Seizing the Opportunity for Collective Action on Restoring Health Equity

In 2020, we witnessed how a global pandemic and racial injustice disrupted our daily lives, re-exposing vulnerabilities in our public health infrastructure and access to healthcare, economic, and social services. Compounding these experiences, 2021 began with tragic events at the United States Capitol that sought to undermine the very fabric of our democracy.

The convergence of these events continues to reverberate. Even now, we face economic, social, political and health disparities in how COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted racial and ethnic minorities. Our collective action is required to mount a sustainable recovery—both in restoring equitable access to these fundamental institutions, and in healing deep wounds across all races and ethnicities.

The relationship between continued systemic racial injustice and health disparities has been top-of-mind for me as we reflect on the dialogue at this year’s virtual JP Morgan conference. Discussions on the speed of COVID-19 vaccine development, the capital markets, health policy, telecare, M&A activity and the next waves of biotech innovation echo the virtual halls this year.

We in the healthcare innovation community have an important role to play in restoring health equity as part of the solution to addressing our most pressing societal challenges.

Entrepreneurs across biotech, medtech, and digital health are already addressing unmet needs in health and wellbeing, medicine, and access to care. They are often the ones driving new social norms and behaviors in the workplace, disrupting business models and advancing category-creating solutions. Likewise, healthcare entrepreneurs should ensure their solutions serve underrepresented populations, use social determinants of health as a cornerstone for improving health outcomes and engage diverse populations through delivery of empathetic and culturally competent care.

Consider the words of Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Where should the innovation community focus our collective efforts to drive change?

Last November, Johnson & Johnson announced a commitment to invest $100 million over the next five years in collaborations to promote health equity solutions for communities of color in the U.S. In addition, Johnson & Johnson Innovation actively seeks out the best ideas globally with entrepreneurs around incubation, partnership and investment opportunities. Recent efforts have led to QuickFire Innovation Challenges focused on Black Innovators in Skin Health aimed to address the dermatologic disparities Black patients face; equity investments in Infinite Looks and Cara Care, health and wellbeing start-ups each founded by black entrepreneurs; and J&J Impact Ventures providing grant funding to Health in Her Hue, a digital platform connecting women of color to culturally competent healthcare services.

I am proud to be part of an organization that is driving our collective community to fund the innovators and entrepreneurs our world needs to accelerate the pace of change and restore access to our most vital institutions for all. To spearhead this effort, here are three areas I invite you to explore with me in the coming weeks and months:

  1. How can we better source potential investments and partners to ensure we are engaging communities of color, both as innovators and as individuals seeking care?
  2. How do we employ more inclusive and creative investment models?
  3. What types of support can we extend to entrepreneurs focused on innovations that address social and health disparities?

Each one of these topics deserves careful consideration and collaborative action and I welcome those interested in further exploration to reach out to me. Together, we can accelerate individual and collective efforts to end systemic social and racial injustice and close the unacceptable gap in health disparities.

Stacy Feld is the Head of Johnson & Johnson Innovation, West North America, Australia & New Zealand, located at the Innovation Center in South San Francisco, California. In this role, Stacy leads the Innovation Center team to build, advance, and manage a portfolio of co-investments and collaborations spanning the pharmaceutical, consumer health and medical device sectors.