SDG 3: Good Health and Well-being

We caught up with Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the largest philanthropy in the US focused exclusively on health, to deep dive into SDG 3

In an interview by email, B Lab Global spoke with Shuma Panse, a senior program officer at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), the largest philanthropy in the United States focused exclusively on health, about Goal 3: Good Health & Wellbeing.

Ms. Panse works across two grant-making areas: engaging private sector leaders to improve health outcomes for people and communities, and identifying innovative solutions and ideas from abroad that can be adapted to the U.S. context. In 2018, RWJF joined a coalition of philanthropic partners to support the development and launch of the SDG Action Manager. Rooted in equity, RWJF’s framework for building a “Culture of Health” expands the concept of health and wellbeing beyond traditional definitions, in many ways mirroring the holistic nature of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Can you explain the concept of health equity to those who might not be aware of its meaning? And, how are health equity and the SDGs connected?

At RWJF we define health equity to mean that everyone has a fair and just opportunity to be as healthy as possible. Central to this is the idea that people need different things (e.g. supports, policies, programs) to realize good health, and that a ‘one size fits all’ approach is not enough. This graphic (below) conveys the idea simply: we can’t expect everyone to be able to ride the same bike.

Another important point related to health equity is that advancing it requires removing obstacles to good health, which include lack of access to things like good jobs with fair pay, quality education and housing, safe environments and healthcare. This requires recognition of the fact that health is deeply interconnected to many other issues, often referred to as the ‘social determinants of health’. So, by addressing, for example, housing we can improve health outcomes. By improving things like public infrastructure, we can promote good health in communities. And - particularly in the U.S. context - it’s only by dismantling structural racism which is a key driver of health outcomes, that we can make true progress.

This idea of interconnectedness is, of course, also central to the SDGs! SDG 3 and the others are all interrelated and holistic and, in that sense, we see the work Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is trying to advance in the U.S. as linked to the larger global SDG agenda and the promise to ‘leave no one behind’.

How can businesses play a role in advancing health equity and supporting the health and well-being of their workers, especially now during COVID-19? 

First and foremost, businesses have a responsibility to ensure the well-being of their workers and can do so by ensuring they offer health-promoting policies (e.g. paid parental leave, paid sick leave, living wage, etc.). There are companies leading the way in developing these policies. JUST Capital’s newly released rankings of the Top 100 Companies Supporting Healthy Families and Communities - supported by RWJF - lift up such leaders, evaluated on their performance on everything from benefits to work-life balance to climate change to worker health and safety. Importantly, any efforts that companies undertake to support workers should ideally be developed in partnership with workers themselves. The imperative to act has only increased in the past 18 months with the COVID-19 pandemic and the racial justice movement in the U.S., both of which have shed a light on long-standing workplace inequities, particularly for workers of color.

I’ll also add that there’s a role for business to play beyond the workplace. A helpful way to think about this is through John Quelch’s ‘4 pillars’: employee health (worker health and safety), community health (supporting the conditions for good health in the location of operation), consumer health (healthy products and services), and environmental health (impact on the environment).

How does RWJF advance the concept of good health and wellbeing related to business? Could you provide any examples?

One recent partnership we’ve been involved with is the Health Action Alliance, which has brought together top companies to: promote COVID-19 prevention and vaccine acceptance; restore trust in science and strengthen public health; and advance health equity by addressing the needs of disproportionately affected communities. RWJF is one of 5 founding partners, alongside the Business Roundtable, the Ad Council, CDC Foundation and the de Beaumont Foundation.

Another area we are supporting is small businesses, which have been particularly hard-hit by the pandemic. Reimagine Main Street, led by Public Private Strategies, is one such example: a multi-stakeholder, cross-sector network of leaders focused on ensuring that small business owners and the people who work for them are at the center of COVID-19 recovery.

We are also trying to make it easier for companies to identify and report on which of their key business practices have the most influence on health equity. To that end, we’ve supported the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) in the development of the Culture of Health for Business Framework. The Framework even recently received an honorable mention in FastCompany’s World Changing Ideas Awards in 2020.

Finally, we want to encourage businesses to be future thinking when it comes to health. We're currently curating a series with Fast Company to look at how emerging trends will affect the health of our country's workers and workplaces of the future.

Why did you decide to support B Lab in the development of the SDG Action Manager?

Several years ago, through our Pioneering Ideas for an Equitable Future portfolio, we supported the inclusion of health and safety metrics into the B Corps certification process. So RWJF’s partnership with B Lab and your impact management efforts are not new to us. The opportunity to help support the development of the SDG Action Manager to help companies assess, compare and improve their performance against aspects of the SDGs is a natural extension of this partnership. Additionally, our global learning team, which I happen to sit on, is interested in how companies can share lessons and insights on applying the SDG framework across borders, including in the U.S.

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