As part of BSR’s Business Leadership for an Inclusive Economy initiative, we are running an interview series with thought leaders from business, government, civil society, academia, and philanthropy. Their voices and perspectives will help deepen our conversation on how we can build a more inclusive economy and how business can most effectively contribute to that vision. We spoke to Clare Griffin, global head of corporate responsibility and reporting for GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), about access to medicine, creating good jobs, and building resilient health systems.

Racheal Meiers: What does an inclusive economy look like?

Clare Griffin: In an inclusive economy, businesses think about the value they create in terms of the interests of the wider, global society, as well as shareholders.

Put simply, businesses have the power to deliver commercial interests in support of creating shareholder value, while at the same time creating wider economic and social benefits.

Inclusive capitalism speaks to greater equality of access to goods and services. So, for a science-led global healthcare company like GSK, our main consideration is how to ensure all members of society—wherever they are in the world and whatever their ability to pay—have access to the pharmaceuticals, vaccines, and consumer health products they need. So, contributing to the health and well-being of an ever-growing world population is fundamental to achieving this vision of an inclusive economy.

Meiers: GSK has been around for a long time—are we talking about a long-held idea about businesses’ role in society, or is there something more urgent about this conversation today?

Griffin: It is both. Many companies have been considering their role in society for many years, and so yes, there is a danger that we’re just coming up with a new expression for an old idea. What is different today is that multilateral organizations are looking at ways to create a fair, just, and stable society within a context of pervasive inequality and at a time when greater transparency and inter-connectedness in the global economic system is making this inequality more visible. Currently, many of us are assessing how far the Millennium Development Goals have or haven’t been met, as we prepare for the launch of the Sustainable Development Goals. Key to this, of course, is examining how civil society, governments, and business are going to contribute—both individually and collectively.

Meiers: As a global healthcare company, what does GSK bring to realizing an inclusive economy?

Griffin: The biggest contribution we can make toward realizing an inclusive economy is to research, develop, and make affordable the medicines that everyone in the global economy needs. We are already doing this in part by making sure that we direct some of our research and development efforts to meet the needs of the poorest in society, by driving innovation for diseases of the developing world or by adapting existing products to meet their specific needs. We are also improving access to medicines through strategies that address affordability, such as tiered pricing, and building local capacity and supporting the training of healthcare workers.

As a company with more than 100,000 employees, we take a progressive approach to protecting the health and well-being of our people, too. Our groundbreaking global program, "Partnership for Prevention", is offering up to 40 preventative healthcare services, such as immunizations, cancer screenings, and routine preventive examinations, to employees and their families across all functions and all geographies at little or no cost as part of their benefits package. We believe we are the only multinational company to offer such benefits on this scale.

In addition, we have an opportunity to set the same expectations for quality jobs in our supply chain and with our business partners. For example, we’re investing £130 million in Africa and developing countries, in new and expanded manufacturing facilities, and creating significant good-quality employment in several countries. We are also an accredited living wage employer in the UK, and this commitment extends to contractors working through suppliers at GSK sites, too.

Meiers: Let’s talk a little bit more about access to medicines. This is an area of real leadership for GSK, given it has enjoyed top ranking in the  Access to Medicines Index four consecutive times. I know you’re taking a number of approaches that will be beneficial for others to hear about.

Griffin: There are three main areas of focus.

First, in R&D we are investing to meet the needs of patients in the developing world. One of our proudest achievements is our malaria vaccine candidate. After 30 years of research, we are seeing encouraging results, which means that when this vaccine is used with existing interventions, it will allow more children to survive the early years—the most dangerous time to be infected with malaria. 

More recently, we have been working closely with the World Health Organization, regulators, and other partners to respond to the Ebola crisis and to accelerate development of our investigational Ebola vaccine. This is in addition to GSK’s contribution to the overall humanitarian effort and ongoing efforts to strengthen the healthcare infrastructure in the most affected countries.

Other examples include investing  £25 million to create the world’s first Africa Open Lab for non-communicable disease research, where GSK scientists and external researchers will work together to improve the understanding of non-communicable disease variations in African patients.

Because we know we can’t find solutions on our own, we’ve invited key civil society partners to provide input to our R&D process—for example, Save the Children sits on our pediatric R&D board, to ensure that we are considering the needs of children in resource-poor settings.

Second, we’re working on pricing and affordability. We want our products to be accessible to as many people as possible. So, our “tiered pricing” approach enables us to offer our medicines and vaccines at prices that take into account economic factors in each country. We reserve our lower vaccine prices for Gavi, a global public-private vaccine partnership, to improve access to vaccines in the world’s poorest countries. In early 2015 we extended our price freeze commitment to 10 years for countries “graduating” from Gavi support as their economies develop. We also cap the prices of our patented medicines and vaccines in Least Developed Countries (LDCs) at 25 percent of prices charged in developed countries, as long as our manufacturing costs are covered, so we can sustain these prices in the long term.   

Third, we recognize that distribution is hard. Our approach is to identify barriers to availability in each market, and then, as a response, to focus resources on strengthening the healthcare systems accordingly. In partnership with local governments and NGO partners Amref Health Africa, CARE International, and Save the Children, we reinvest 20 percent of our profits we make in least developed countries to train frontline healthcare workers, thereby strengthening their healthcare structures. We’ve invested a total of more than £21 million since the reinvestment program began in 2009 and have trained 25,000 frontline health workers, serving more than 6.5 million people.

Another distribution challenge is around the “cold chain,” since most vaccines require refrigeration—a significant challenge in hot, remote, and resource-limited regions. So we are working in partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to conduct research in to making vaccines more resistant to heat.

Meiers: It’s clear that at GSK, you are really leading the way in striving to make your business practices and products more inclusive. How do you see BSR contributing to these efforts and helping to extend them?

Griffin: One key area is enabling collaboration. BSR is great at generating opportunities for collaboration both within and across sectors. As a result, you are able to accelerate the pace of change so lessons can be learned faster and progress made more quickly.

One specific area that is going to need work is establishing what a “good” job looks like. Then, once we know what it is, we will need to establish how to make sure those jobs are available to the people who need them. This is transferable knowledge that all companies irrespective of sector can benefit from.

Finally, more broadly, I think BSR can also add a lot of value by advocating for the positive role of business in creating an inclusive economy, specifically within the context of the Sustainable Development Goals.


Read perspectives on the inclusive economy from The Rockefeller Foundation’s Zia Khan and Western Union’s Talya Bosch. Join Griffin and speakers from BSR, DFID, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, Facebook, and Sodexo at the June 25 event "A Dialogue on Business Leadership for an Inclusive Economy" in London, and follow the conversation on Twitter at #BSRinclusion