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The Life Science Industry Shows the Power of Giving Back to the Community

Opinion

Xconomy Boston — 

Every day here in Cambridge, MA, the world’s leading biotech hub, there are families who don’t have enough to eat. Hunger is not a problem caused by lack of resources—it’s a problem of distribution. Getting the right food to the right people at the right time is the challenge.

Enter Food For Free, a Cambridge-based nonprofit that works to rescue and redistribute temperature-controlled leftover food to hungry families every day. Despite being surrounded by many of the life science industry’s largest companies, Food for Free, historically, had little interaction with the industry.

Life Science Cares is an organization started by industry leaders to unite our human and financial resources and deploy them to nonprofits doing the best work fighting poverty in the greater Boston area. We now work with more than 150 companies to provide grants, volunteers and strategic support to 19 nonprofit partners. In 2017, Life Science Cares established a partnership with Food for Free, and coordinated an effort to rescue food from the industry’s largest corporate cafeterias. One year later, our companies are providing hundreds of meals a week to people in need.

Our partnership with Food for Free exemplifies the power of the work we do. By bringing our energy and creativity to a problem like hunger, in a similar way that we approach improving human health, we can make a difference for our neighbors who struggle to make ends meet.

For too long, the rap on biotech was that it wasn’t providing charitable contributions to the extent that more established industries, like law and financial services, were. That reputation is not entirely credible: the larger life science companies are, in fact, very philanthropic and charitable. Most of the industry, however, is made up of small companies that are not yet profitable, and it is challenging for them to give back more than what they are doing for the patients in their therapeutic area of focus. That’s one of the reasons we created Life Science Cares in 2016.

Life Science Cares has become a facilitator for many smaller biotech companies that don’t yet have their own charitable programs. For some of these companies, we’ve become an outsourced “corporate social responsibility” department, engaging their employees in volunteer efforts and helping them to enable mission-driven cultures.

In the two years since the organization’s founding, we have invested more than $400,000 in 19 terrific nonprofit partners, who do great work in the areas of basic human survival, education, and economic sustainability. We find ways to deploy the talents and brainpower of the people in our companies to help those in need, investing human capital in the form of volunteers, strategic support and pro bono services. Also, 100% of every dollar we raise goes directly to our partners, as the cost of running this effort is underwritten by the life science leaders who make up our board.

We’ve learned that this direct engagement with our partners—as opposed to just writing checks—creates its own virtuous cycle. I spent more than 10 years at Cubist Pharmaceuticals, and one of the things we were most proud of there was our unique culture. A key element of what made us different was our extraordinary commitment and involvement in the community. I am pleased to see that many life science industry leaders have also found that embracing a mission-driven culture leads to a motivated, committed workforce. Being a part of Life Science Cares allows companies to attract and retain people who are not only amazing at solving the most complex challenges in human health, but also care deeply about their community and those who are less fortunate. Extraordinary people are not just extraordinary when they are within the walls of a company, and our organization aims to utilize the substantial talent in our industry so that we can solve the problems that exist around us.

We at Life Science Cares just celebrated our second anniversary on Friday—this is only the beginning. We have a plan to do much more. We would like to see our contributions exceed $1 million a year, and our volunteer efforts grow into the tens of thousands of hours each year. More importantly, it’s clear that we as an industry are not just about helping patients through treatments and therapeutics. Now, we’re also making a real difference in the lives of our friends and neighbors in the communities where we live and work.

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