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Executive Perspectives

EXECUTIVE PERSPECTIVE: VP Lise Kingo from Novo Nordisk on What it takes to be resilient

Lise Kingo

23 Jan 2013

As always, there is an extensive agenda at the 2013 annual meeting of the World Economic Forum.   But whether were talking about the global, regional, industry or business agenda, the common theme is resilience – the urgent need to ensure our planet, systems and infrastructure can sustainably provide for future generations.

Fortunately, sustainability has made it to the top of corporate agendas. In my own company, we have been reporting on our sustainability performance since 1994. Our first environmental report was not only a first in Denmark, but also one of the first companies internationally to do so. Now, almost two decades later, it has become standard practice for companies to account for both their environmental and social impact of their business.  And performance evidences that significant progress is made.

But challenges and threats to global resilience persist. In my experience, this is not out of a lack of want to find solutions, but out of the complex, interconnected and interdependent world that these solutions must fit into. We all have an idea of the destination. What we need is the map. Or better yet, a guide.

At Novo Nordisk we manage our business in accordance with the Triple Bottom Line business principle. This principle combines three considerations – financial, social and environmental responsibility. It guides our decisions to ensure we pursue business solutions that maximise value to our stakeholders as well as our shareholders. It is more than just boldly stated words. It is at the core of our business, aligning challenges to our business with challenges faced by society. Call it business development or good corporate citizenship, when sustainability is guided by robust decision principles and stakeholder involvement, we as business leaders have the ability to transform markets, strengthen communities and gain long-term competitive advantage.

Let me give an example from my own company that sheds light on how we ensure resilience in the healthcare system while turning the challenge of our interconnected world into an opportunity.

I have visited many parts of the world and seen with my own eyes how health and development are two sides of the same coin. Type 2 diabetes is one of the unfortunate and unwanted consequences of social and economic transition, hitting hardest in low- and middle-income countries. Countries where healthcare systems do not have the capacity to deal with this change, threatening their resilience and increasing poverty for the individual, their families, communities and nations.

But when the health and well-being of a society is shared by a diverse group of stakeholders, decision-making is better informed and more options exist for testing policies. This has been our approach in Bangladesh, where access to healthcare is startlingly poor.

In a country of 149 million people there are only 43,500 physicians – 1 for every 3,400 people. With more than 12% of Bangladeshis living with pre-diabetes or diabetes, disease specific healthcare services are even scarcer. Only 58% of physicians in Bangladesh receive basic information about diabetes during their medical training, and only 24% are taught about diabetes management.

When Novo Nordisk entered the market, most of the doctors were reluctant to prescribe insulin due to lack of knowledge about insulin treatment and administration. In general, doctors receive only about five hours of diabetes training during their entire five-year course of medical study, underscoring an acute need for additional professional diabetes education.

The consequences are reflected in measures of health status that are unacceptable by any standard: low rates of people achieving diabetes treatment targets and high numbers of people living with diabetes related complications, and ultimately dying from them.

Taken as a whole, the resilience of the Bangladeshi healthcare system was under threat. Standing by and watching things fail was not an option, both from a socially and financially responsible perspective. If we were to demonstrate our commitment to patients and build a viable market, we had to make balanced Triple Bottom Line decisions.

We started by establishing partnerships with non-governmental organisations and local businesses with shared goals and a common vision to improve the diagnosis, awareness and treatment of diabetes. We put our support behind a distance learning programme to improve physician knowledge about diabetes and improve quality of care. To date, more than 4,500 physicians have completed the Certificate Course on Diabetology offered through the learning programme. For people living with diabetes, there has been a measurable improvement in quality of care and health status.

Looking at the sustainability of our own business, these improvements in education and care have helped us expand our market, strengthen stakeholder relationships and generate employee engagement. A true win-win-win for the Bangladeshi society, our local partners and Novo Nordisk.

As resilience takes centre stage this week in Davos, let’s remember that we all share the same planet – and challenges. None of us will escape their influence. We must defeat linear thinking and silo-based solutions, and if we are successful, together we have the potential to strengthen and ensure the capacity of our planet and all its inhabitants to thrive for many years to come.

Learn more about Novo Nordisk’s value creation business cases from the Blueprint for Change Programme

 Learn more about sustainability at Novo Nordisk

 About Novo Nordisk

Headquartered in Denmark, Novo Nordisk is a global healthcare company with 90 years of innovation and leadership in diabetes care. The company also has leading positions within haemophilia care, growth hormone therapy and hormone replacement therapy. For more information, visit

 Novo Nordisk strives to conduct its activities in a financially, environmentally and socially responsible way. The strategic commitment to corporate sustainability has brought the company onto centre stage as a leading player in today’s business environment, recognised for its integrated reporting, stakeholder engagement and consistently high sustainability performance. In 2013, Novo Nordisk received the Pharmaceuticals and Biotechnology industry group top ranking on Corporate Knight’s list of Global 100 Most Sustainable Corporations. Novo Nordisk is listed in the 2011/2012 Dow Jones Sustainability Indices with a gold class rating. For more information, visit

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