By Mary Linda Andrews
Businesses play a vital role in the welfare of the community, impacting the lives of employees, customers, investors and countless others. Conversely, the health of all these stakeholders has a direct impact on a company’s success. Challenges to the health of a community threaten the very well-being of a company. To identify the most effective strategies for a positive impact, companies can align their efforts with those who serve communities every day – local nonprofit organizations.
The factors that influence our health often lie outside the walls of doctors’ offices and hospitals. In fact, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin, 80 percent of our health is influenced by outside factors. Our well-being is shaped by the communities in which we live, work and play. Safety, access to nutritious foods and recreational areas, social support and education all contribute to our health.
In 2012, GSK launched a national initiative to better understand the connections between our health and our community in order to identify opportunities to build healthier communities. Through a national survey, we learned that Americans attribute a variety of factors to their health and well-being, including parks, education and healthy food options. However, those Americans who valued these factors the most as healthy influences had the least access to them.
To learn how to best build and sustain healthy communities, GSK organized a series of town hall meetings across three cities – Philadelphia, St. Louis and Denver. While the conversations varied from city to city, they highlighted the importance of evidence-based decision-making, collaboration with community partners, broad engagement and long-term commitment.
The knowledge from research and conversations influenced GSK’s philanthropic approach to improving access to healthcare, an approach focused on addressing the full spectrum of factors that affect health through community partnerships. The company’s philanthropic initiatives include a variety of charitable grants, awards and scholarships, from those that build the capacity of outstanding nonprofit programs dedicated to improving lives through education, health, local arts and civic programs, to those that support networks of nonprofits working together to foster young leaders and achieve greater collective impact. In particular, GSK’s strategy of collaboration has built one of the company’s most impactful and wide-reaching U.S. programs – GSK Science in the Summer™.
Three decades ago, a GSK scientist saw a need for Philadelphia students to learn basic scientific concepts in an engaging way. She gathered extra lab supplies and recruited colleagues to teach young students in her community for free. In the spirit of collaboration, GSK invested in the program and expanded it to children throughout the Greater Philadelphia area and, eventually, to students at sites around the country.
Since its beginnings as a measure to address a community need, GSK Science in the Summer has expanded to bring free hands-on science courses to 125,000 elementary-aged students in the Philadelphia area alone. For the first time in 2015, GSK launched a national pilot program for GSK Science in the Summer this summer at sites in Alabama, Florida, Indiana, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Tennessee.
GSK Science in the Summer would not be as successful without support from the community. In Philadelphia, the program is administered by renowned science education center, the Franklin Institute, taught by dozens of local teachers and hosted at nearly 120 area libraries. The program provides participating libraries with free science books so that children can continue to learn even when Science in the Summer classes have ended.
Nationally, GSK has partnered with the American Association for the Advancement of Science and 12 science centers and museums across the country to connect a record number of students to free science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) courses. Science centers, museums, libraries, community centers, Boys and Girls Clubs and homeless groups have all joined forces in 2015 to multiply GSK Science in the Summer’s reach and bring free STEM courses to students without access to quality educational opportunities. GSK will reach 15,000 youth nation-wide in 2015.
Programs like GSK Science in the Summer are part of GSK’s global commitment to invest time, financial support and volunteers in the effort to provide students of all backgrounds access to a quality education and engage 2.5 million young people in STEM learning in the next five years – a mission critical to the health of our communities as well as that of the entire country.
Summer and STEM learning in children’s elementary years has a significant impact on their future academic achievements. According to the National Dropout Prevention Center, STEM learning among elementary and high school students is essential to the long-term stability of the United States economy. The center argues that STEM learning promotes the “natural curiosity and innovation of students,” which helps to engage and encourage students to remain in school.
Engaging students in STEM learning is essential to the long-term health of our communities and our country. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the U.S. economy will add 9 million STEM jobs between 2012 and 2022. Yet the U.S. Department of Education found that only 16 percent of U.S. high school seniors are proficient in mathematics and considering pursuing a career in STEM. Even among the few who choose to major in STEM fields, only about half choose to work in a related career. This begs the question, who will fill the growing number of STEM jobs so critical to the health of our society?
The students whose academic paths are being shaped by educational opportunities today are the solution. It is a top priority for us to help ensure that youth are exposed to science in everyday life, complete high school and are encouraged to pursue STEM fields. In partnership with its communities through a collective impact model, GSK is working to foster the next generation of world-class scientists and researchers to ensure a healthy future for our society.
Just as companies can partner with communities, nonprofits can seek corporate partners whose mission and values aligns with their own. Four years ago, more than one in five companies had reported developing corporate social responsibility plans to outline their philanthropic focus. Across the county, corporations are considering effective strategies for investing in communities. Often ingrained in the communities they serve, nonprofits can offer their expertise by showing what strategies work in impacting people’s lives as evidence by case studies and data analysis. Whether through grants or program support, nonprofits can build a relationship with corporations, each partner offering unique assets and skills so that, together, they can accomplish their goals of fostering healthier communities.
Mary Linda Andrews is Director of Community Partnerships at GSK, one of the world’s leading research-based pharmaceutical and healthcare companies.
 http://www.countyhealthrankings.org/roadmaps/what-works-for-health  http://us.gsk.com/en-us/media/press-releases/2013/americans-rate-themselves-and-their-communities-as-healthy-despite-research-showing-the-opposite/  http://www.nayre.org/PDFs/Summer_Learning_Gap.pdf  http://www.clemson.edu/hehd/stem/making-the-connection/stem-newsletter.pdf  http://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/2013/article/occupational-employment-projections-to-2022.htm  http://www.ed.gov/stem  https://www.pwc.com/ca/en/private-company/our-approach/publications/pulse-survey-2011-04-en.pdf