Purpose At Work: How Gilead Sciences Inspires Behavior Change Through Social Impact
Brands that ignite behavior change earn a reputation as leaders. Changing behavior doesn’t only mean getting consumers to try new products. It also means inspiring people to join social movements to build a better world.
Gilead Sciences is an excellent example of a company working towards societal behavior change. Its commitment to HIV awareness, care and prevention is unprecedented. The California-based company donated roughly $400 million last year alone to charitable causes. Forbes ranked them as the most generous Fortune 500 company in 2016.
While Gilead Sciences is a biopharmaceutical company that discovers, develops and commercializes medicines, a lot of its impact work focuses on the social aspects of living with a life threatening illness. “Being impacted by HIV is not the only thing you’re dealing with as an individual,” Korab Zuka, Gilead Sciences’ Vice President of Public Affairs, tells We First Branding. “We’ve been able to expand our programming to focus on communities that are disproportionately impacted by HIV.”
Over the last few years, Gilead has been responsible for the development and funding of major initiatives like COMPASS, a more than $100 million, 10 year commitment that seeks to address the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the Southern United States by partnering with local communities and supporting evidence-based solutions to meet the needs of people living with and impacted by HIV/AIDS. Additionally, Gilead funds HIV Age Positively, which focuses on people 50 or older living with HIV whom have often lost their safety net. Gilead’s most recent philanthropic initiative is the TRANScend Community Impact Fund, which will support Trans-led organizations working to improve the safety, health and wellness of the Transgender community.
“The common thread across these programs is that it takes more than medicine for us to impact diseases like HIV,” Zuka explains. “Stigma is still a major factor in why individuals don’t get tested or seek medical care.”
For a big pharma company, Gilead is very committed to underserved communities. How does the purpose work tie into profit goals?
“It’s not just about having the medicine and the science,” Zuka says. “If people are not able to get tested or seek medical care because of stigma and other factors, then what’s the point?” By increasing local organizational capacity, building awareness, reducing HIV-related stigma, and advancing education, Gilead is better able to support communities that are disproportionately impacted by diseases. Along with innovative new therapies and more effective drug regimens, Gilead is leveraging its social impact initiatives and core business for the higher purpose of ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
While HIV is a specific focus area, Gilead’s comprehensive approach applies to brands across industries. You must address social issues around the cause you are working on to ignite behavior change. “HIV touches on a lot of the social determinants of health. It touches on racial equality, education, opportunity and health literacy. There are so many factors,” Zuka says.
How does Gilead choose what to prioritize?
“People who work in philanthropy often believe the solutions come from the funder. The fact is that most of the solutions are actually coming from the frontlines,” Zuka explains. “We use our platform and financial resources. But the core elements are all validated through feedback and inclusion of the communities we’re looking to support.”
The lesson here is to make yourself the chief celebrant, not celebrity, of your community. Encourage others to tell you what they need and help them achieve it. Behavior change is tedious and can feel like an uphill battle. “It’s going to be difficult to see year-over-year impact because changing someone’s mind and heart may take a long time, which is why steady, long-term persistence is key,” Zuka says.
One way Gilead also fights to reduce HIV-related stigma is by partnering with organizations like GLAAD to get stories of people living with HIV into the mainstream media. Seeing people like Magic Johnson or Jonathan Van Ness living public, healthy lives has helped change the social narrative in recent years.
Zuka says that they’ve also seen a lot of success with the U equals U campaign, spearheaded by the Prevention Access Network. “Their entire platform has been to educate people that if you are virally depressed for a period of six months or longer, you cannot transmit HIV to your partner.” By getting the science out there, Gilead and other like-minded organizations have been able to reduce people’s fears about contracting the disease.
Storytelling and education are critical first steps to changing consumer behavior. It can be difficult to set goals and benchmark progress around qualitative variables like stigma and social change. The US federal government recently set an overarching goal to end the HIV epidemic by 2030, which complements some of the focus Gilead has in the near team. Gilead also assesses ongoing factors like US government funding for HIV, which Zuka says is about 26 billion USD annually, and focuses on local and regional engagement. “We want to increase the number of community organizations that have the ability to advocate on behalf of people living with HIV. That’s a very tangible number,” Zuka explains. “With COMPASS, we’re able to find and support those leaders in the Southern US.” Such project specific benchmarks that enable them to quantify progress are critical to meeting their short and long-term goals.
These initiatives are outward facing. How does Gilead’s impact work influence its employees and internal culture?
Zuka says that Gilead shares what it’s doing with employees via round table discussions, where employees get to speak with non-profits and people living with HIV. They also have a program called Giving Together, in which Gilead matches employee donations to community organizations up to $2,000 annually. They also offer employees at least one volunteer day a year. These opportunities help foster a sense of meaning behind the work they do and brings to life the impact of what they are developing in the lab.
Gilead was recognized as the top donor to HIV and AIDS programs by Funders Concerned About AIDS in 2016. But while Gilead is doing amazing work, they know they can’t do it alone. “We work closely with the government, national advocacy organizations and people on the frontlines,” Zuka says. “It’s only through partnerships that we can make a significant impact.”
Gilead Sciences’ work to ignite social change around HIV is inspirational. The key learning is to marry purpose and profit. Engage with the communities you are trying to support to address the issues that affect them most. Share brave, impactful stories. Set ambitious benchmarks. And partner with others who share your goals.