Subscribe to Newsletter
Business & Regulation Business Practice, Trends & Forecasts

A Good Citizen

Novo Nordisk donates in excess of $10 million to its World Diabetes Foundation every year and provides free insulin to children in some of Africa’s poorest communities. According to Susanne Stormer, VP Sustainability Management & Reporting at Novo Nordisk, however, although donations can make a huge difference to people’s lives, they alone cannot constitute a sustainable healthcare model. In addition to charitable giving, she says that a business-driven approach to corporate social responsibility (CSR) – which should seek to establish collaboration between various key stakeholders – is key to making a lasting difference. Here, we catch up with Stormer to learn more about the company’s approach and to find out what work Novo Nordisk is doing in this area.

Why is it so important for pharma manufacturers – particularly large companies – to engage in corporate social responsibility and help increase access to healthcare?

First of all, being a good corporate citizen is simply the right thing to do. We have chosen to articulate this as our Triple Bottom Line business principle: to always strive to be financially, socially and environmentally responsible. In essence, this is about considering our overall impact, be it on patients, employees and communities, through the money we make and the money we spend, or on the environment through the resources we use and the emissions and waste resulting from our activities.

Secondly, and of equal importance, it is about ensuring that the company will be sustainable as a successful business in the long term. For pharma companies with a global presence, the number one priority must be to help provide access to healthcare. Being in the business of health comes with a moral obligation to make medical treatments available to those who need them. And it is in companies’ own interest that people have access to healthcare – after all, this is the precondition for having a commercial market for medicinal products. Access to healthcare means that for people everywhere, and of all ages, there has to be treatment available that is accessible, affordable and of good quality.

What are Novo Nordisk’s biggest CSR programs relating to diabetes?

Novo Nordisk was founded almost 100 years ago to focus on diabetes care, and this remains the largest part of the business, as expressed in the company’s purpose: driving change to defeat diabetes and other serious chronic conditions. To this end, we have put in place a number of activities that complement the traditional, commercial business under the common umbrella “Changing Diabetes.” These activities are non-branded (i.e., not related to specific diabetes care products) and they are not philanthropic initiatives, but they are an integrated part of our company’s offering.

Changing Diabetes has four primary categories of activity to support the needs of people with diabetes: addressing the risk factors, early diagnosis, access to care, and better outcomes. In each of these categories we have both corporate and local programs. For example, Cities Changing Diabetes is a collaboration with eight cities in different parts of the world to ensure that obesity and diabetes are properly addressed in urban settings. Screening programs help ensure that people with diabetes are diagnosed earlier, so that they can get the right treatment and have a better chance of avoiding complications. Prevention initiatives are also a key component. We help cities to understand what puts people at risk of diabetes, and to deliver solutions to prevent people succumbing to the condition.

We also have another program called Changing Diabetes in Children, which provides insulin to children with type 1 diabetes in some of the world’s poorest countries – free of cost.

Our biggest commitment in financial terms is the World Diabetes Foundation – an independent trust, dedicated to the prevention and treatment of diabetes in the developing world. In 2016, Novo Nordisk’s donations to the World Diabetes Foundation amounted to 85 million DKK.

How employees get involved with CSR?

We have an employee volunteer program called TakeAction, where employees are granted time to arrange initiatives to support causes in other countries, or in their local communities. In the UK and Ireland, for example, 360 colleagues at an all-company meeting decided to take time out to support The Buddy Bag Foundation – a UK based charity that was created in response to the rising number of children who enter emergency care after fleeing violent situations at home. Each year, 48,000 children in the UK are in need of emergency care, and the charity also provides a few essential items in a “Buddy Bag” – such as pajamas, toiletries and a teddy bear. Members of the UK team also recently walked the entire length of Hadrian’s Wall for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation – one of various awareness and fundraising activities in which staff get involved with throughout the year.

Why is a business-driven approach so important to successful, long-running access to care initiatives?

A business-driven approach is the only sustainable way to implement access to care initiatives. Philanthropy, such as what we provide through the World Diabetes Foundation, surely is part of the solution, but it is very important for us to emphasize that it cannot and will not be a substitute for a proper healthcare system.

We are a business. Our expertise is in developing medicines that enable people to live healthy lives. We are in business to serve the people whose medical needs we can help. We make our priorities very clear, and we make a point of saying that although we are determined to defeat diabetes, Novo Nordisk alone cannot tackle the enormous burden of diabetes. That is why we work through partnerships and engage with governments and local authorities to find viable solutions.

The pharma industry often receives a lot of criticism – and even good intentions, such as helping charities or raising disease awareness, can be perceived as something more sinister…

We believe we have an obligation to help defeat the rise of diabetes. This isn’t just about contributing innovative medicines – we also need to invest in awareness programs, drive educational initiatives, and invest in research and healthcare infrastructure to improve diagnosis rates, wherever possible, and prevent people from developing the condition in the first place.

Of course, we are by no means immune to criticism; in fact, where it is constructive, we welcome it. Programs such as Cities Changing Diabetes have come about through dialogue with key stakeholders to enable solutions through a better understanding of the problem.

Receive content, products, events as well as relevant industry updates from The Medicine Maker and its sponsors.
Stay up to date with our other newsletters and sponsors information, tailored specifically to the fields you are interested in

When you click “Subscribe” we will email you a link, which you must click to verify the email address above and activate your subscription. If you do not receive this email, please contact us at [email protected].
If you wish to unsubscribe, you can update your preferences at any point.

Register to The Medicine Maker

Register to access our FREE online portfolio, request the magazine in print and manage your preferences.

You will benefit from:
  • Unlimited access to ALL articles
  • News, interviews & opinions from leading industry experts
  • Receive print (and PDF) copies of The Medicine Maker magazine