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Creating shared value: big business, health and the SDGS

Global health challenges are leadership opportunities. That was the message that Christian Spano, our global lead for socio-economic development, delivered at the Shared Value Leadership Summit in New York this month. 

The message comes at a critical time. With the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) set to expire later this year, the development world is turning its attention to the future: the Sustainable Development Goals, or the SDGs. These targets, first discussed in 2012, will set the agenda for post-2015 development work.

And with the agenda set, the question now becomes one of execution: how best can the public and private sectors partner to achieve them?


The Summit provided a first glimpse at these answers. For Christian, it was an opportunity to explore the health goals in particular, by joining a panel that included Dr. Maarten van Herpen (Head of Philips Africa Innovation Hub) and Anne-Marie Sevcsik (Program Director, Health, UBS Optimus Foundation). The session’s objective was clear: focus on health related sustainable development goals; encourage attendees to put forward pathways to achieve them by also delivering value to the business; and, generate a set of priority areas for individual commitments and collective action.

With an audience of health experts, and a panel rich in development experience, the session was unique in its ‘lab-style’ approach to problem-solving. Each attendee and their representative organisation were able to put forward a shared value recommendation – an initiative that would be profitable both for their business and for the long-term health development goals.

“The pitches were incredible,” Christian said.

All five ‘pitches’ generated interest from both the Philips Africa Innovation Hub and the UBS Optimus Foundation. From using gamification to improve maternity health via mobile apps, to paying toilet users to incentivise healthy hygienic activity in rural India, the session provided a definitive way forward on multiple fronts.

“The level of support we received at the Summit – the number of people that wanted to partner with us to design and meet development goals – was massive,” Christian said, reflecting on the event. “Everyone is aware of our health work in HIV, AIDS, and TB in South Africa and Botswana, and the potential that has to keep delivering business and social value.”


Creating shared value means creating economic value in a way that also addresses the critical social needs and challenges of a society. Health advances in particular require progress in other sectors, such as employment, education, water, sanitation, energy and infrastructure. It’s about integrating investments from across these sectors – instead of thinking one industry can address development issues on its own.

“How can we bring organisations and financial institutions face-to-face with the challenges we see every day?” Christian asked. “Do businesses build their own capacity or seek guidance from those with greater knowledge and expertise? Do we see a problem with a large cost or do we see a market for a partner to take advantage of? It is, in fact, a question of perspective, and one that applies to the private sector as a whole.”

With the post-2015 goals still under discussion, the focus remains on the questions. But this month, at least, the Summit went some way towards imagining the answers.