Pfizer Refugee Leadership Initiative

Signatory Showcase
The Corporate Pro Bono (CPBO) project is highlighting the legal department of Pfizer for this month’s Signatory Showcase. Pfizer’s Refugee Leadership Initiative has helped Afghan refugees rebuild their careers and homes in the U.S. since 2021. We spoke with Shehzad Siddiqui, a Senior Corporate Counsel in the Pfizer Legal Division’s Corporate Governance group, about this impactful project.

Why has the refugee initiative been rewarding for both the partnered law firms and Afghan refugees? 
Shehzad Siddiqui: In late 2021 Pfizer launched the Pfizer Refugee Leadership Initiative, committing to hiring 100 refugees in 2022. In 2023, we expanded the goal to hiring 500 refugees over the next three years. Pfizer delivers on commitment of Pfizer Refugee Leadership Initiative in 2022 | Pfizer 2022 Annual Report. The Legal Division launched an initiative to support these colleagues’ asylum applications, which included working with our outside law firms (PLA firms) to provide mutually rewarding pro bono services, benefiting the participating law firms and the refugees. For our PLA firms, they had the opportunity to engage in meaningful, high-impact work, as well as use their resources and expertise to help some of the most vulnerable members of our community. For our Afghan colleagues, they were able to access quality legal services that helped them through the complex asylum process, which made their transition to the U.S. less stressful and more manageable. The legal support provided to these colleagues empowered them by informing them of their rights, providing them with the tools to advocate for themselves and helping them to ultimately secure a legal status in their new country.

What has been the role of Pfizer’s legal department in this project?

SS: Pfizer’s Legal Division, specifically the Pro Bono Steering Committee, acted as a crucial bridge between the Afghan colleagues and the various legal resources. Initially, the Pro Bono Steering Committee took the lead in reaching out to PLA law firms and immigration-related NGOs, identifying and securing the necessary legal assistance for our colleagues. We also partnered with DLA Piper in setting up the screening process for our Afghan colleagues, as it allowed for an evaluation of each colleague’s needs, ensuring they received the right kind of legal help. The Pro Bono Steering Committee collaborated closely with DLA Piper during this process, providing necessary information and support. Moreover, many Legal Division colleagues volunteered to conduct intake interviews with DLA.

In partnership with Vecina, a nonprofit that specializes in training for immigration legal advocates, the Pro Bono Steering Committee helped facilitate access to specialized resources and training which enhanced the legal capacity within the PLA law firms to effectively assist the refugees.

The Legal Division’s role didn’t end with the setup of these partnerships and processes. We have continued to provide ongoing support to the refugees, ensuring that their asylum applications are on track and that they have the necessary legal resources. We have tried to be a constant source of information and guidance, answering questions and addressing concerns that our Afghan colleagues might have.

Why is this initiative so important?

SS: The Legal Division’s initiative has been instrumental in supporting Pfizer’s goal of hiring and supporting refugees, asylum seekers and other displaced people. It’s a tangible reflection of our commitment to the belief that Pfizer should be a force for positive change in the world. The initiative has sparked a remarkable level of engagement among our colleagues. There’s a real sense of satisfaction that comes from being part of an organization that doesn’t just pay lip service to humanitarian causes, but actively contributes to them.

What impact has the refugee initiative made?

SS: First and foremost, it has made a transformative difference in the lives of the Afghan colleagues who have been the direct beneficiaries of the initiative. Thanks to the legal assistance provided, many have been able to navigate the complex asylum process and, to date, three of our colleagues have been able to secure asylum. This has empowered them to rebuild their lives, access vital services, find employment, and contribute to their new communities. For Pfizer, the initiative has fostered a culture of empathy, inclusivity, and social responsibility.

What would you say is the most challenging part of this type of project?

SS: The most challenging aspects of this type of project are managing limited resources, providing emotional support to these refugees, and ensuring timely assistance.

Providing immigration representation requires significant resources, including time and expertise. The availability of lawyers and other legal professionals who are willing and able to participate in the initiative is often limited. Coordinating and managing these resources effectively is sometimes a challenge.

Many of these individuals have experienced traumatic events and face ongoing challenges related to displacement, loss, and uncertainty. Being sure that we can provide some emotional and psychological support in addition to legal representation often becomes crucial. However, this is a skillset that may not be in everyone’s comfort zone.

Lastly, the asylum process can be lengthy and complex, often involving multiple stages. Ensuring that the assistance being provided is being done in a timely and efficient manner is essential to avoid prolonged uncertainty for our colleagues. Sometimes, however, there is a lot of waiting for the process to move along and there is, generally, not much one can do. This takes a toll on everybody involved.

Is there any advice that you would give to other departments who want to either get involved with a refugee initiative or, alternatively, want to become more focused on a certain pro bono issue as a department?

SS: Educate and familiarize yourself with the legal framework surrounding the issue you are interested in – understand the relevant laws, regulations, and politics at the national and international levels. Establish partnerships with reputable organizations and law firms to enhance your department’s efforts. Collaborative relationships can lead to mutually beneficial outcomes. Communicate your successes – demonstrate the impact you are making to stakeholders. Lastly, be flexible, and evolve your approach to ensure your department’s efforts remain effective and relevant. Remember that getting involved in any pro bono issue requires empathy, cultural sensitivity, and genuine dedication to making a positive difference.

Update: As of November 2, 2023, the Pfizer team has had 8 colleagues that have received asylum.

Check out more of the excellent pro bono work PBI’s signatories have done to serve those in need on our Signatory Showcase page.