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May 3, 2023
Since Alnylam’s founding, we have endeavored to make a positive impact on our communities and the planet beyond the innovative medicines we make. As we grew both our global footprint and headcount, the level of interest by employees and leaders to support Corporate Responsibility (CR) opportunities increased exponentially which presented a unique challenge of having a wider array of charitable activities and engagement with external partners managed by various individuals and teams dispersed throughout the company.
Additionally, as a result of our growth, Alnylam was presented with new engagement opportunities from global stakeholders, increased requests from existing community partners, investor questions and the expectations of new employees who brought with them various perceptions and experiences of CR engagement.
The level of enthusiasm and rise of CR activities was not surprising given the strong culture and commitment to core values at Alnylam, but it was clear that these disparate activities and engagements with important partners was unsustainable unless we formalized and organized our CR approach.
Taking the First Steps
In 2020, we took on this challenge by creating a CR strategy that stemmed from our core values through six interconnected, stakeholder-related focus areas – patients, science, employees, communities, planet, and governance – each with a guiding imperative, leadership team, and accountabilities to track and manage our impact. In 2021, I became Alnylam’s first Director of Corporate Responsibility, to help execute on this strategy to ensure that the organic nature of volunteerism and philanthropy amongst our employees was catalyzed not centralized
A Continuous Process
Our journey has presented us with a variety of challenges including reducing philanthropic partnerships to priority areas, scaling CR communications and evolving our CR reporting, but the work has been gratifying, unifying and impactful for our employees and our reputation. We see CR as a powerful method of continuous improvement and our approach to CR continues to grow in sophistication as we respond to the needs of internal and external stakeholders while we execute our corporate strategy to become a top-tier biotech by 2025. We have learned a lot on our CR journey through trial and error, and we are still learning every day. If you are building your program or assessing your program, here are five key learnings which may be helpful to your organization:
1. Utilize a cross-functional, team-based approach to CR
A successful corporate responsibility program requires leadership buy-in along with functional teams that are committed to collecting and reporting data, implementing activities, and expanding programming for their expertise areas.
To ensure we have broad representation across our teams, we created a CR steering committee that consists of senior leader subject matter experts who are supported by ad hoc working groups consisting of employee content area experts. This allows for thoughtful consideration of a wide set of qualitative and quantitative information that can be carefully analyzed while reducing the burden on any one individual.
The team discussions not only allow for the vetting of content but also sharpen the alignment of business goals to CR priorities. We also benefit from ensuring bi-directional communication of our steering committee with our Executive Leadership Team and the Nominating and Governance Committee of our Board of Directors. This has resulted in our teams having the confidence to get real-time executive input and begin planning for future CR initiatives that will require both fiscal and human resources.
2. Drive CR focus through a materiality assessment
The materiality assessment is a formal exercise aimed at identifying key priorities in CR and should be top of mind from the outset because it anchors what is most relevant to stakeholders.
In 2021, we embarked on our inaugural materiality assessment to prioritize the CR issues that are relevant to Alnylam and our stakeholders. This process included exploratory interviews and group discussions with internal Alnylam leaders, and their teams focused on each of our CR pillar focus areas, as well as with policy makers, community-based organizations, patient advocates, and other stakeholders related to key topics. We also considered a variety of data from stakeholders and performed benchmarking to evaluate relevant topics across our industry. This multi-faceted assessment has helped us to prioritize issues and determine both gaps and opportunities in each area of focus. Through this process we identified 21 material issues with plans to review and update every 2 years.
3. Establish a signature CR initiative that is relevant and meaningful to the business
A signature CR initiative allows a company to focus their philanthropy on a specific cause, initiative or priory area while allowing for voice share in a crowded environment for CR storytelling.
