Treasurer of the Defeat-NCD Partnership and Chief Executive Officer of Arcadier writes about why he sits on the Defeat-NCD Partnership Board
Alexander Blaise is three years old and Joshua Lucas is a year old. These beautiful boys are the centre of my universe. Unfortunately for them, they were born into a family with a long history that includes diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, cancer and mental illness. On the other hand, they are lucky to have been born in a country like Singapore where there is significant access and support for the diagnosis and treatment of these insidious diseases, to live in a country with universal health coverage, and to have parents with the means to help them if any of the diseases in their family history raises its inconvenient head.
But what of the millions of children who aren’t so lucky? What of the tens of millions of people who aren’t so lucky?
My journey towards becoming a Board Member with the Defeat-NCD Partnership started with these questions. How could I possibly help? What could a person who has spent his career in the technology, banking and finance sectors possibly offer the Defeat-NCD Partnership? The Partnership’s goal, so eloquently stated, is:
“to help tackle the most significant global health problem of the age: premature death, sickness, disability, and the associated social and economic impacts of selected non-communicable diseases (NCDs).”
Obviously, I can’t solve this ‘big problem’ on my own. It has such mind-bending proportions that I’m often floored by the enormity of what needs to be accomplished. I’ve witnessed suffering caused by NCDs that indiscriminately target people regardless of age, sex, nationality or religion. But how does my expertise and insight provide a positive impact towards solving this ‘big problem’?
There’s a cliché I often ask my staff: “How do you eat a chocolate elephant?” The answer is simple and obvious: “one bite at a time”.
Yes, it is a terrible cliché, however I use it to remind them that the most difficult tasks may be broken down into manageable and less daunting pieces. After I met Mukesh Kapila, Chief Executive of the Partnership, in January 2018, when he recruited me to join his Board, I reminded myself of this cliché. I cannot solve the ‘big problem’, nor can I hold myself accountable for the plight of millions of people in poor countries that are struggling with NCDs. What I can do is examine the small bite-sized pieces that are relevant to my field of expertise, and chew on that with relish. I can take my accumulated knowledge and apply it to a new problem.
So will I effectively contribute to the Defeat-NCD Partnership and make a positive impact towards its vision? As I mentioned earlier, my background is in the technology, banking and finance sectors, so my intent is injecting myself into the conversation on two fronts. Firstly, how could my knowledge in marketplace technology contribute towards Track 3, The Defeat-NCD Essential Supplies and Distribution Facility Support Facility? Secondly, how could we look at what is, in many low- and low-middle income countries, an access to capital problem?
My specific experience with marketplace technology goes back 10 years, and my experience with eCommerce itself goes back 20 years, which was during the time of the ‘birth’ of eCommerce – and really betrays my age! During this period, I’ve seen many uses of technology, and I honestly believe that the two truths that cannot be challenged are that eCommerce can provide an unparalleled access to information, and that transparency of process generates trust. How this translates to the work of the Partnership is that eCommerce could play an influential role in providing ‘access’ for countries to new pharmaceuticals, diagnostics and equipment. eCommerce could well be a catalyst to turn the unfulfilled needs of poor countries into life-changing reality.
The second topic I find myself drawn towards and where I could provide valuable input, is a burning question on the minds of many people: how do we finance the needs of poorer countries to fight the battle against NCDs? Since I’ve joined the Board, I’ve listened to many experts to understand how the problem is currently considered, read dozens of academic papers to appreciate the varying opinions that evolved over the years, and now I’m speaking directly with luminaries in the field. I have my own thoughts on this topic, which I’ve shared with other Board members to shape my thinking. At the right time, I’ll express my opinions on this topic, when I have the capacity to back them up with hard data. This is how I see I can add value.
I started writing this blog post with thoughts of my two boys, Alexander and Joshua, so it’s fitting I end with thoughts on them too. With respect to healthcare, what I want for them as they grow up, and what they can expect with confidence in terms of diagnosis, treatment and general care, is something every person in the world should be entitled to. What I want for my boys, I want for everyone. This is my motivation in being a Board member and I will contribute as long as I may, if what I can provide is of value and propels the vision of the Defeat-NCD Partnership into a reality.