As GBCHealth enters a new phase in 2014, some of our closest partners took a moment to reflect on just how far we’ve come in mobilizing business action on health over the years and the future that awaits us.
These reflections take us from the launch of our precursor, the Global Business Council on HIV/AIDS, of which Nelson Mandela served as honorary president, to humorous memories about our founding CEO, the late Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, to the new, sharper work that awaits us in 2014. We hope you enjoy them.
Since its inception in 2001, GBCHealth has done a masterful job as a change agent for business and health, continually reinventing itself as market demands and public health challenges evolved. This is the mark of nimble, connected and courageous leadership.
GBCHealth was conceived in response to sea changes for business and society sparked by the HIV/AIDS epidemic. During its adolescence and young adulthood, GBCHealth developed into the broad, all-purpose resource and health convener much needed by business and other sectors in an increasingly connected global marketplace. Today, a mature GBCHealth steps out with a timely, sharpened focus to address the urgent need for business to do well and do good at once, to support developing nations in becoming vibrant global markets and to help children everywhere grow to be independent, productive citizens.
Throughout all of its generations, GBCHealth has stayed ahead of the curve and true to its mission to advance health through business and business through health.
I first became engaged with the Global Business Council (GBCHealth's predecessor organization) in the mid-90s when I was employed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The HIV pandemic presented global roadblocks that could not be overcome by community and social activism or the traditional public health paradigm alone. It soon became evident that we needed a multisectoral response that included private sector innovation and engagement in collective action. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and others called for a coordinated business engagement, and GBC answered the call.
Sir Richard Sykes, then Chief Executive of Glaxo Wellcome, made a daring move in stepping up to be the founding Chair of GBC in 1997. He used his business reputation and acumen to bring the private sector together in solidarity against two of the greatest global challenges of the HIV pandemic: the stigma related to associating one’s corporate, and even one’s personal or professional, reputation with HIV/AIDS, and the stigma for the HIV/AIDS movement to collaborate with the private sector, especially pharmaceutical companies. Later, Bill Roedy, who was CEO of MTV Networks International and GBCHealth Chair, incorporated greater engagement of media and the realities of youth and young adult lives, voices and energies.
Richard Holbrooke’s legendary diplomacy made all walls—between sectors, peoples and causes—fully permeable and enabled HIV to maintain prominence and urgency while rightfully bringing global threats of malaria and tuberculosis to the forefront in a combined action. While his untimely departure gave us all pause and concern for the continued momentum of GBCHealth’s courageous leadership, Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede and Ray Chambers never missed a beat and, together as co-Chairs, provide the composite strength that builds upon the assets of predecessors and, in their own backgrounds and spheres of influence, poises GBCHealth for even stronger relevance and purpose for tomorrow’s global health challenges.
Throughout the decades, whether I was at CDC, USAID, UNAIDS, World Bank or the Ford Foundation, GBCHealth remained a trusted, essential partner in the multisectoral response to the world’s health-related challenges. Now, as a member of the Corporate Advisory Board myself, I have new insights into the significance of GBCHealth’s legacy and its continued relevance for the road ahead. Even more than before, we need a platform such as this to enable private sector peers to continue to share, inspire and ignite action. More than ever before, the role of corporate society is respected and expected to be a part of global health solutions. GBCHealth will be ready to help us coalesce and move forward!
When I first became involved with the GBC in 2002, the organization’s focus was on HIV/AIDS. The late Richard Holbrooke, GBC’s founding CEO, had been asked by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to spearhead the fight against this pandemic, and Holbrooke was passionate about that challenge.
As co-Chairman of GBC, I visited South Africa, China and India, in part using the South African experience of the country’s soaring HIV rates to alert governments to the threat of the spread of the virus. The supporting companies were strongly focused on this issue, in whatever part of the world they operated. So was my firm, Anglo American, because HIV had climbed to critical levels in the African mines and population in general. Anglo American became one of the first companies to provide antiretroviral HIV treatment to all. This was a brave decision, given the costs at the time. But the costs dropped rapidly with help from GBC and others, and soon we were able to demonstrate that the expense was offset by the reduction in medical costs and the important lives saved. These basic concepts are fundamental to GBCHealth’s philosophy then and today that private sector action on health strengthens business and society.
However, it soon became apparent that GBC’s single focus on HIV/AIDS was too narrow, and so after much discussion and consultation the scope was widened to cover TB and malaria, in line with the targets of the Global Fund, with the GBC being the private sector focal point for that effort.
By the time I stepped down as GBCHealth’s Co-Chair in 2011, the organization’s focus was widening further to include non-infectious diseases such as diabetes, as companies became interested in other health issues that affected their staff, customers and the communities in which they operated. The latest operating model seems to me to be a very logical development, allowing companies to concentrate their work and support on their particular areas of interest, including new areas, while allowing others to pursue work in the original areas of focus. I wish GBCHealth every success in this imaginative and thoughtful change.
