Q&A: For SDG success, we need a bigger table

Michael Bzdak congratulates graduates from the Alliance Building & Training Session hosted by Bridge to Employment, a collaboration with FHI 360 and Johnson & Johnson to empower the next generation of health leaders worldwide. Photo by: Johnson & Johnson

In the two years since the Sustainable Development Goals have come into play, there has been a steady increase in private sector involvement. To push forward in eliminating extreme poverty, combating climate change, and tackling gender equality, new partnerships and commitments at a larger scale are needed among all sectors.

Michael Bzdak, global director of employee engagement at Global Community Impact at Johnson & Johnson, believes nongovernmental organizations are well-positioned to turn up their advocacy efforts, and get the right players to the table in making and following through on new commitments and partnerships. Bzdak underscored how working with NGO partners encourages more businesses to take action, commit resources, and engage employees — especially youth — to be drivers of change.

“We're looking to our partners to bring us and our peers to the table, in order to scope projects together that best support people on the frontlines of care. Projects where we can plug in resources, our employees can lend their resolve to make meaningful differences, and where together we can leverage collective skill, competency, and passion to solve real-world problems affecting communities.” he said.

Global Goals Week

Devex was on the ground in New York at Global Goals Week, bringing you everything you needed to know on the events. You can see all of the week’s coverage on our site.

Speaking to Devex during Global Goals Week in New York, Bzdak explained why more private sector players should be dedicating resources to achieving the SDGs, and why the power of young people worldwide must be harnessed.

Below are highlights from the conversation, edited for length and clarity.

In the context of achieving the SDGs, what does it mean to be a “changemaker?”

Being a changemaker means being on the frontlines of advocacy. It means being willing to be generous and collaborative where you have a point of view, and being eager to bring others together for action around the cause.

At Johnson & Johnson Global Community Impact, we’ve announced a number of new initiatives around supporting people on the frontlines of care. Our latest initiative is the GenH Challenge, a prize competition seeking new solutions for the SDGs, and open to anyone in the world to offer an idea that can help those on the frontlines be more efficient or effective in their work. And that's a first for Johnson & Johnson — to focus our innovation and dedication to the frontlines together in one challenge. We’ve committed ourselves as a global company to partner directly with local NGOs, health workers, and entrepreneurs, because we believe it’s the everyday idea that can create lasting change. It’s these changemakers from the frontlines that we’re eager to partner and pair with our resources to see new solutions come to life.  

Michael Bzdak celebrates the 25th Anniversary of Bridge to Employment with BTE Panama alumni. Photo by: Johnson & Johnson

Johnson & Johnson is doing a lot of work with young people. How do they feed into your commitment and why do you believe it’s important to invest in the next generation of health workers?

That’s right, we work with young people individually through programs where our employees can act as mentors and partners, and we also champion young leaders in partnership with NGOs who specialize in youth empowerment and development. Particularly for our more direct employee engagement programs, Johnson & Johnson employees are modelling for mentees they are paired with the behaviors that are expected in the workforce. This year, our Bridge to Employment program celebrated 25 years of doing just that. Through programs like BTE, we try to inculcate an understanding of soft skills, which although hard to measure are necessary for young people to find success in the workforce of tomorrow. There's been a lot of research done on how developing those skills, like communication and teamwork, can lead to career success, and we take that seriously. It has shaped the design of a lot of our interventions around those skills, and informed how we can help deliver those skills to youth.

Ultimately, we are putting an emphasis on STEM careers, building a pipeline from the early teens through higher education and into the workforce. We are taking concrete steps to support young people, particularly girls, of all ages to pursue STEM by launching the WiSTEM2D program, expanding our approach to include women in science, technology, engineering, math, manufacturing, and design. There are two things happening today that make this critical: a global youth unemployment crisis and a shortage of health care workers. If we can figure out how to match the surplus of youth workers with the deficit of health workers globally, I think we’ll see great impact created on the frontlines over the next few years.

“It's an opportune time for the NGO community to step up and to catalyze efforts that bring more people to the table.”

 Michael Bzdak, global director of employee engagement at Global Community Impact, Johnson & Johnson

You’ll see some of this in action in October at the One Young World Conference in Bogotá, Colombia. Johnson & Johnson is proud to partner once again with One Young World in convening this exemplary group of young changemakers from around the world who are all poised and ready to lead. It’s this generation of thinkers, doers, and dreamers that we’re excited to inspire, as we seek to engage new minds and tap into their potential to be the strongest workforce for good yet. It’ll be, truly, a workforce of changemakers.

Of course, we also want a smart workforce and well-trained health workers out there because our business relies upon them. By going to the frontlines of care to implement our programs and partnerships, we’re committing in a big way to match our innovations, our employees, and the best of our work with the best of social good.

Companies in the technology industry pioneered this effort around training youth. Cisco, IBM and Microsoft saw the value in doing that, and it's critical value because it's social value as well as business value.

Michael Bzdak works with Women Deliver Young Leaders on developing soft skills for career success at the Youth Zone at the 2016 Women Deliver Conference. Photo by: Johnson & Johnson

Going forward, what is the next frontier for Johnson & Johnson in taking on some of the biggest challenges in health, and how key are young people within those?

We’re eager to bring our business into play to help champion youth as together we solve global health challenges. We've seen great impact in our philanthropy and social responsibility work to date, yet even though we’ve figured out ways of unleashing our employees’ passions, competencies, and intellectual prowess for good, we still have a long way to go in trying to marshal all of the company’s resources. And we don’t just mean philanthropy — the future of how we bring our resources to bear also includes our employees’ ideas and innovations, our supply chains, our business acumen, and so forth. That's a huge and relatively new area of opportunity, because companies like Johnson & Johnson have enormous global footprints that can be unlocked for social and environmental impact. I see our next challenge as trying to get everybody moving in the same direction around measurable health impact and opportunities to go beyond a traditional philanthropic grantmaking model to maximize our whole potential for good as a company.

Off the back of Global Goals Week and the United Nations General Assembly, what’s your key message for the global development and global health communities?

We’ve all done a good job talking about the SDGs in these first couple of years, but I think we need to ramp up both our communication with people outside of the traditional global health community, and redouble our efforts to secure more commitments, at larger scale, and among all sectors. Time is moving fast, and we need a greater sense of urgency. Rather than stepping back and celebrating any incremental victories we have, we need to make more noise and get more people to the table for larger scale collaboration.

Frankly, we also need new players to come and join us and the global health NGO community at the table. I think up to this point it's been a tremendous undertaking that private funders, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, some corporations, some governments, etc. have driven toward the progress we have achieved. But NGOs have learned a lot in the past 50 years around community-based leadership and they’ve helped us learn a lot about investing in local leaders and local ideas for local solutions. I think they now have the opportunity and credibility to come to funding organizations, advise us on where best we invest our people and our resources, and also to bring new partners to the table for new commitments. That’s the kind of leadership the global health sector needs, and the kind of collaboration that will make truly sustainable impact for communities, through those on the frontlines of care.

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

About the author

  • D logo

    Devex Editor

    Thanks for reading and for your interest in Devex. Sponsored content is produced in collaboration between Devex’s partnerships editorial team and our partners to promote a partner’s work or perspective on a particular issue. It gives actors across the global development sector — including nongovernmental organizations, private sector stakeholders, aid agencies and government institutions — the opportunity to go beyond traditional advertising and tell their stories in an impactful way. If you'd like to learn more about how you can shine a spotlight on a particular issue with Devex, please email advertising@devex.com. We look forward to hearing from you.