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UNICEF and Philips: working together to achieve sustainable development goals

Innovating how companies and welfare organizations collaborate  



The Dutch Prime Minister Rutte recently said that “by working together, in a collective effort, we can make a difference.”


He was speaking at the General Meeting of the United Nations about the new Sustainable Development Goals – and he was right.

Peace and human rights, health and well-being, our climate, protection of ecosystems, a better world for children. The new UN Sustainable Development Goals are quite rightly bigger and bolder than the Millennium Goals, but to achieve them all by 2030, we need to learn bigger and bolder levels of cooperation.


We also need to learn from the past.


That’s because reaching the old Millennium Goals was largely left up to governments, with little focus on alliances between companies and NGOs. Even when companies and aid organizations did come together, it was nearly always the old-fashioned notion of charity: the company donated money, the good cause received it.


Of course this money makes a difference, but it makes problems, too. What if a company hits economic hardship? Or decides it’s going to support a different organization?


To overcome all this, Philips and UNICEF decided to build a new, deeper and more connected way of working together, specifically on ‘Ensuring healthy lives and promoting the well-being for all at all ages,’ one of our mutually chosen Sustainable Development Goals.


This particular goal was chosen because all over the world, women are still dying unnecessarily in childbirth, and children are still dying from easily curable illnesses, such as diarrhea and pneumonia. And how the goal will be reached is this: Philips and UNICEF will pioneer together, co-create, learn with and from one another and explore areas where both parties already have a presence but where we’ve never ‘met.’

Take what we’re already doing for mothers and children in Kenya to improve health care for pneumonia.


Philips is helping researchers to create prototypes where doctors in basic town and country clinics, far away from high-tech laboratories, can quickly determine whether a child has pneumonia, making the difference between life and death. As for UNICEF, with their strong and trusted relationships with governments and – critically – with local communities, they’re coordinating it all.


After an initial test phase, it’s now hoped this joint venture will be able to provide better care to 1.5 million women and newborn babies over the next three years. In other words, through cooperation, we will fulfill some part of that Sustainable Development Goal to ensure better health for everyone.


It’s a huge step forward, but one that was only taken because both sides admitted we have different approaches – that Philips, the company, was looking for continuity and profit, and that UNICEF, an aid organization, was looking for sustainable returns for society.


A lot of partnerships break down because there’s been no attempt to recognize this difference. But we did, and after looking at that, we then looked for the similarities, for the common ground where aims and activities overlapped.


In our case, it was that innovative medical solutions for mothers and babies in Kenya will benefit mothers and newborn babies elsewhere, driving more profit while giving back to society. And while for other companies and welfare organizations working together the common ground will be found in different places, it will definitely be there.


So please, search for it. Every company, every development organization, every government and every stakeholder, please put aside traditional role patterns and embrace this new integrated, collaborative way of working.


Because we might be coming from different backgrounds, but we’re all working toward the same thing, the same Sustainable Development Goals and the same dream of a better world.


After all a better world will not just happen by itself.

Walter van Kuijen


Head of Public and Government Affairs at Philips  

Walter van Kuijen started his career at Philips in 1992 as a Marketing Specialist at Philips Industrial Electronics in the Netherlands. After further work in Product Management, Sales and Service and Marketing Management for Philips Medical Systems, Walter became the Director of the Sales and Services District Netherlands in 2001.

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Jan Bouke Wijbrandi


Executive Director, Dutch Committee for UNICEF

Jan Bouke Wijbrandi is the Executive Director of UNICEF the Netherlands. From 2001 to 2008 he was Director at Oxfam Novib, responsible for corporate communication media relations, campaigning, lobby, CSR and fundraising. Prior to this, he was head of Fundraising and Communication at Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) Netherlands between 1999 and 2001.

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