As Chevron was one of the first supporters of both GBCHealth and Transatlantic Partners Against AIDS, a Russian NGO that merged with GBC in 2006, we looked to the organization for best practices on HIV/AIDS policy and training. New to my position in 2005, I remember fondly the thoughtful guidance, counsel and encouragement I received on this very important journey. In those early years, it was like drinking from a fire hose to make sure we were getting the right balance of information to the right people both in our organization and the communities in which we operated. GBCHealth has continued to be an important partner, and we look forward to this next chapter in its evolution.
As a businessman-turned-philanthropist, there are few organizations that speak to me as powerfully as GBCHealth. From its earliest days—under the inspired leadership of my friend the late Richard Holbrooke and other visionary business champions—GBCHealth has done so much to help the business community do great work to improve and save human lives.
During the early years of GBC, companies looked to the organization to help address the huge impact that AIDS was having on their workforces. How lucky we are that there was an organization that understood the many ways that business assets could be used to improve health and the imperative that business think about its broader role. Twelve years later, business leaders are building their companies from the ground up with an understanding of the many ways their work has an impact on employees, communities and the world at large. We owe a great debt to GBCHealth for helping make this approach standard practice.
Looking forward, I believe GBCHealth’s sharpened focus on engaging deeper private sector involvement in the final push to achieve the health Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by their December 31, 2015 deadline is the right approach. As the UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy for Financing the Health MDGs and for Malaria, I am especially heartened to know that our work will be fortified by the participation and leadership of GBCHealth.
Chevron has partnered with GBCHealth since 2001 and was one of the organization’s first supporters. At that time, few companies had HIV/AIDS programs to protect their employees and communities. GBCHealth’s counsel and support to us as we became the first oil and gas company to institute a global HIV/AIDS policy for employees was invaluable. Since implementing our policy and training, we have made remarkable progress. For example, for nine years in Angola and 13 years in Nigeria, Chevron has received no reports of mother-to-child transmission of HIV among its employees or dependents who are participating in our voluntary prevention of mother-to-child transmission programs. GBCHealth was also instrumental in shaping our global public health strategy. In 2008 we became The Global Fund’s first Corporate Champion, initiated through a GBCHealth connection.
Since I joined the GBCHealth board in 2011, I’ve seen firsthand the convening power of GBCHealth. By bringing together partners – governments, donors, NGOs and private-sector organizations – to leverage collective expertise, talent and resources, many innovative public-private partnerships have been formed to fight disease. More important, those partnerships are delivering real results in the fight against HIV/AIDS and malaria and underscore the vital role of the private sector.
As GBCHealth begins its next chapter, I am confident the organization’s unique strengths as a strong advocate for the private sector and convener of innovative partnerships will remain. Chevron proudly supports GBCHealth’s sharpened focus on private-sector leadership in achieving the health-related Millennium Development Goals.
BD joined the original GBC in 2002, and I vividly remember the first time I met Ambassador Richard Holbrooke. Trevor Neilson, GBCHealth’s Executive Director at the time, had invited my BD colleague Renuka Gadde and me to join the first major event that GBC hosted in India. When we were on line waiting to show our passports to the immigration inspector in the Delhi airport, I looked over to the diplomat’s line and saw Richard Holbrooke and his wife Kati Marton. It seemed to be an ideal time to introduce ourselves. Richard and Kati were so gracious to us. They insisted that the Indian authorities process us through the diplomat’s line with them. We then proceeded together to the baggage claim area. As can happen in India, there was a very long delay in the bag delivery. This allowed ample time for us to speak with Richard and Kati, and we enjoyed many laughs about the problem with the bags.
During the event the next day, Richard and Kati asked us to join them at dinner, and we struck up a true friendship that evening. From that point on, for all the remaining years of his life, whenever Richard saw Renuka or me he would call us out for a special greeting and kind words. Even if he saw us while addressing a crowd of hundreds of people, he would interrupt his speech to call us out.
I had the privilege of traveling with Richard to sub-Saharan Africa during the landmark GBC trip in December 2003, and in 2005 Renuka traveled with him on a GBC trip in Kenya. During that trip he began to refer to Renuka as “Queen Latifah,” and that nickname stuck for many years.
Richard was such a highly effective leader for GBC, no one could possibly ever fill his shoes. When he asked for a commitment, you didn’t think twice about it. His passion and energy literally transformed the role of the business sector in battling HIV & AIDS, and this evolved into deep and meaningful long-term engagement of companies in global health. Richard passed away too soon, and I dearly miss him.
I had the good fortune to meet Richard Holbrooke early on in his dynamic leadership of GBCHealth; in fact, he delivered the keynote at CECP's (Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy) Corporate Philanthropy Summit. Holbrooke had faith; faith in the form of complete trust or confidence in someone or something, like public health and setting the bar for companies to take action. That has been GBCHealth's mantra from its inception: faith in its cause(s), in its people and in the companies that it serves.
Two quotes are very relevant:
"Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase." — The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
"Faith is the strength by which a shattered world shall emerge into the light." — Helen Keller
GBCHealth has consistently had faith that business can have a positive impact on health.