Marcia Conner has a great piece in Fast Company about changing the world. She argues that the best way to effect change is to combine personal responsibility with collective impact, in which people unite behind principles to achieve systemic reform. This struck a chord because it applies to one of the biggest global health challenges today: non-communicable diseases (NCDs) like diabetes and cancer.
To set the stage, the UN is driving a high-level initiative to tackle NCDs, which together claim about 12 million lives and cost $500 billion in lost productivity each year. And the World Health Organization (WHO) is coordinating efforts among the many public and private actors scaling up treatment, prevention and R&D efforts.
Together, through an unprecedented degree of commitment and collaboration, we’re making progress. A new WHO bulletin reports that, for example, about 95% of participating countries have dedicated a public office within the Ministry of Health specifically to NCDs, and half of them have a dedicated strategy and budget. The authors go on to say, however, that progress is uneven and that we still have a long way to go.
In the spirit of Marcia Conner’s piece, there is a necessary role for both personal responsibility and collective impact in the fight against NCDs. Many private sector actors are sitting at the table not because it’s in our best business interest, but because we feel a personal or corporate responsibility to address one of the most pressing global problems of our time.
As for the collective impact approach, Stanford Social Innovation Review published an insightful article earlier this year. One common thread running through each of the successful partnerships was a strong backbone. In the authors’ words, “The backbone provides strategic coherence around the common agenda, establishes shared measurement and learning systems, supports the mutually reinforcing activities of the different partners, and facilitates continuous communication.”
When it comes to the global fight against NCDs, WHO forms the backbone. And at present, WHO is playing a valuable coordinating role by cataloguing private sector contributions to the fight against NCDs and translating them into a common framework through which we can gauge progress. But I believe there is more room for the private sector to innovatively help WHO achieve the goals it has laid out for NCDs. Many private sector contributions go beyond donations or traditional philanthropy. Lilly, for one, is operating as an on-the-ground partner through the Lilly NCD Partnership. Together with our partners, we provide expertise, conduct original research and share knowledge through locally-driven public-private partnerships.
If we can find a way to harness that spirit of partnership and work together more effectively through WHO, we can wield these efforts to have an even greater and truly meaningful collective impact on NCDs.