Opinion: Innovation, accountability, and learning to achieve a better world

Health workers attend to a pregnant woman. Photo by: Johnson & Johnson

The opening of the United Nations General Assembly in New York every year is an important opportunity to take stock of progress made toward the Sustainable Development Goals and take a holistic look at what’s still needed to achieve the equitable, healthy world we know is possible. Most of all, it’s a time for all stakeholders — from civil society, government, and the private sector — to step up and do our part to achieve that vision and hold ourselves accountable to commitments. We must also use this time to evaluate and actively learn from our efforts and the efforts of others.

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The private sector is often asked to provide funding toward these efforts. Funding is certainly an important factor, but achieving the SDGs will require more. The private sector must go beyond philanthropy, exploring innovative ways of making an impact. With this new, dynamic way of working comes a new paradigm for using evaluation in the private sector. Of course, we need to continue to evaluate for accountability, in order to understand whether our initiatives are meeting their goals. We must also remember that evaluation is a tool to understand what worked best, for whom it worked, and how we can continue to iterate to create impact.    

This is where old paradigms are breaking, particularly when it comes to how the private sector uses monitoring and evaluation.  

Evaluation as a catalyst for quality programming

When exploring new models, the private sector must embrace a new way of using evaluation — one that is embedded from the beginning, is flexible and dynamic, and allows us to answer some key questions along the way.

“The private sector must go beyond philanthropy, exploring innovative ways of making an impact. With this new, dynamic way of working comes a new paradigm for using evaluation in the private sector.”

— Lauren Moore, vice president, Global Community Impact at Johnson & Johnson

The GenH Challenge, the competition Johnson & Johnson recently announced in an effort to unearth everyday solutions to pressing health challenges, provides an example. While competitions in and of themselves are not new, the GenH Challenge was designed with a different lens. First, we’re inviting a diverse group of applicants across sectors, for example, nongovernmental organizations and social businesses. Each team entering must include a representative from the frontlines of delivering care in low-resource settings. The review process includes input from fellow competitors, rather than waiting until the end for a panel of judges to rule. And in addition to competing for a cash prize, finalists will also receive technical support from Johnson & Johnson employees and other experts.

Right from the beginning, evaluation questions are being asked. Is the competition format yielding a solid pipeline of innovative ideas? What knowledge and practical advice are applicants gaining from the experience of applying? What about those who don’t make the cut — was it a valuable experience for them?

This involves investing time and financial support to understand the value of the whole approach rather than focusing only on what the competition yields in the end. What Johnson & Johnson learns from evaluating this process will help us and others to design future competitions with more far-reaching impact.

Evaluation as a catalyst

Applying new evaluation lenses to other tools that the private sector uses to generate social impact can spark connections between companies and global movements, including the SDGs. For example, Johnson & Johnson has increased its focus on skills-based employee volunteerism and is measuring the contribution that employees bring to the community and to the company. While companies are starting to evaluate impact of these programs — often following frameworks set forth by groups such as Taproot — there is a movement to better connect these efforts to the SDGs — a connection that ultimately can accelerate progress by bringing untapped talent to the table. IMPACT2030 is a global, private sector-led collaboration to mobilize employee volunteerism to advance the SDGs. Integral to their agenda is developing open-source measurement frameworks and tools attempting to measure the contribution of employee volunteerism to the SDGs.

Lauren Moore meets with young leaders at the Youth Zone at the Women Deliver Conference 2016 in Copenhagen. Photo by: Johnson & Johnson

Evaluation as a unifier

Products are another obvious asset that the private sector mobilizes to advance the SDGs. For decades, companies have donated their products to those in need around the world. Over the years, donations in the health care sector have become more strategic, going beyond addressing, for example, the immediate needs individuals face as a result of disasters or refugee crises, to the more proactive strengthening of health systems or addressing specific diseases.

Q&A: Perceptions, misconceptions, and the private sector’s role in fragile settings

Fragile states and areas affected by crises require different approaches when it comes to delivering health care solutions. Speaking to Devex, Joy Marini of Johnson & Johnson explains where the private sector comes in, why there’s a need to look through a different lens, and why the international community can — and should — step in to support the 1.6 billion people living in fragile settings.  

A unifying voice for this work has been the Partnership for Quality Medical Donations, a global alliance seeking to enhance access to health care in underserved communities and areas affected by disaster. To address the need for a common understanding of how to measure and evaluate these efforts, PQMD recently convened a multidisciplinary group of evaluation experts from across the nongovernmental, private, and academic sectors. This group aims to align on an evaluation framework that acknowledges the evolution of medical donation programs and the diversity of efforts, while providing a common language for companies when it comes to evaluating their medical donations programs.

The private sector is uniquely positioned to pursue innovation and continuous learning to achieve the SDGs. On the whole, the sector brings an array of skills and assets — for example, research, development, products, and strategic planning — to advance the SDGs, and there is a strong desire to measure activities and use data for making decisions. This is a recipe for results.

In this new era of innovation to achieve the SDGs, we can help lead a sea-change in the way we use monitoring and evaluation. It’s time to use these tools in new and different ways to help achieve the world we know is possible.    

To learn more about Johnson & Johnson’s Commitment to accelerating progress toward the SDGs, click here.

The views in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect Devex's editorial views.

About the author

  • Lauren Moore

    Lauren Moore joined Johnson & Johnson in October 2015, in the global role of vice president of corporate citizenship, which was renamed global community impact in 2016. Lauren is responsible for driving strategy development and implementation of the company’s social impact work, corporate citizenship and strategic philanthropy. Lauren also oversees the J&J Patient Assistance Foundation and the Johnson & Johnson Corporate Citizenship Trust in the United Kingdom.