Profile: When Good Health Is Good Business; June 1999; Scientific American Magazine; by Nemecek; 2 Page(s)
When Gro Harlem Brundtland began her term as the new director general of the World Health Organization (WHO) last July, she put forward an extraordinarily ambitious agenda for the agency: "We can combat ill health. We can do our part to combat poverty and suffering. Nothing in life-as I see it-has more meaning." The sentiment may sound like that of a naive idealist trying to save the world. But don't wait for Brundtland's speech about how noble it is to help those who are less fortunate. She would much prefer to discuss how she plans to get the job done: follow the money.
I'm scheduled to meet Brundtland at the headquarters of WHO in Geneva, a city with gorgeous views of the Alps and scores of jewelry stores, chocolate shops and, of course, Swiss banks. Despite this affluence, though, Geneva is also a city for the impoverished and suffering. In addition to WHO, numerous international relief agencies are based here, including the International Committee of the Red Cross and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. This juxtaposition fits Brundtland's plans quite nicely. As she sees it, money invested in improving the plight of the world's poor is important for more than just humanitarian reasons-it's also good for business. She's taking this argument around the world, trying to convince governments and corporations that initiatives such as childhood vaccination programs can cut costs.