The ROI of Gratitude: Two Biotechs Getting It Right

The ROI of Gratitude: Two Biotechs Getting It Right July 14, 2016 (Last Updated: September 20 at 12:36 a.m. PT)
By Mark Terry for

Although plenty has been said about corporate greed and the bottom line in the last few years, especially during this presidential election cycle, not much attention has been paid to companies that “give back” and have created a culture of gratitude and commitment to the greater good. Two of the top life science companies, Genentech and Novo Nordisk , are both noted for their culture of giving. BioSpace sat down with two directors of the companies to discuss how and why they support their communities and the general public.


Genentech 's headquarters is located in South San Francisco (SSF), which is known as the "birthplace of biotechnology." "The City of South San Francisco is the largest biotech center in the world," Alex Greenwood, Director of Economic & Community Development told BioSpace. "SSF has more life science employees, more patents, more Venture Capital funding, more NIH funding, and more drugs actually developed – than any other city in the world."



Genentech’s community employee giving program has a number of facets, often based on educational opportunities locally. One of the prime example is Futurelab, which is several Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) educational programs, mentorships and a science competition for South San Francisco schools.

These include Gene Academy for third through fifth grade, the Helix Cup for grades six through eight, and Science Garage for grades nine through twelve. Kristin Campbell Reed, Director of Corporate and Employee Giving at Genentech, says, “Futurelab is our multi-year partnership with the city of South San Francisco and the schools of South San Francisco to make science fun and accessible. It is committed to making hands-on science opportunities for students.”

Gene Academy is basically a mentoring program on-site at Genentech, with 170 third-through-fifth-graders matched with two employee mentors. The program’s goal is to have the children with the same employee mentors for the same school year, but increasingly the kids have the same mentor or pair of mentors for all three years. Reed says, “It’s all about making learning fun and providing help with homework. And about 50 percent of the sessions are focused on hands-on experiments that they actually do at Gene Academy. So they build a hovercraft and they blow up things on the lawn or do bubble experiments. It’s kind of a chaotic, beautiful, amazing learning situation where 170 kids are doing all these amazing science projects.”





The middle school level program is the Helix Cup, which is a science competition. Each year more than 600 kids participate on problem-solving challenges, teamwork, resilience and communication. Most of the challenges take place at the schools, but the finale, about nine teams with a total of about 30 kids, is at Genentech headquarters. Reed says, “They get a mini science lessons, then are given a challenge. They have no idea when they’re walking through the door what it will be. Things like designing a control-release medicine that will release different color dye tabs in a precise timeline in huge vats of water have been set up. It’s high on theatricality so it’s fun for the crowds, too. Kind of an Iron Chef, Top Chef kind of cool science competition.”

And at the high school level, the Science Garage focuses on competence. It’s essentially a two-year long optional science lab course created in conjunction with the San Francisco schools and with Genentech that was approved by the state of California. Genentech is also building a 6,900-square-feet state-of-the-art biotech teaching facility on the campus of South San Francisco High School.

Those programs are notable for their community give-back, but they’re only part of the company’s visible gratitude programs. Another is "Genentech Gives Back Week." In two days, almost 5,000 employees volunteer, primarily in the Bay Area, but also across the country for a wide range of causes and organizations.





And Genentech also has national and local grants, patient support groups, patient education, and clinical best practice programs that are part of its corporate giving. The employee matching program, as well, is notable. Reed says, “We will match $2,000 per employee per year for any charitable cause an employee is really passionate about. They’re very flexible about supporting the causes and caring about the causes our employees care about. We are on track to hit $3.8 million in matching donations. That program has grown every year.”

Reed notes that Genentech is a very “mission driven organization and our more than 14,000 employees work every day with the goal of helping patients with serious disease. People here are incredibly passionate about that. I would say that the culture of giving is consistent with a very mission-focused company, but giving back is broader that that. We feel very strong about that. I think that giving back has always been part of Genentech’s culture since our founding.”

