The corporate world is beginning to realize the power of stories at the workplace. My first newsletter features storytelling and how it is being used to connect to people.
?Stories carry with them little worlds that make their know-how situational, allowing us to remember them easily and adapt them to new circumstances.?
John Seely Brown, former Chief Scientist of Xerox PARC
Dr. Roy Vegelos, then Chief Executive Officer, Merck and Company decided to ?give away Mectizan to all those who need it forever.? Merck had already invested 10 years and over $200 million dollars on a product that would help in treating ?River Blindness? in many parts of Africa.
River Blindness with no known cure was a dreaded disease few could escape from in many parts of Africa. In fact many villagers assumed that growing old meant growing blind. According to World Health Organization, about 85 million people were at risk in many developing nations.
In fact, about 10 years earlier, when approval was sought to investigate further for a cure for River Blindness, the committee under the chairmanship of Vagelos gave the go ahead knowing fully well that its 18 million patients could not afford the drug at any price. The research was possibly on the verge of a scientific breakthrough. If successful, the drug would give ?the gift of sight? to the millions.
However, Mectizan, the successfully tested product found no takers: no potential donors, no international development agencies, no private foundations. Nobody was willing to underwrite its production or distribution costs so that it could be made available to the millions who could not afford it.
It was then that Vagelos decided on ?giving away the product, forever.? He was aware that it set a precedent for future donations of medicines for diseases such as Malaria and guinea worms. He was also conscious of his responsibilities towards Merck?s shareholders. While taking such a decision, he not only, drew on his professional calling but also Merck?s culture that made health its first priority. George W. Merck, son of the company?s American founder and one time chairman had said ?We try not to forget that medicine is for the people.?