Germany (Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson) in an effort to pave the way for a healthier future.


      My first impressions of wonderful Lisbon, Portugal.

      The AKF team warmly welcomed me and I quickly noted their remarkable dedication and expertise. A part of our longtime partner the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN), AKF is one of the few institutions in Portugal dedicated to addressing development challenges across the human life cycle, from early childhood development to senior well-being. As the 22nd Johnson & Johnson Secondee joining the AKDN team since 2014, our two organizations have a long history of collaboration and shared dedication to empowering health workers with the clinical and leadership skills to provide the best possible care to their community.

      My task during this Secondment was to support AKF’s “Caregivers Program” in developing a marketing and communication strategy as well as a knowledge-sharing platform. Recognizing that Portugal has the third-oldest population in Europe, the Caregivers Program aims to improve senior citizens’ quality of life in a number of ways: 1) ensure access to quality formal and informal care; 2) increase their participation and representation in society, including in local decision-making processes; and 3) by valuing seniors as a resource of knowledge and experience in the community.

      The goal of the marketing and communication strategy was to increase awareness of the program both within AKF/AKDN and beyond to external audiences. The purpose of the knowledge-sharing platform was to provide senior citizens and their caregivers with easy access to information about the services available in their area, training opportunities to improve quality of care, and a place to exchange information with their peers—all designed to improve their health and quality of life.

      Within my first few weeks at AKF, the first confirmed cases of the coronavirus occurred in Portugal. The Caregivers Program team quickly shifted to a virtual model to protect the well-being of staff and the programme beneficiaries, who are mostly senior citizens. New restrictions also limited visiting access to daycare centers for the elderly, as well as nursing homes. Within two weeks, it was clear that I could no longer continue on site. Consequently, after less than three weeks in Lisbon, I flew back to Germany to complete my Secondment remotely.

      Making a positive impact is possible even in difficult times

      A fundamental part of the Secondment experience is embedding yourself into the host organization and country’s culture. This allows you to truly understand your context and generate work that is culturally appropriate and sustainable. Having just acquainted myself with the AKF team, we had to come up with a new model of working together that would allow me to stay true to my mission of providing valuable capacity building in marketing and knowledge-sharing platforms. I was determined to make the best of this changing situation and still make a positive impact.

      Along with my counterparts at AKF, Cláudia Marques and Sandra Almeida, we decided to dedicate one day a week to working remotely together. Despite the new challenges, our commitment to these projects grew a successful partnership.


      Cláudia Marques and Inês Almeida during one of our virtual team meetings.

      Our approach

      Our biggest focus was now on creating and developing the knowledge-sharing platform. I led a series of digital workshops and discussions to establish the platform’s purpose and goal. We centered our thinking around the senior citizens and caregivers who would be using the platform: How can we make it easily accessible for seniors and people inexperienced with online learning platforms? What content will be most relevant to our audience? What are the dos and don’ts of modern websites? What would communication with the audience look like?

      Next, we identified short, medium and long-term milestones and outlined ways to attract additional sponsors to ensure the sustainability of the platform. Lastly, we defined essential roles and responsibilities and explored the idea of establishing an editorial board for the website.

      Our attentive and dedicated working style paid off and we reached our first big milestone: securing the green light to move forward with our proposed strategy for the platform. Cláudia Marques reflected:

      “I learned a lot from Stefan about communication and marketing, especially what a website/platform can give us. And also a different way of looking at some problems/issues, which required opening my mind to a different perspective than that of the NGO/social world.”

      Once the platform strategy was established, I shifted my attention to developing ways for AKF to tell the story of this valuable new platform in order to attract new stakeholders and partners to contribute content and funding. To my delight, Cláudia and the AKF team successfully used their new value story to reach their next big milestone: securing corporate partners and establishing a partnership with Janssen Portugal.

      At the end of my time with AKF, I was so proud to know I played a part in preparing the AKF team to lead the knowledge-sharing platform to a sustainable future. Our work will go on to connect hundreds of senior citizens and their caregivers across Portugal to the shared support and information they need to receive quality care and meaningfully participate in their community.

      My learnings from the Secondment Program

      There are countless lessons learned from this experience. What stands out most for me are the ways I learned to adapt in the face of unforeseen circumstances, including:

      • Expect the unexpected and react with agility and flexibility
      • Act with patience and serenity
      • Actively listen to your teammates to build strong, trusting relationships virtually
      • Recognize that reduced time with your teammates will force you to use the time you do have together very efficiently and productively
      • Give and receive open feedback regularly
      • Stay positive and look for the best solutions in every situation

      Why we need more Secondment programs

      My sincere thank you to Cláudia Marques and Sandra Almeida from AKF Portugal. I have the deepest admiration for the heart, soul and passion you apply to your work every day to improve the health of Portugal’s youngest and oldest.

      2020 has demonstrated more than ever that efforts like the Secondment Program are needed across the world. With the kinds of large health challenges our world faces, solutions that bring together the lessons learned and unique strengths of the public and private sector have the best chance of creating a large-scale and sustainable impact. I’m so thankful to have been given the opportunity to participate in the J&J Secondment Program and support the AKF heroes on the front lines of care.

      Boa sorte para o futuro, querida equipa da AKF Portugal (Good luck for the future, dear AKF-Team Portugal).

      Stay healthy and positive,


      About the Johnson & Johnson employee engagement strategy—Talent for Good

      The Johnson & Johnson Talent for Good strategy aims to empower the Company’s nearly 140,000 employees from across the globe to grow personally and professionally by applying their time, their skills and their resources to build healthier communities around the world. We are not looking at a specific employee target audience (or pay grade), but aspire and strive to activate all employees within the Company, no matter what level and/or stage they are in their career. From donating to causes dear to them to fully immersive assignments with NGO organizations, we offer opportunities for all employees to play a part in creating positive and meaningful change by sharing and enhancing their skills while pursuing their passions.

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