In late September, the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) convened top leaders from business, government and civil society for the 12th and final time. The end of the CGI Annual Meeting brings to a close not just an event, but a force that has helped change the way that companies everywhere think about social responsibility.
It’s been a decade since the Rockefeller Foundation (RF) endorsed me to advance CGI’s global health work, which at the time was new and already starting to make waves in philanthropy. President Bill Clinton’s enthusiasm for encouraging the private sector to step up as key players in the social impact space — rather than leaving such work to governments and nonprofits — was met with both curiosity and skepticism at the time. But the leadership at Rockefeller recognized that CGI’s approach to addressing global challenges represented a fresh and needed way forward.
By facilitating the development of specific and measurable corporate plans to make a positive social and environmental impact — coined as Commitments to Action — CGI bet on the idea that corporate philanthropy could become more effective by embedding societal values into companies’ core business plans.
It turns out former President Clinton’s experiment worked. Taking philanthropy beyond the traditions of corporate social responsibility — “doing well by doing good” — is now the accepted norm for business ten years later.
Its success paved the way for similar approaches, such as Michael Porter and Mark Kramer’s shared value, PepciCo CEO Indra Nooyi’s “performance with purpose,” or Novo Nordisk’s approach to the triple bottom line. All of these new approaches seek to find a new and explicit nexus between financial performance and social impact. As an advisor to CGI, I witnessed the powerful way former President Clinton’s platform stimulated, guided, cajoled and excited companies to go beyond their quarterly earnings reports and bring about positive social change through their commitments to action.
The direct benefits to society have been most obvious in the myriad global health commitments that have been carried out since 2005. Because of the collective body of commitments made by the CGI community, more than 114 million people have increased access to maternal and child health and survival programs, and more than 33 million people have increased access to safe drinking water and sanitation. Because of these commitments, more than 36 million people received treatment for neglected tropical disease, and more than $318 million in research and development funds was spent on new vaccines, medicines and diagnostics.
Due to the CGI community’s embrace of “doing well by doing good,” many companies transformed their business models to place health gains as central to their work. Traditional corporate philanthropy was soon reframed to meet market failures, including research, human capacity and humanitarian crises.
In fact, many of the United Nations Global Compact’s (UNGC) member companies are also CGI members. From the start, the CGI Annual Meeting was held during the week of the United Nations General Assembly, in the hopes of spurring synergy between goals and visions discussed on the East and West sides of New York City. CGI companies brought their experiences into the U.N. system at a time of unprecedented support for new forms of private-public partnerships to complement the role of government in addressing the newly adopted Sustainable Development Goals. This could allow for CGI’s commitments to reach the scale needed to have true global impact. Health should be a major beneficiary.
To accelerate progress on health, the UNGC is collaborating with Discovery Vitality and Novo Nordisk to elevate health within business in other areas that have become the norm, including the environment, labor, human rights, and corruption. Discovery Vitality’s CEO, Adrian Gore, pledged to work with others to advance the integration of health metrics into corporate reporting in his plenary address at CGI 2013 in the presence of the Director General of the World Health Organization, Margaret Chan, and the session chair, Chelsea Clinton. This pledge is being advanced during the UNGC in 2016.
It has been a privilege to see how seemingly intractable health and social problems are being tackled in new ways that build on the joint expertise of companies, NGOs, academia and government. While I was at PepsiCo, our CGI commitments tackled undernutrition in Ethiopia and obesity in China, India, and Mexico. We also partnered with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, the American Beverage Association, and private-sector peers to curb the marketing and sales of unhealthy foods and beverages in the United States. All of these commitments had profound implications for the future of business models of food companies.
At Discovery Vitality, we are now expanding our CGI Commitments to Action with a very sharp focus, as outlined in our just-released 2016 Sustainable Development report. Vitality Shared Value Insurance is leading our members around the world to live longer lives while also transforming one of the oldest business models – life insurance. Our plan is having impact on health in profitable ways. CGI’s leadership in supporting and steering companies to do this will have enduring impacts on peoples’ lives and on our planet’s survival.
Few global platforms can claim to have the direct and indirect impact of the Clinton Global Initiative. Even as CGI draws to a close, the important work and impact of our commitments will continue. Doing well by doing good – and valuing the integration of both business purpose and societal gains – is now an unstoppable force in best business practices and in modern philanthropy.
Derek Yach, MBChB, MPH is Chief Health Officer at Discovery Vitality. He has been a full time employee of PepsiCo and has been on the Advisory Committee for the Clinton Global Initiative since 2006.