Achieving Social Impact: an Interview with Lise Kingo

Independent Board Director at Sanofi, Lise Kingo discusses the company’s ambitious social impact strategy that tackles current global crises, and meets the high social expectations of investors. Between 2015 to June 2020, Lise Kingo was CEO & Executive Director of the United Nations Global Compact, the world’s largest corporate sustainability initiative uniting business to create a better world through universal principles and the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

What’s driving Sanofi’s expanded social impact strategy?

The strategy really raises the company’s ambition and it's fully integrated into the Play to Win business strategy. It translates what’s material for Sanofi into access to healthcare and wiping out certain diseases, as well as setting solid goals for climate change to limit the environmental impact of its production sites worldwide. And the focus on people, diversity, and integrating the strategy into all training and leadership development makes good sense. These commitments clearly play into the UN’s 17 sustainable development goals.

What aspect of the strategy will make the greatest impact?

Providing better access to care in the poorest countries, where the market mechanism doesn't always work, is a huge challenge, so creating a specific business unit in the responsibility strategy is the right way forward. I also like the global access plan that will ensure vulnerable countries have access to new products. It's a holistic approach to providing better access to care in low-income countries.

What do companies get back from a social impact strategy?

Employee engagement, a stronger company brand and a better share price, revenues, and creditworthiness. It's not a simple process, but this approach turns risks into opportunities, makes investors happy and pushes the company to the next level. Having an integrated responsible business strategy has become the new normal and it’s how most companies run their business today.

And I would add that a company should focus on enhancing its profit through its responsibility strategy. It is supposed to be a balance between improving profit, the planet, and people—all in the same goal.

What makes a social impact strategy successful?

It must capture the commitment of executive management and the board; we're talking about a critical strategic element. It needs to be material to the actual business, to talk about the products, the processes, the people, and fully channeled across operations, human resources, and how a company invests. It should also be part of how a company reports its performance and how it communicates with its stakeholders. And of course, you need the engagement of all the employees to make it happen.

Has the COVID-19 pandemic influenced social impact strategies?

Companies have a tendency to focus their sustainability strategies on environmental issues, but the pandemic has exacerbated existing inequalities, with many people losing their jobs and unable to support their families, and that has actually pushed up the whole social agenda.