As a growing company with a limited philanthropic budget, we seek to ensure that our charitable dollars have a maximum impact. From the findings of our materiality assessment and benchmarking exercise, it was clear that many of our industry peers have robust philanthropic programs focused on STEM or are donating millions of dollars to traditional non-profit organizations across multiple issue areas. To avoid duplication and to ensure we were addressing a gap in the social impact space we focused on tackling health equity. We have seen firsthand how medical innovation is making tremendous progress in increasing access to health resources, but despite this, is still restricted by persistent inequalities driven by the social determinants of health (SDOH), such as safe housing, lack of employment, and discrimination resulting in disparate outcomes between rich and poor countries, and even richer and poorer localities within countries.
Through the establishment of our signature CR initiative, Alnylam Challengers, we focus on tackling SDOH in a novel way. Our first partnership under this initiative was with the non-profit organization Acumen America, whose unique patient capital model sustainably invests in a diverse set of entrepreneurs building social enterprises that deliver new tools and nuanced solutions to address health equity, particularly through their proximal relationship with the communities they serve. Our Alnylam colleagues serve as subject-matter expert advisors who can tap into our own entrepreneurial journey when providing our support.
4. Leverage employees as your biggest CR supporters
A successful Corporate Responsibility program must be employee driven and fully integrated into company culture for it to be authentic and sustainable.
From the earliest days of Alnylam, employees have been committed to supporting both patients and communities through charitable endeavors. As our CR initiatives have grown, employees are looking to roll up their sleeves and get involved, whether it is through volunteerism, monetary donations, or by offering their expertise. The feedback we receive from employees has been valuable, such as when they expressed a desire for us to extend our community service day offering to a full week, thereby allowing for increased participation with added flexibility and the opportunity to increase the number of global non-profit organizations that we partner with.
In addition, when Alnylam Challengers was expanded to Europe, it was employee voices who articulated the scale of the refugee crisis and the importance of addressing the employment barriers that were contributing to worsening inequity. Moreover, we consistently leverage our employee resource networks and initiative-driven interest groups ULearn (promoting STEM education) and The Green Team (focused on the environment) who have been critical advocates, leading the recruitment of volunteers to execute our engagements, charitable campaigns, and sustainability programming. Our human resource colleagues have also shared with us the growing interest of prospective employee candidates in reviewing our CR offerings to assess the company culture and values.
5. Articulate a CR vision for the future that considers multiple stakeholders
Setting a vision for leaders, employees and peers is important to drive CR strategy but also to be accountable to stakeholders.
As we consider our role in becoming a top-tier biotech company by 2025, our CR Steering Committee analyzed and captured the expectations for an industry leader in CR. This benchmarking gives us a framework to have substantive dialogue with internal and external stakeholders on our approach, while also ensuring the appropriate resources, both fiscal and human, are allocated to execute our vision. The additional benefit of outlining a future vision early allows us to prepare for inevitable mandatory governmental regulatory requirements, particularly related to climate impact and risk, which are being drafted. This includes the climate change disclosures being proposed by the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Sustainable Finance Disclosure Regulations (SFDR) legislation in the E.U. While we currently provide disclosures under the U.K.’s Streamlined Energy and Carbon Reporting (SECR) policy, we expect additional requirements as our revenues grow in the U.K.
Beyond identifying the necessary resources and preparing for disclosures, articulating our future CR vision also allows us to highlight our philanthropic and access ambitions.
The journey is not easy, but for many fast-growing companies with highly engaged employees, developing a CR program is table stakes. Learning from the work that we have put into building a growing CR program, can ensure that your organization creates or refines a program that will be lauded by stakeholders for both authenticity and rigor.
Through our dynamic leadership and committed colleagues, Alnylam is bringing our own perspective and contributing to the collective work being undertaken by many of our peers so that employees, patients, and communities can benefit. Our commitment to improving human health and advancing health equity and inclusion is strengthened by their work every day. We are proud of our CR journey thus far and look forward to celebrating more successes, uncovering our learnings, and addressing new challenges ahead.
We invite you to read our 2022 Corporate Responsibility Report to learn more about our CR efforts and progress made in 2022.
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