On Jan. 25, more than 3,000 leaders from the most powerful companies and organizations around the globe will descend on Davos, Switzerland, to shape the global agenda for 2012 and chart the course of world affairs.
The halls and sessions will be filled with highly respected opinions about how developed nations can reduce debt without falling back into recession, and how emerging economies can curb inflation while avoiding future economic bubbles.
But this year, another very interesting conversation will take shape; one that challenges the traditional lens through which global leaders view opportunity for dramatic gains in economic progress and human development. To kick-start the conversation, a number of public and private sessions will be held to connect the dots between health in developing nations and the global economy.
In 2011, the global population hit 7 billion. Of that number, 2-3 billion people live in poverty. This massive population represents a growing global middle class. In fact, the poorest two-thirds in the world wield an estimated $5 trillion purchasing power. Unfortunately, their socioeconomic status places them among the world’s most vulnerable to the effects of poor health. As a result, a cap is placed on this population’s ability to reach its full economic potential.
The key to changing this scenario will be finding ways to encourage this emerging class of consumers to adopt healthier behaviors, and giving them the means to do so. While governments and civil society organizations have traditionally filled the role of providing health aid to the developing world, the private sector also has a vital role to play in this space by nurturing the development of new markets and a consumer base with purchasing power.
Global health organizations such as Population Services International (PSI) are helping the private sector do just that. Public-private partnerships allow both parties to leverage respective resources to help companies grow their business, while improving health and opportunity for those at the bottom of the socioeconomic pyramid.
Companies benefit from an organization’s understanding of local cultures and personal networks which allow them to penetrate a market and create brand loyalty. Organizations like PSI, that employ marketing principles to generate demand for health services, benefit from a commercial perspective of how to apply these principles for social good.
At Davos, health-related sessions will focus on issues such as the need to combat non-communicable diseases such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease, which are projected to cost more than $30 trillion in lost productivity over the next 20 years. But the conversation will also center on sustainability. In other words, making sure aid is provided in a way that creates the conditions where it is no longer needed. Doing this requires developing a mutual trust and partnership with local governments, retailers that sell health products, health-care providers and civil society organizations, to form the foundation upon which a solid health system can be built.
In today’s interconnected world, there is no “them,” there is only us. The key to all future success will hinge on our ability to create genuine partnerships based on mutual respect and mutual interest. By working together to create stronger health systems and healthier communities, we can halt billions of dollars in lost productivity every year and turn that capacity into a market that will drive future growth.
Kate Roberts is vice president of PSI.