Evolution, Corporations, and Global Health

Last week I was at the annual conference of GBCHealth. Who? GBCHealth is the new identity of the Global Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria. They announced at the conference a new name and a broader mandate across health issues, including non-communicable diseases and health systems alongside their foundational focus on infectious diseases. There was a theme of evolution in the air: in addition to this exciting change in a key convening organization, there is broader change going on in how companies engage on global health issues.

Historically, corporations and global health have not had the smoothest relationship. In the 1990s, most companies saw health and other social issues as far removed from their business: as an externality for governments to solve. Through the early part of this decade, they began to play limited roles through philanthropic contributions and price discounts – these efforts came about through a mix of charitable intent and stakeholder pressure. Over the past years many of these initiatives evolved further: expanding, becoming more strategic, and engaging a broader range of partnerships.

But it was clear at this conference that companies are thinking in new ways. First, the size of philanthropic commitments is no longer what wins accolades. Instead, the awards and recognition are going to efforts that incorporate innovative partnerships and catalyze sustainable change. These efforts include BD's collaboration with PEPFAR and the Government of Kenya on training and technology development for safer blood collection. By partnering in new ways and focusing on technology and skills transfer, rather than open-ended commitments, examples like these are dramatically increasing the impact of health initiatives.

Another evolution we heard about at the conference was around the fundamental roles that corporations can play in these spaces. Companies are beginning to realize the need to rethink their business models and see social issues as opportunities, not as costs of doing business. This idea of Creating Shared Value – which FSG co-founders Michael Porter and Mark Kramer wrote about in a Harvard Business Review article the other month  – was another theme of change underway. Mark spoke in the keynote at the conference about some of the specific examples and opportunities in the global health space, whether it’s GE’s Healthymagination initiative, a major strategy to develop affordable health technology products for use in emerging markets and globally, or Novartis’s investments in the health system in rural India that will facilitate the expansion of their generic pharmaceutical sales while dramatically improving the quality of care.

A team at FSG is actually launching a follow-up research project to the Creating Shared Value article. We’ll be completing a paper around opportunities, barriers, and examples of global health shared value among companies in the pharmaceutical, biotech, and medical technology industries – we've received initial support from Eli Lilly and Medtronic to complete the work . We’d be interested in how you view this evolution, and in examples you have of companies pursuing social impact through business strategies – please share comments here or contact me at matthew.rehrig@fsg.org.

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