Novartis: Is ‘creating shared value’ a sham ?

There’s good reason for me to consider Novartis as a business with some social benefit.  Going back to 1999 they’d come to my assistance when I’d sought help for a woman in Russia with a diabetic complication who was at risk of losing a leg.

Through their offices in Italy, they’s shipped 6 months supply to Lyubov in Novosibirsk at no cost to either of us and the following year, she’d written to me overjoyed at breaking her leg. Her joy was founded  in having a leg to break rather than it being amputated a year earlier.

A decade later , my own life became dependent on Novartis  and their products. First Gleevec and now Tasigna, both treatments for chronic myeloid leukeamia.

In February last year, as the N.I.C.E approved Tasniga as an NHS treatment I was reading a Polly Tonybee article while sitting in the waiting room of the Edward Jenner unit at GRH.  The article revealed how many of these treatments were set their price tag just below the N.I.C.E threshold

A dew weeks later, the Guardian would publish an article which endorsed the social commitment Novartis was making under the banner of Creating Shared Value, which advocates the application of business to solve social problems.

For me, this is a matter of considerable interest, since we’d been one of the pioneers of business with a primary social purpose,  as I’d described in my own article on ‘Changing Capitalism for People and Planet‘   I’d offered it to the Guardian sustainable business editor in 2011.

A couple of years before diagnosis, I’d had the opportunity to visit Novartis near Warrington when Serco, one of the customers for the software which creates our own revenue invited me to meet with Novartis staff.  An invitation which ended up as an expense, since our product was not entirely what was wanted.

A few months after the Novartis article, the author then suggested that corporations could profit by solving social problems and to me this underlined the difference between the ‘shared value’ concept and that of a social purpose business.   The gist of my comment on this article was that the latter was about deploying profit for social purpose rather than creating profit from a social purpose.    I cited the example of our strategy paper from 5 years earlier proposing a business strategy with the primary focus of childcare reform – removing all Ukraine’s children from insititutional neglect

As one may see, this  comment was deleted and I’ve since been blocked from further comment, which led me to ask if Mark Kramer or perhaps the Guardian is afraid of open conversation.  The experience brought to mind the words of Kipling:

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build’em up with worn-out tools;

Commenting recently on the diplomatic spat that began just before Christmas,  with Russia’s orphans taking the role of the proverbial football, I desctibe how this actually was something my colleague gave his life to, as one of around 50 million Americans for whom health insurance is unaffordable.

Novartis may well be doing some good for humanity, but it comes at considerable cost to the taxpayer who foots the NHS bill for treatment which costs more than my total income. As the NHS shifts increasingly toward privatisation, it may well place those whose life depends on this level of expenditure in the same position as my American colleague.

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