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The Corporate Role in Wellness

By Dr. Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, President & CEO, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

Four years ago, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation—the nation’s largest health philanthropy—put a stake in the ground, setting a vision to build a Culture of Health in America that enables everyone to live the healthiest life possible. Bold? Absolutely. But we believe it’s possible and pledged to see it though.

We often describe building a Culture of Health as shifting our collective values so that seeking to be healthy is a part of everything we do. Health is the bedrock of personal fulfillment, the backbone of economic prosperity and the foundation of a strong, competitive nation. Companies doing good and thinking about health is not an add-on strategy, but as we heard at the Board of Boards meeting, it is the strategy.

I am honored to have received the CECP Force for Good Cross-Sector Award at the 2017 Board of Boards meeting. It was a meaningful acknowledgement of how far our foundation has come in thinking about collaboration and working with other sectors to achieve a Culture of Health. I was especially pleased to share the stage and have a conversation with two other awardees, Denise Morrison, President and CEO of Campbell Soup Company and Brian C. Cornell, the Chairman and CEO of Target about how they are providing healthy choices and working within their communities to address issues surrounding health.

Although we have an endowment of about $10 billion and award $450 million in grants each year, we don’t make policy, we don’t sell anything, and we don’t provide health care services. We invest in ideas and innovation. We educate, we provide tools and resources, we convene, and we facilitate collaboration.

Business is a critical partner in this work. Because more than any other sector, business drives culture—from what we eat, to how we exercise, to how we spend our time. It can scale and spread ideas in a way no other sector can. Businesses can help build a Culture of Health through healthier products and practices, in how they improve the health of employees and their families and by working to make their communities better, healthier places to live.

And RWJF can support them by making the business case for investing in community health and working to ensure that it’s embraced by companies and financial institutions. In fact, I declared that “My Big Idea for 2016” was, “Community Health is a Business Issue. Here’s Why.”

We’re putting our grant-making power behind that Big Idea to provide the tools, data and evidence needed to show that improved health creates return on investment. We’re helping companies make the case to investors and shareholders that there are both short- and long-term benefits to investments in good health. Here are some of those tools and evidence:

Just Capital provides information and rankings on how large corporations perform on issues that matter most to the public.

Mission Measurement surveyed 10,000 consumers to identify how companies’ efforts to promote social good—and health issues in particular—drive consumer choice. This research aims to show that there is an “H” for health as part of ESG.

CECP: The CEO Force for Good captures survey data from nearly 300 leading global companies each year, tracking their corporate societal engagement, including the investments they make in health and social services. Companies use this data to help measure impact, on the business and the community.

And because we know that improving health goes far beyond not being sick and is driven by factors ranging from education to access to transportation to the air we breathe, we are also convening cross-sector leaders in communities across America. A few examples include:

Invest Health is aimed at improving health in ways that will boost local economies in 50 mid-size U.S. cities. It’s designed to leverage private and public investments in neighborhoods facing the biggest barriers to better health. Efforts range from increasing access to quality jobs, affordable housing, and nutritious food, to reducing crime rates and environmental hazards. Each of these partnerships includes a major local employer.

• We partnered with the U.S. Federal Reserve System and Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco on a Healthy Communities Initiative to develop ways that financial institutions can work with community and public health sectors. 35 gatherings of health and community development professionals have occurred in regional Fed banks over six years.

• We’re working with the U.S. Green Building Council and the University of Virginia School of Medicine on the Green Health Partnership, which is focused on fostering health and well-being in the real estate industry. A movement is growing as market leaders have seen how the inclusion of health and well-being can contribute to long-term property values.

And our Culture of Health Prize, now in its fifth year, rewards local partners who have identified a health challenge and have come together around it. In Spokane, the local Chamber of Commerce, community businesses, nonprofits, religious groups, youth development and juvenile justice organizations came together with families and the school system to increase high school graduation rates. As a result of this partnership, rates increased from less than 58% to more than 80% in just 7 years, also creating a pipeline to good jobs.

To us, it is crucial for CEOs to be in these conversations about health, education, public safety, transportation, housing, and infrastructure development. As noted earlier, business shapes culture, and CEO’s bring results-driven leadership that makes them powerful ambassadors for spurring collaboration to improve health.

I’m excited about the progress I’m seeing and the belief held by many who are a part of CECP that doing good isn’t an add-on strategy but the strategy. With that mindset, we will be able to achieve a Culture of Health in America.