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Responsible Bottom Lines: How Businesses are Saving Lives

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Greg Allgood took a swig of water that had been brown just minutes before. Allgood, the director of Children’s Safe Drinking Water at Procter & Gamble, was demonstrating the effectiveness of his company’s water purification packet, Pur, and how technology can make a big difference in the lives of people from developing countries, where clean water is often hard to find.

Allgood, who has a Ph.D. in toxicology from North Carolina State University, was one of three private sector executives who spoke about corporate efforts in global health during a panel discussion Sept. 26 co-sponsored by Georgetown University’s Global Social Enterprise Initiative and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. The panel discussion, “Responsible Bottom Lines: How Businesses are Saving Lives” focused on how companies in the health care sector are improving lives and building sustainable businesses across the globe.

The other executives were: Trevor Gunn, senior director of international relations at Medtronic and Janeen Uzzell, director of global programs at General Electric Healthcare. Also on the panel was Matthew Lynch, director of the global program on malaria at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Elaine Romanelli, senior associate dean for the MBA program at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, served as moderator.

Allgood wasn’t the only panelist who spoke passionately about how corporations can use scale, money and expertise to help solve some of the world’s greatest health challenges. Gunn, of Medtronic, talked about his company’s work fighting non-communicable diseases in developing countries and how corporate alliances with nongovernmental organizations can help spark innovation: “Solutions come from the most interesting places.”

Uzzell, of GE, noted that she has been able to combine an “NGO heart with corporate money” to improve the lives of women and expecting mothers in Africa – and make a profit. As she spoke, Uzzell held up a portable, handheld ultrasound device that can help midwives and other paraprofessionals detect problem pregnancies before they endanger the lives of babies and their mothers.

“This is a new space for us,” she said. “It’s a space that we are very, very committed to.”

Panelists also noted that companies cannot solve the world’s health challenges on their own, and that partnerships with governments and nongovernmental organizations are needed to truly have an impact. NGOs, for instance, have developed relationships with local communities that lead to a real sense of trust that can be difficult for a corporation to replicate on its own, Uzzell said, citing how GE had teamed up with the humanitarian organization CARE to help bring the ultrasound devices to local African communities.

“We want to work with these groups,” she said. “They certainly have the relationships, the visibility and the heartfelt trust.”

P&G also developed alliances with CARE, Save the Children and the global health organization PSI to reach African communities with their Pur water disinfectant packets. The company now provides 100 million packets of PUR a year to children and families in need through its corporate nonprofit. The program also helps the company connect with consumers and employees on a deeper level – a good bargain for the company, Allgood said.

Lynch also argued that improving the health of people in developing countries can be profitable. Lynch cited a couple of examples in Africa, where malaria control in communities helped companies meet higher profits through increases in productivity.

“Controlling malaria is profitable,” he said. “It’s good for the bottom line.”

In response to a question from Romanelli about job opportunities for students interested in the health care sector, the panelists said it’s an industry hungry for talent.

“This is not a crowded space,” Gunn said.

Lynch agreed: “There’s a lot of work to be done.”