Creating ‘Shared Value’ in Pharma – The Way Forward

Many Pharmaceutical companies, both global and local, are struggling with a plethora of critical challenges. With the industry reputation diving south successful navigation through this headwind has become an onerous task, more than ever before.

Under this backdrop, the article, titled “Creating Shared Value” of Michael Porter and Mark Kramer, published in the Harvard Business Review (HBR) in its January – February 2011 issue, becomes very relevant to analyze the situation.

The paper says: “Companies are widely thought to be prospering at the expense of their communities. Trust in business has fallen to new lows, leading government officials to set policies that undermine competitiveness and sap economic growth. Business is caught in a vicious circle. A big part of the problem lies with companies themselves, which remain trapped in an outdated, narrow approach to value creation.”

The authors also articulated that pharma players, generally focus on optimizing short-term financial performance, overlooking the greatest unmet needs in the market as well as broader influences on their long-term success. They questioned: “Why else would companies ignore the well-being of their customers and the economic distress of the communities in which they produce and sell?”

Porter and Kramer advised the companies to bring business and society back together – redefining their purpose as creating “shared values”. It means generating economic value in a way that also produces value for society by addressing its challenges.In this article, I shall explore in this area.

Not CSR or Philanthropy, its engaging business as business, for social progress:

Creation of “Shared values” for a business is quite different from “Philanthropy” or “Corporate Social Responsivity (CSR)”. Philanthropy usually involves ‘donations to worthy social causes’ and CSR is primarily directed at compliance with community standards and good corporate citizenship. Whereas the creation of “shared value” means integrating societal improvement into economic value creation, making social improvement as an integral part of with a business model.

To create “shared values”, it is imperative for business organizations to create “social value” through active participation in addressing the social issues and needs related to the business. Or in other words, the creation of “shared values” would entail striking a right balance between “social value” and the “business value.”

An article titled “What Is the Social Value of Pharmaceuticals?”, published by FSG on February 13, 2014 dwells on the business relevance of creation of “social value” in the pharma industry. It writes,creation of “social value” corresponds to effecting positive change along the major societal challenges, such as affordable health care, by working more in collaboration with other stakeholders to address the needs of the underserved through commensurate value creation. This entails engagement of a business as a business, not as a charitable donor, nor through public relations, for social progress.

A resolution to create “shared value” in the pharma industry:

An interesting article, featured in SFGATE of the San Francisco Chronicle on July 11, 2018, elucidated that the reputations of drug makers have taken a hit over the past few years as the public and politicians have called out the companies for high prescription drug prices that even Americans are facing. Recently, President Donald Trump, reportedly, singled out the top pharma companies of the world  for raising the list prices on some of its prescriptions.

Possibly it’s a sheer coincidence, but on the same day, an intent of creating “shared values” with the society got reflected in the statement of the president of the Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research. The officialexplained, why his company has a ‘contract with society’. He admitted that: The cost of health care, which has been rising has left many on the hook for a larger amount of their prescription drug cost that can place a big burden on patients in many countries, including the United States.

Consequently, the pressure from the people who need medications is now on the pharmaceutical companies for doing right, he added. Thus, Novartis feels:”We have a contract with society, and society is our shareholder. A company like ours exists to have a definitive impact on life threatening diseases, to keep people alive and healthy for a long, long time, full stop” – the official concluded.

A laudable intent, but is it credible?

The concept of pharma having a contract with the society ‘to keep people alive and healthy for a long, long time,’ is laudable, but is it credible? This question arises because, just before public articulation of this intent, the same company, reportedly, entered into USD 1.2-million contract with President Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, allegedly, to provide access to the US President.

The exact reason for the same is being investigated by competent authorities, including the US Senators. However, another report highlighted, “Novartis is among the drug companies that has put through significant price increases for its products since Trump took office in 2017 – in some cases more than 20 percent.”

Another  repot of July 09, 2018, quoting a tweet of the US President, poured more cold water on the warm intent of pharma’s ‘contract with the society.’ According to this article President Trump tweeted: “Pfizer & others should be ashamed that they have raised drug prices for no reason. They are merely taking advantage of the poor & others unable to defend themselves, while at the same time giving bargain basement prices to other countries in Europe & elsewhere. We will respond!”

Consistently declining pharma’s image and public trust:

Many believe that due to such hyperbolic statements and conflicting actions of pharma, over a long period time, are driving down the public image and trust on the industry, in general, from deep to deeper level, which has not found its bottom, just yet.

The reality gets reflected in various well-recognized polls, conducted even in the top pharma market of the world, which is also one of the richest nations, globally. August 2017 Gallup Poll on ‘Business and Industry Sector Ratings,’ features pharma industry at the very bottom of the ranking, just above the Federal government.

The concern gets reverberated in the February 03, 2017 article titled, ‘How Pharma Can Fix Its Reputation and Its Business at the Same Time,’ published in the Harvard Business Review (HBR). The paper observes that the worrisome mix of little growth potential and low reputation prompts the pharma players, among other actions, developing new treatments for neglected populations, and pricing existing products at affordable levels – avoiding corruption and price collusion.

How will “shared value” creation help pharma?

The process of creating “shared values” will involve creating “social value” with all sincerity and a clearly defined purpose. Its outcome should be measurable, and the impact felt by the society. In tandem, striking a right balance between “social value” and the “business value” would call for a metamorphosis in the concept of doing business.

There aren’t too many examples of creation ‘shared values’ by pharma companies, yet. However, to illustrate this point, let me quote one such that was originated from India, which I had the privilege to observe closely. This initiative is ‘Arogya Parivar (healthy family) of Novartis in India.

‘Arogya Parivar’ is a ‘for-profit’ social initiative developed by Novartis to reach the under-served millions living at the bottom of the pyramid in rural India. As Novartis claims, since its launch in 2007, ‘Arogya Parivar’ is proving to be both a force for improving health in rural communities and a sustainable business. ‘Arogya Parivar’ is a commercially-viable program and began returning a profit after 30 months with sales increasing 25-fold, since launch. After successful implementation of this initiative in India, the company has created similar programs in Kenya, Indonesia and Vietnam, according to Novartis.

Conclusion:

The concept of ‘shared values’ emphasizes that business success of a company is closely related to the progress, development and wellbeing of the society where it transacts the business. This can be achieved by striking a right balance between the social need and the business need. In the pharma space too, the value creation in the business value chain may need to be redesigned to meet the ‘social value’. This happened as in the case of ‘Arogya Parivar’ initiative of Novartis in India.

Creating robust business models based on ‘shared values’, in sync with the business-specific needs of the society can help make more profit in areas where there is none, at present. It will also facilitate achieving additional growth of the organization and improve long-term competitiveness.

Consequently, pharma can earn recognition of the society as a powerful contributor for containing suffering and even death of many ailing patients, by increasing access to affordable medicines for those who need these most. This, in turn, would help pharma companies to improve their public image and reputation. Let me hasten to add that provided, of course, no countermeasures are taken by them, surreptitiously, as I have discussed above.

The good news is, some pharma players have already initiated action in this direction. Thus, I reckon, many of them would soon realize that creating ‘shared value – based’ business models are the way forward for sustainable business excellence.

By: Tapan J. Ray 

Disclaimer: The views/opinions expressed in this article are entirely my own, written in my individual and personal capacity. I do not represent any other person or organization for this opinion.

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