Q&A With President of AmerisourceBergen Foundation
Over the past two years, AmerisourceBergen has expanded its portfolio of partners far beyond its usual pharmaceutical manufacturers and providers. The global pharmaceutical sourcing and distribution services giant, currently at number 12 on the Forbes 500 list (up from spot 16 last year), launched the AmerisourceBergen Foundation in 2014, and since then the company has formed community partnerships with local and international organizations, donating millions to select causes.
Most recently, the Foundation donated $50,000 to Project C.U.R.E. to collect medical equipment from Philadelphia-area hospitals and donate them to developing countries. The Foundation also announced a $250,000 grant last month to Partners in Health, the largest nongovernmental healthcare provider in Haiti, to support the construction and equipping of a new medical distribution center outside of Haiti’s capital.
I talked with Gina Clark, the Foundation’s president and AmerisourceBergen’s executive vice president and chief marketing officer, about how the country’s second-largest distributer of pharmaceutical drugs is using its deep knowledge about health care to impact some of the region’s most underserved neighborhoods and underfunded research areas.
Clark argues that the young foundation’s mission is even more important now with Obamacare potentially on the chopping block, and shares how the organization differs from other corporate foundations. She also explains how the company’s streamlined focus on philanthropy has given AmerisourceBergen’s workplace, which we named one of the coolest companies in 2015, some renewed energy. This interview has been condensed.
BizPhilly: The Foundation is quite young for a company that’s been around for more than 60 years. Was philanthropy a focus of AmerisourceBergen’s prior to the Foundation’s founding in 2014?
Clark: We were already doing a lot of philanthropy in different parts of our company. We are a company that was built by rolling up a lot of different companies, and there was always a very philanthropic intent for each individual company. Just in the last few years, as we’ve continued to grow, we’ve felt more and more responsibility with the expertise we have to use it to help those who don’t have access to health care and great pharmaceuticals. A very intentional decision was made about two-and-half years ago to build a foundation that would pull all of our philanthropy together and to try and organize the considerable amount of money that was already being driven into philanthropic opportunities.
BizPhilly: You stepped into the role as president of the Foundation about seven months ago, and you’re the second person to lead it. What were some of the immediate actions you took as president?
Clark: When I stepped into the role, I was very pleased about what was being done. We had already identified three pillars for the foundation: health care, community and education. But they were such broad pillars. So with the board and grants committee, we tightened up the criteria and began looking even more carefully at the [grant] requests and we made sure to direct our funding now to those areas that fit into the healthcare continuum we serve and also projects that specifically address underserved areas.
BizPhilly: What sets the AmerisourceBergen Foundation apart from other local corporate foundations that are also making investments in important causes?
Clark: There’s a lot of great philanthropy going on, but a lot of the funds [are] going to great organizations that already have a lot of support and money behind them. We thought that there were a lot of other great lesser-known organizations that didn’t have as much as some of the others and we have chosen to put our focus there. Also, our health care focus and our ability to understand some of these lesser-known needs also set us apart and allow us to make an impact.
BizPhilly: What are some of the lesser-known causes the Foundation is supporting?
Clark: We continue to fund research in areas around rare disorders and diseases. This is a growing field in healthcare and not a lot of the public knows about it because the diseases affect a small population, but they’re every bit as dangerous as other diseases and often terminal. We have funded a combined $32,000 with the Canadian organization for rare disorders and the national organization for rare disorders to support rare disease research. We’re committed $250,000 to Family Reach this year, which provides services to the families of chronically and terminally ill cancer patients. Many times while we’re caring for the patient, the family’s needs go uncovered and unnoticed. Family Reach can cover anything from a family’s mortgage, rent, car payments or gas to get to appointments. We’re also donating $160,000 to the Immune Deficiency Foundation to support research into immunodeficiency diseases.
BizPhilly: How has the Foundation impacted AmerisourceBergen’s workplace, which we named as one of Philly’s coolest places to work in 2015?
Clark: It creates a feeling of true purpose for our associates when they come to work everyday. “True purpose” is an overused phrase, but it’s the only way to explain it. While we also have a beautiful facility and great leadership, our associates believe they are impacting health care every day. As we were able to define their opportunities not only in their day-to-day job but now also through a foundation they can actively be a part of, it has increased the camaraderie and purpose of our associates tenfold. These service opportunities have only increased their enthusiasm to come to work and be a part of this organization.
The amount of engagement of our associates, and starting with our CEO Steve Collis, is amazing. Steve embodies the whole concept of partnership and philanthropic responsibility and has taught everyone that our responsibility is to make pharmaceutical health care accessible to communities, particularly underserved communities. Right here in Philadelphia, right here in our own country and also globally.
BizPhilly: How might the outside political and social climate affect the Foundation’s work? President-elect Donald Trump has made statements about dismantling Obamacare, for example. How might this action affect the Foundation’s decisions?
Clark: We need to make sure that the work we are [doing] with the Foundation stays on target. Policies will come and go, and there’s a lot of rhetoric about accountable health care now, but we need to stay focused on the goals that Foundation has identified.
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