Novo Nordisk

Novo Nordisk , with headquarters in Bagsvaerd, Denmark and U.S. headquarters in Plainsboro, New Jersey, is notable in the area of corporate gratitude and good citizenship because it’s built into the company’s business model—known as the Triple Bottom Line, or TBL. Diane Blankman, Senior Director of Corporate Giving and Social Impact for Novo Nordisk USA, says, “We’re only one in a handful of companies in the world that have this Triple Bottom Line principle actually made into our company bylaws. Essentially what it means is we take the three pillars—the financial, the social and the environment—those concerns, into every component of our decision making. And I think it’s very clear that the management of our company believes the economy and a healthy society are very much interrelated.”





Blankman indicates that the company has “a very robust corporate giving program here. What we mean by that is a big piece of it is financial contribution, but equally important is the employee contributions.”

To that end, toward the end of last year, Novo Nordisk rolled out an internal portal called Changing Our Communities, which, says Blankman, “is really all sorts of things for employees to get involved. On one hand it’s financial, so it encompasses our matching gift program. We rolled out a new programmed called Grants For Good, which is sort of a reward for service volunteer time.”

An example is that if an employee volunteers for 25 hours or more throughout the year for a charitable organization, Novo Nordisk makes a charitable donation to that organization in the employee’s name. The portal also gives employees the opportunity to search for volunteer projects on behalf of the company or things they may want to do individually.

Another program that was launched this year is a board service program for senior leaders. “It’s really a matching program for senior leaders,” says Blankman, “matching their skills and expertise and matching them with open spots on nonprofit boards.”

And later this year the company is rolling out its first ever companywide Day of Service in the U.S. Novo Nordisk will be working with an organization, Stop Hunger Now, and will be putting together nutritious meals for the needy.





Another program is Novo Nordisk’s Community Health Collaboratives. One example is in Trenton, New Jersey, which is working with nine or ten partners, some national, some local, to address childhood obesity in children and early onset diabetes. It’s just starting its second year and is focused on third-grade children. Blankman says, “After a community needs assessment, we set it up as a collective impact model. The hope is that in the next year or so, if we start to see some good metrics, it’s a model we can take to other cities around the country.”

The program provides grants to local 501c3 organizations that are working on innovative, community-based approaches to improving urban health and wellness. In 2014 and 2015, grants went to a number of organizations, including the Boys & Girl’s Club of Trenton and Mercer County’s Triple Play - Eat Right, Live Right, Move Right, The College of New Jersey Foundation’s SNACK Smart Nutrition and Conditioning for Kids, Isles of Trenton’s Clean and Green, and several others.

As noted earlier, the TBL not only focuses on financial and social pillars, it also focuses on the environment. To that end, starting in 2003, the company began to shape a strategic response to climate change. In January 2006, the company joined WWF Climate Savers Programme, which involves a commitment to restructure its energy consumption by 2014. And last year it set a goal to only use electricity from renewable sources at all its global production sites by 2020.

To date, Novo Nordisk has switched to renewable power at sites in Denmark, China, Brazil and Japan. It signed an agreement to buy electricity from a wind farm in Inner Mongolia for its production site in Tianjin, China, and expects similar agreements in the U.S., France, Russia, and Algeria.

Blankman says that in the U.S., there is a fleet program for employees in the field using fuel efficient cars, as well.

Perhaps one reason Novo Nordisk has such a community service focus is that its biggest shareholder is the Novo Nordisk Foundation, whose objective, according to its website, “is to provide a stable basis for the commercial and research activities of Novo Nordisk and support scientific, humanitarian and social purposes.”

Although undoubtedly a factor, good corporate citizenship seems embedded in Novo Nordisk’s DNA.

“I’ve done this role in a few other companies,” says Blankman, “and Novo Nordisk is a company that truly walks the talk. We’re majority owned by a foundation and the foundation was set up many years ago to enhance or work on scientific issues and causes. But it was also set up to really make a difference in the humanitarian and social realm. I think for our company, the position is truly to put ourselves out of business and cure diabetes. Many of the programs we offer, that we sponsor, whether contributing financially or developing programs, that sort of service interest to the people and communities that are affected are really at the heart of what we’re about. It’s very much part of our culture. It’s not just about making money, it’s about defeating chronic diseases and making sure we’re good citizens.”








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