Derek Yach: Health is a Leading Measure of Development Failure or Success


How one insurer is improving the health of customers in ways that drive profitability. (Photo: Shared Value Leadership Summit 2015)

Interview with Derek Yach, Chief Health Officer of Vitality, part of Discovery Ltd.

Good health yields high returns on investment – both from a human and economic perspective – because good health reduces poverty and supports economic development. With the UN’s adoption of the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the link between health and sustainable development is more relevant than ever.

Acting on the magnitude of the world’s global health and development challenges requires collaboration between many actors in society, including the private sector. To shed light on the role of healthcare companies, Novo Nordisk’s TBL Quarterly has asked Derek Yach of Discovery Ltd. how his company is contributing to sustainable development through their businesses and who they are collaborating with to improve health.

TBL QUARTERLY: What does sustainable development mean to you?

YACH: At its core, sustainable development refers to actions we take as a society to allow all people – born and yet to be born – to flourish and achieve their fullest potential.

What role does health have to play in sustainable development?

The centrality of health to sustainable development was recognized in the original drafting of the Commission on Sustainable Development back in 1992 which states that “human beings are at the center of concerns for sustainable development. They are entitled to a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature.” There have been many elaborations of this definition, including most recently in the Lancet Commission on Planetary Health. Health is a key contributor to the attainment of sustainable development and is also a leading measure of development failure or success.

Could you mention an example of an initiative that drives your business while also creating value to society?

Our Vitality program has a beguilingly simple goal: improve the health of members in ways that drives profitability for the company – and through that, greater investment in innovative and effective interventions – while providing measurable health gains for members and their families.

As members of our health and life insurance programs become engaged with interventions, they reduce their risks of developing chronic diseases and achieve higher levels of health. They experience a range of tangible and intangible rewards – from the absence of disease and increased longevity to lower insurance premiums – that together also lower the business costs. This allows for better member health to go hand in hand with profitability in a sustainable business model. We call this ‘shared value insurance’.

How do you as a private sector company work together with other actors in society?

We recognize the limits to individual behavior change in promoting health, and the need for complimentary environmental changes.

For that reason we work with schools across South Africa to improve the health of all children; with cities to better tackle many threats to health (Johannesburg being a first); with NGOs focused on promoting physical activity and healthy eating to expand messages and means to improving health in the USA, UK and South Africa; and with governments to find better ways of improving access to healthcare.

We know that when we combine forces with others focused on health, we have a better chance of achieving scale and sustainable impact as health becomes a desired norm.

What is needed for businesses to create greater health impacts in the future?

Businesses need to integrate sustainability into the core of their operations. One way we are doing this is by working with investors and stock exchanges to have the health of employees included in all integrated business reporting, including financial reports.

If all companies did this the same way they are increasingly reporting on environmental metrics, such as water use and carbon footprint, it would lead to greater value being placed on businesses’ most important resource: its human capital.

Read this interview and more in the latest issue of Novo Nordisk’s TBL Quarterly, which focuses on the SDGs that affect global health and health care. 

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