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Reaching the Health Millennium Development Goals: The Critical Role of India's Business Sector

November 13, 2013

On the eve of Children’s Day in India and with less than 780 days to the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) deadline, business and health leaders called on companies to accelerate achievement of the health-related MDGs by investing in women and children’s health and water, sanitation and hygiene.

                                              [Photo Credit: Cory Goldberg]

At a day-long business forum entitled Reaching the Health Millennium Development Goals: The Critical Role of India’s Business Sector, more than 250 attendees gathered to discuss ways to mobilize India’s corporate sector to save the lives of millions of women and children. The event was unprecedented in its ability to bring together the private and public sectors to hold substantive discussions on India’s greatest health challenges.  Participants learned about successful corporate programs both for workers and the communities in which companies operate. The MDGs are specific targets the global community is racing to reach by Dec. 31, 2015 that include significantly reducing maternal and child deaths and improving sanitation.

Nita Ambani, Chairperson of the Reliance Foundation, and actress Priyanka Chopra, UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, opened the day-long business forum by calling for increased private sector action in helping to save the lives of mothers and children. “In India, a large number of maternal, neonatal and infant deaths that occur are from preventable causes and can be averted by timely interventions, not just by government but civil society and the corporate sector too,” Ambani said in a press release. “This will require forging smart, strong and sustainable partnerships with each other and demolishing sectoral barriers to act as one for the national agenda.”

                                              [Photo Credit: Cory Goldberg]

Vinita Bali, CEO and Managing Director of Britannia, cited India’s challenge to improve nutrition and maternal and child health and said that business has a significant role to play in driving positive outcomes and must step up to the challenge.  

Dr. Abhay Bang, Director, SEARCH (Society for Education, Action and Research in Community Health) inspired the audience with an overview of his pioneering program to reduce infant mortality in a remote district of Maharashtra. He called on all stakeholders to join hands and collectively bring about change in society.

At the event, the Mobile Alliance for Maternal Health (MAMA) announced the launch in India of its mobile messaging program. MAMA will target underserved pregnant women and new mothers with voiced-based health messaging, aiming to reach 1 million pregnant or expecting women in Mumbai’s urban slums. MAMA is a public-private partnership between the U.S Agency for International Development (USAID), Johnson & Johnson, the United Nations Foundation, the mHealth Alliance and BabyCenter.  Read the Huffington Post article about MAMA’s launch here.

The forum featured remarks from more than 30 corporate, technical/academic and government speakers, including business executives from Tata, Hindustan Unilever, Bharat Biotech, Apollo Hospitals, Zuventus, MSD, McCann Health, Novartis, Deloitte, Johnson & Johnson and Lowe Lintas. Non-corporate speakers included leaders from government, UNICEF, the World Bank, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the American India Foundation.

A major draw of the forum was a session on new legislation in India that requires large companies to spend at least 2 percent of their profits every year on corporate social responsibility (CSR), or face fines. Recently passed by the Government of India, there is much confusion and uncertainty about the legislation and anxiety by companies who have not yet made the foray into corporate social responsibility in terms of how they will comply by April 2014 when the law goes into effect. The session – organized by event partner, the American India Foundation - not only explained the law in plain language but also provided a wide range of examples of successful corporate and NGO programs that would greatly benefit from corporate engagement. Panelists urged companies to not just write a check, but also provide marketing expertise, supply chain strengthening, management training and much more.

                                             [Photo Credit: Cory Goldberg]

Also, event organizers released seven Investment Cases on the public health issues in most need of improvement, providing examples of Indian and multinational corporations that are running successful programs in these areas. The Investment Cases urge businesses to target their CSR spending and investments to those seven areas for maximum impact in health, saving lives and in attaining the health MDGs. Read the investment cases here.

“India’s new CSR policy coincides with the urgent deadline that we’re facing to achieve the health targets pursued by India and the world,” said Leith Greenslade, Vice Chair of the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Financing the Health Millennium Development Goals. “If India’s business community focused its CSR spending, investments and efforts on the seven areas highlighted today in the priority districts, India could move quickly toward significantly reducing maternal and child deaths and achieving the health-related MDGs.”

The forum was held by GBCHealth and the MDG Health Alliance, supported by Johnson & Johnson, and in partnership with the Confederation of Indian Industry, Reliance Foundation, American India Foundation, International Center for Research on Women, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Financing the Health Millennium Development Goals and for Malaria, and the United Nations Foundation.

See press release on India's business leaders calling for increased private sector action on health here.

Session Powerpoint Presentations:

Achieving the Health Millennium Development Goals

Spotlight on: Frontline Health Workers

Messaging Healthy Behavior: The Power of Advertising, Social, Mobil and Entertainment to Influence Healthy Behavior

Working Session: Water, Sanitation and Hygiene

View a list of attending organizations here.