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How business can advance health equity through building resilience

Towards health equity: Evidence shows that businesses have a strong value proposition for investing in health.

Towards health equity: Evidence shows that businesses have a strong value proposition for investing in health. Image: Photo by Christina @ wocintechchat.com on Unsplash

William J. Kassler
Chief Medical Officer, Palantir Technologies, USG
Eduardo Sanchez
Chief Medical Officer, Prevention, American Heart Association
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Society and Equity

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  • Business has a key role to play in advancing health equity through its workforce, offerings, communities, and ecosystem.
  • Evidence shows that businesses have a strong value proposition for investing in health.
  • The World Economic Forum's Global Health Equity Network is a key opportunity to advance health equity.

Health equity is aptly defined as “the state in which everyone has a fair and just opportunity to attain their highest level of health.” Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has illustrated how pre-existing structural inequities contribute to and compound disparate health outcomes through race, ethnicity, and other sociodemographic factors.

The pandemic also revealed the inextricable link between healthy communities and a strong, resilient economy. From the public health literature, we know that the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work, and age can dramatically influence health, for better or worse.

This blog aims to examine the role of business in advancing health equity through the lens of resilience: how an individual, organization, or community copes with stress by identifying the stressor or stressors, accessing needed resources, withstanding the stress, recovering from adverse events, and growing in the face of stressors and changing demands.

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What is the role of business?

As the world shifts from pandemic response to recovery, there is perhaps no better time to create the policies and programmes that can catalyze the widespread and systemic change needed, and business can play a central role in this process. Companies can impact health in four broad domains:

  • The value, health, and safety of the products and services they sell.
  • The health, safety, and well-being of their employees, dependents, and retirees, as well as workers in their supply chains.
  • The investments they make in the communities in which they do business and their employees live.
  • The effect they have on the environment.

Every business has a key role in advancing health equity through its workforce, offerings, communities, and ecosystem. Optimizing health outcomes is not only the moral imperative of health equity but also critical for economic growth.

There is robust evidence that businesses have a strong value proposition for investing in health. While companies begin to address health equity, there is also a growing realization that investors, job seekers, and consumers are increasingly willing to make decisions based on corporate social responsibility.

How to mobilize corporate action

For those who do not work in health, it can be difficult to know where to begin. It may therefore be helpful to look towards resources and frameworks that already exist. For example, in 2021, the American Heart Association published the report, Driving Health Equity in the Workplace, with principles and strategies to meet employers wherever they might be.

Additionally, many companies report Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) goals, track their impact on society, and evaluate progress towards measurable goals. In fact, many ESG frameworks already include elements of equity, primarily in the area of workplace diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Similarly, the World Economic Forum’s Global Health Equity Network seeks to support and mobilize corporate action on health equity by aligning with the ESG framework. Like the Net Zero Coalition, this project aims to create a measurement and action framework to achieve Zero Health Gaps.

This effort can help reduce the friction of getting started by offering a systematic and standardized set of health equity measures that are: consistent with mainstream ESG reporting frameworks and sustainable development goals; linked to meaningful processes and outcomes; and allow for cross-industry comparability across geographies.

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Importance of data and measurement

In moving from aspiration to action, there are several challenges for businesses. One key challenge includes establishing meaningful, achievable, and measurable goals with clearly articulated paths to success. Organizations can then identify quantitative metrics associated with those goals, assess baseline status, and finally, implement policies and programmes that drive progress. While the exact metrics and actions will vary depending on the business, industry, and resources available, we can offer the following general considerations to include:

  • Measure what matters. It’s an old saying that “what gets measured gets done,” so measurements should reflect corporate priorities that are more explicitly tied to health outcomes.
  • Standardize measures. Although each organization is unique and it may appear attractive to create bespoke metrics, adopting existing measurement systems can reduce the overall cost of data collection, allow for comparability, benchmarking, and the creation of learning communities.
  • Metrics should align with specific programmes and anticipated results. Goals and metrics should directly tie into and inform actions companies can take to achieve the target health equity outcome.
  • Identify data sources to inform the metrics. Start with data that is currently available to support baseline assessment and tracking; then look to what key data may be missing and explore low-lift ways to obtain that data.

There are a number of potential system failure points that can derail the effort. For example, the four domains for action above are often siloed in different parts of an organization: workforce in HR; product and services (i.e. offerings) in development and marketing; community in corporate social responsibility; and ecosystem in partnerships or real estate and building management.

Just as operating divisions are often stovepiped, so too are the data needed to measure and track progress. This hampers cross-department collaboration and results in a lack of situational awareness at an organizational level. Establishing a robust, interoperable data and tracking system enables organizations to understand, quantify, and reduce their health gaps while building resilience into their business. Such a system needs strong governance and strict access controls to protect the privacy and security of potentially sensitive data.

Joining forces to advance health equity

After COVID-19, our goal should be going beyond “business as usual” by acknowledging the deep structural inequities of the pre-COVID era, and committing our organizations to eliminate or mitigate the effects of structural inequities. We can build a new and better normal with greater individual, organizational, and community resilience through sustained action, impact measurement, and reporting.

One way to move forward is by coming together and coordinating action. The Global Health Equity Network is a key opportunity to advance health equity by aligning executive leadership across the globe and incorporating health equity into our organizational strategies.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

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Institutional update

World Economic Forum

May 21, 2024

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