The case for inspiration

Novartis has provided, through its Novartis Malaria Initiative, more than 600 million Coartem treatments without profit to people who could not otherwise afford them.

Every so often, a special type of case study comes up. It is a fascinating story, exciting to write and rewarding to share. But not only that. Crucially, it also has the potential to touch hearts and minds and to make executives reflect on their personal and professional goals.

Our SMS for Life case series shows how technology can improve supplies of life-saving anti-malaria drugs in sub Saharan Africa. It also highlights the inspirational leadership and commitment of Jim Barrington, the former chief information officer (CIO) of Swiss healthcare company Novartis. By motivating others to work towards an elegantly simple solution, Barrington helped to generate major social impact and also business value for his company.

This article summarises the SMS for Life story, discusses the key learning points and suggests ways in which the case series can be taught.

The stock-out problem

Novartis is one of the world’s biggest makers of anti-malaria drugs. Through its Novartis Malaria Initiative the company has provided more than 600 million Coartem treatments without profit to people who could not otherwise afford them. Most of the drugs were distributed in sub-Saharan Africa.

However, malaria continues to kill thousands of people each year in this part of the world. One reason is that government agencies there have found it hard to match supplies of anti-malaria drugs to the patients needing them, resulting in “stock-outs” at health facilities and hospitals. The problem is especially acute in poor, remote areas.

Barrington believed that information technology could help solve this long-standing supply chain problem and in late 2008 he proposed to work full-time on it for 12 months ahead of his planned retirement.

CIOs generally do not lead such projects and he immediately faced some internal scepticism within the company. Colleagues warned Barrington that the project lacked funding and would hit bureaucratic hurdles when he started dealing with outside organisations.

For the full article, you can view the PDF.

A new role for business schools at the forefront of change

See more articles from Vol.08 Issue 03 – ’14.

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