Talking Purpose With Carolyn Berkowitz: Dr. Shanell McGoy, Gilead Sciences

ACCP Staff

ACCP is excited about our July 2023 edition of “Talking Purpose with Carolyn Berkowitz.” This month we talk one-on-one with Dr. Shanell McGoy, Senior Director of Corporate Social Responsibility at Gilead Sciences. Dr. McGoy and her team at Gilead Sciences also received ACCP’s Corporate Social Impact Team of the Year award in 2022.

How did you get your start in corporate citizenship?

Believe it or not, I like to think I began my work in corporate citizenship in my teens. Corporate citizenship was certainly not in my lexicon then, but what I was doing had the elements (environmental, human rights/ethical, philanthropic, and economic responsibility) of what I came to know as corporate citizenship. It was the best preparation for the work I do today as Senior Director in Public Affairs, Corporate Citizenship at Gilead Sciences, Inc. (a biopharmaceutical company based in Foster City, CA), where I lead a mighty team and U.S. viral disease philanthropy, including the company’s largest commitment – the Gilead COMPASS Initiative a ten year, more than $100 million commitment to address the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the U.S. South.

I was a “candy striper” or a hospital volunteer during the summers. The volunteer experience equipped me with workforce skills, exposed me to volunteerism’s value, and expanded my view of health-related careers. Oratorical competitions and pageants helped me develop my public speaking skills (public relations/affairs). They allowed me to think critically through a platform or complex issue to make the world a better place for everyone.

Fast forward, being an HIV/AIDS public health subject matter expert brought me to corporate citizenship at Gilead. I got my first job in Detroit leading an HIV behavioral surveillance program funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Since then, I have worked at two local and four state health departments, including the CDC. With degrees in public health and health policy and experience in community and governmental public health, I led the HIV/STD Section for the Tennessee Department of Health, responsible for a comprehensive HIV/STD service delivery system (epidemiology, prevention, care, treatment, and housing). I was often asked to share our innovations at The White House.

In 2018, Gilead launched a new initiative to address HIV in the U.S. South, which was the perfect fit for me – COMPASS (COMmitment to Partnership in Addressing HIV in the Southern States). My role has since expanded to philanthropy across viral diseases. In 2020, I co-led the creation of the Gilead Racial Equity Community Impact Fund (RECIF), a commitment to support high-impact organizations tackling racial inequities affecting Black communities in the U.S., awarding $10 million to 20 organizations. Gilead presented the opportunity for me to get a start in corporate citizenship, but I had been gaining the experience for success decades in advance.

The field is evolving rapidly. What are the most important skills and knowledge citizenship professionals need to stay ahead of the curve and be successful in the future?

Often, the work we do as citizenship professionals addresses multi-layered issues. There is no quick fix or immediate answer, yet incremental commitments lead us closer to our goals. The most important skills and knowledge citizenship professionals need to stay ahead of the curve and be successful in the future can be summed up in an acronym P.E.E.L.

  • P – the quad-fecta of P’s – Philanthropy, Planning, Policy, and Public Affairs: being good stewards of our organization’s resources while implementing process planning models that advance practice, policy, and storytelling of success
  • E – Environmental, Sustainability and Governance: staying abreast of the latest trends in ESG
  • E – Evaluate: be able to demonstrate success and areas for improvement while articulating the value-add to the organization and issues, community, or population
  • L – Listen, Learn, and Leverage privilege: internal to your organization and external to the communities within your organization’s reach  

The issues we try to address remind me of P.E.E.L.’ing an onion, peeling back multiple layers to get to the core or root cause of the issue. Each peeled layer brings us closer to the core and the solution. The P.E.E.L. acronym is applicable across industries.

What is one specific piece of advice you received that has served you well in your professional journey?

“The best use of your power is to give it away! You amplify yours by giving it to others,” Carla Harris.

For me, this means mentoring, creating space, and holding a light for others to shine. When you shine, we shine.

Considering the current landscape corporate social impact professionals are working in, what are the most important things you suggest for them to make a priority?

One of the essential things corporate social impact professionals should prioritize in this current landscape is ensuring their efforts are Transformational and not just Transactional. It is easy to mail checks and receive a summary report of completed deliverables. It is so much more meaningful to truly engage in transformational efforts. Transformation is tough work. It is a commitment to see things better than when we started. Listening and learning while developing authentic, mutually beneficial relationships can lead to transformation. I may think I know what is best, but individuals living the situation daily or colleagues in other areas of the organization might have a different view. Together, we can transform any issue.

I would love to share a few examples of transformation from my work at Gilead. The social justice pillar of RECIF supports six HBCUs to train the next generation of leaders. One of the HBCUs is Tougaloo College in Jackson, Mississippi. Tougaloo College has historically produced over 40% of African American physicians and dentists and more than 33% of Mississippi’s African American attorneys and educators. The one million dollar grant from Gilead to Tougaloo strengthens its social justice offerings and enhances leadership development resources.

As Gilead’s corporate citizenship portfolio expands to oncology, Dr. Diva Whalen, an Assistant Professor of Biology at Tougaloo College, is a grant recipient of Gilead funds to advance health equity in Triple-Negative Breast Cancer (TNBC). Across Gilead’s corporate citizenship, we saw an opportunity to expand our reach from the RECIF award to a TNBC award, supporting students, faculty, and community in two intersecting areas – social justice and health equity. The East Oakland Youth Development Center is another example of co-creating transformation in Gilead’s own backyard. Learn more by watching the short video in the link.

Transformation is seen in The Gilead COMPASS Initiative 5 year anniversary. It is hard to believe, but COMPASS has reached its mid-initiative mark. We will celebrate the achievements and feature those who benefitted from the initiative. A series of storytelling videos, “5 years, 5 voices,” were created to amplify the impact of 5 partners across the 5 years. Central Alabama Alliance Resource and Advocacy Center (CAARAC) in Wetumpka, AL, is featured in the series. Through their passion and tears, CAARAC tells the story of transformation much better than Gilead could ever. The video series are assets the organizations can use to acquire additional funding and support people needing their services.

Who’s someone you admire and why?

Dorothy I. Height is someone I admire. Dorothy Irene Height was a civil and women’s rights activist. She earned the honor of being on stage at the 1963 March on Washington. She guided U.S. leaders like Eleanor Roosevelt, Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower, Lyndon B. Johnson, and organizations abroad. Dorothy I. Height served 40 years as President of the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW), an organization dedicated to advancing life for African American women, families, and communities.

In January, I received the Dorothy Irene Height Leadership Award from the Institute for the Advancement of Multicultural & Minority Medicine. The award was given to me at the 31st International Salute to the Life and Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. This honor was particularly special for me because I had the opportunity to meet her as an undergraduate student. I spent a summer living and volunteering in a youth hostel, supporting women in need. We visited with dynamic Dorothy I. Height at their NCNW offices. 

Center Dr. Dorothy Irene Height and
Far-right Shanell L. McGoy circa 1998, Washington D.C.

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