As part of our In Conversation interview blog series and following the 2021 Shared Value Leadership Summit, we had a chance to speak with Monica Sanders, Director of Global Citizenship and Shared Impact at Abbott, the global healthcare leader that helps people live more fully at all stages of life. Our conversation centered around the company’s 2030 Sustainability Plan and how focusing on its core purpose of creating health technologies enables Abbott to deliver greater health access and equity.
Shared Value Initiative: Abbott’s 2030 Sustainability Plan focuses on innovations that will lead to greater access and affordability. Can you tell us about the thinking behind the plan, and why innovation, access, affordability are priorities for Abbott?
Monica Sanders: Our 2030 plan is based on a simple, but powerful belief: a sustainable future starts with health. With good health, we all can thrive. Headwinds like the global pandemic and a rising chronic disease burden require more than a ‘business as usual’ approach to create the transformative healthcare solutions we need. Yet, innovation alone is also not enough. The best healthcare solutions are the ones that reach the most people. That’s why we created a plan that specifically links innovation with access and affordability.
For us, that means intentionally designing access and affordability into our life-changing technologies and products. We bring intention to every step, starting with our R&D process through to the materials we use, how we manufacture and how we deliver care to people. We work across our global business to think and work in new ways that will transform care for chronic disease, malnutrition and infectious diseases. And we partner where we can advance health equity and remove barriers that prevent people from living healthy lives.
Sustainability and purpose have to be aligned and true to your company and your culture. Our sustainability efforts include important work to protect the environment and other imperatives – but our strategy is clearly focused on where we can make the greatest, most material impact, which is through our core purpose of creating health technologies.
SVI: Equity is defined differently by different people and organizations. How does Abbott define equity, and what is the company doing to address inequities we face in business and society?
MS: To us, equity means fairness – that everyone has equal access to the same opportunities to lead a healthy, better life. We act to bring this to life in many ways, in our workplace and across our business. We are a global company operating in more than 160 countries, so equity and diversity are business necessities. Diversity of thought and experiences drives creativity and innovation – which is vital to conceive life-changing technology. And we’re working to extend the reach of our technologies to more people, in more places, globally – which both expands the reach of our business and facilitates greater health equity.
We’re especially focused on what we can accomplish through our business because that delivers more sustainable impact. But at the same time, addressing disparities in health today requires more than just technology. It takes partnership, from all stakeholders in private and public sectors. That’s why we’ve made advancing health equity through partnership a key focus of our 2030 business sustainability plan.
I’m closely involved in one example of how we bring this to life, through a unique collaboration in Rwanda. We’re helping to advance the government’s mission of providing access to care within a 30-minute walk for all citizens, by working together with the Ministry of Health and the non-profit Society for Family Health Rwanda to create a new health post model for rural care. Together, we expanded access to quality testing and care for patients – including a new panel of Abbott rapid prenatal tests – while helping the health posts operate as sustainable businesses.
Early results are promising; the eight second-generation health posts are attracting more patients – 200,000 so far. More than 50,000 have been screened for malaria, with 18,000 receiving treatment. And women are receiving maternity testing and care, with more than 700 babies being delivered safely. The health posts are also financially self-sustaining businesses – with more than 50% operated by women.
SVI: Do you believe that companies can be successful today and over the next 5-10 years without having a smart, strategic approach to shared value and purpose?
MS: In our industry, healthcare, I would say no. Healthcare companies, especially large, multinational ones, have a powerful ability – and responsibility – to generate shared value, because the success of our products and services are so directly tied to improving people’s lives. And I’ll go one step further. Looking ahead, companies need to rethink how they approach shared value because it can be a source of competitive advantage in an increasingly complex landscape.
As an industry, and across broader society, we face immense challenges in healthcare. COVID-19 has exposed many of the underlying issues and disparities facing our health system. But in the coming years, the increasing burden of disease and health issues like malnutrition, combined with health budget and workforce constraints, will force us all to find ways to address the gaps.
We can only secure our continued success by helping the greatest number of people live better and healthier. Society depends on us – and all healthcare innovators – to create products that are not just effective, but are affordable and accessible to more people.
SVI: We’re living in a world that is very different than it was just a few years ago. In light of the current, pressing challenges we’re facing, what advice do you have for other leaders in your industry?
MS: Two things. First, sustainability and purpose have to be aligned and true to your company and your culture. Our sustainability efforts include important work to protect the environment and other imperatives – but our strategy is clearly focused on where we can make the greatest, most material impact, which is through our core purpose of creating health technologies. Because of that, sustainability is not a stand-alone effort, but embedded within our business strategy, financial plan and governance structures. It influences how we engage and address business challenges today with an eye on tomorrow.
And second, this is – and must be – a long-term commitment and strategy that’s not driven by short-term demands. Obviously, we all need to pivot to meet the needs of today, with the pandemic – which is something that we did across our business, especially in our work to rapidly meet the need for COVID testing. But we were only able to do that because we had long invested in the people and systems, and the supply chain and customer relationships, that allowed us to quickly bring forward 12 different COVID tests, at scale. As our CEO Robert Ford said about the pandemic, “We were built for this.” We’ve been around for over 130 years. We understand longevity. While our sustainability plan guides us for the next 10 years, it’s informed and made possible by decades of work. We’re in it for the long haul so we can create deep and trusted partnerships – which also provides us with the flexibility to meet current challenges and capture future opportunities.