By: Meghan Ennes | Manager, Digital Communications at Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship | July 7th, 2014

Even after two decades of diabetes work in China, Novo Nordisk is still learning new lessons. Last week I spoke with Ole Kjerkegaard Nielsen, who runs their Blueprint for Change program and recently summarized Novo’s experience (and results) in China here on sharedvalue.org.

Owned by a foundation, the global healthcare company’s profits have been funneled into diabetes care right from the start. "It's written into the bylaws that we need to have a triple bottom line," says Nielsen. Novo Nordisk’s leaders had this goal in mind when they were the first pharmaceutical company to enter China in 1994. They knew that China's starch-heavy eating lifestyle made this market diabetes-prone and worked with the Chinese government to build clusters, write memorandums, and discover more about how to alleviate the impending problem.

Throughout, Novo was dedicated to measuring the results of their progress, an area where we know that you as a shared value community have struggled. Nielsen’s Blueprint for Change—which aims to better understand the drivers of social and business value—has overseen six case studies outlining the results of their work in both diabetes care and climate change. He told me that with measurement, it’s the process itself that helped Novo Nordisk to understand what works. “It's a journey,” he said. “You start measuring; and the more you understand, the more you are able to articulate and optimize the value creation.” In China they reported numbers on the doctors they trained and the lives they saved right alongside sales and market share.

Even with their ongoing evaluation of success, Nielson is quick to point out that their goals are long-term. After ten years’ work in China and 140,000 life years saved, he says there’s “no way” they’re there yet. And thus far they couldn’t have done this work alone; making the right partnerships, for example, was critical. In Novo’s case, it was the collaboration with the Chinese government. "We are not an island, and we like to see ourselves as part of a larger stakeholder picture." With the right partners and metrics, the company came up with a strategy based on training which is creating value for both the business and for the Chinese community.

To learn more about Novo Nordisk’s approach to diabetes care in China, watch the full interview here or read Nielsen’s case study: “Changing Diabetes in China.”

This interview is part of a series where the Shared Value Initiative will speak with leaders who are in the trenches of shared value planning and implementation. Next time we’ll be joined by Goodwill of San Francisco to talk about their shared value story.

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