Merck for Mothers

by Jeff Ferriola

In the reading by Kramer (“Catalytic Philanthropy”), I appreciated the practical guidance and framework for advancing from Conventional to Catalytic philanthropy.  The guidance was essentially a hybrid between a lifecycle maturity curve and a best practices summation.  Using Kramer’s framework, I wanted to measure the maturity / sophistication of a philanthropic endeavor my company has identified as a strategic priority: Merck for Mothers.

Merck has a clear mission to improve and save lives.  This should not be limited to only products in which Merck has an established or aspirational product.  Two of the UN’s Millienium Development Goals are tied to reducing the mother mortality rate from childbirth by 75% by 2015.  It is estimated that 287k mothers died in 2010, with the issue especially impacting developing markets which have a death rate as high as 1 out of every 31 births.  Merck has establish a comprehensive corporate program to focus on achieving this objective.  The three primary levers are focusing on new innovative solutions, improving access to quality health care, and building advocacy and awareness to this important issue.  It is important to note that Merck does not have any existing product line to address this challenge.

I applaud Merck for trending closer to the side of Catalytic vs Conventional.  In partnership with many other stakeholder groups, they are focused on addressing the issue at hand vs deciding where to place their money.  They find themselves personally responsible for achieving the UN’s MDG.  Their strategy and tactics are comprehensive in nature – they are not simply throwing money at the problem.  Information, at face value, would be shared to improve outcomes and increase advocacy / awareness.

Information is also a key strategic asset for Merck.  In the Economist article, they as if “Philanthropy is worth it” (pg 7).  The experience, insight, and relationships that Merck will build will be invaluable over the longer term.  They are operating in strict alignment with their core mission – and opening the door to a new market opportunity at the same time.  New product lines based on the information collected can be incorporated into the standard of care that will be defined by the same players Merck is currently partnering.  From a long term view, this program presents great social, medical, and financial value.  Shareholders and Board of Directors can and should be proud of the opportunity to grow the business through good intention.

As a final checklist, I compare Merck for Mothers against the Economist’s “To Do List” (pg14) for improving philanthropy.  First, the measurements and metrics (current state and objectives) are very clear as documented on their website.  This speaks to the second to-do which is openness and transparency.  Merck is completely transparent about the measures/stats, burning platform, approach, partnerships, and progress.  The combination of the previous two points speaks to the third which is accountability.  As mentioned earlier, Merck sees itself as responsible for achieving the 75% reduction.

Overall, I was very impressed (and admittedly a bit surprised) by this program.  I look forward to seeing the progress as the program advances into the more difficult diagnostic and problem-solving phases.



One thought on “Merck for Mothers

  1. tlhill2012 November 24, 2012 at 12:05 PM Reply

    Jeff – a really interesting example, and I like your approach of using the readings to judge the relative effectiveness of the program. It is both reassuring and surprising that Merck seems to be taking the lead in using its power to generate real change. My cynical side would still want to see an independent evaluation of its practices and impact, as well as some sort of governance mechanism that gives those most affected a voice, especially during periods of weak profits or high competition. Even so, it’s encouraging!

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