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Health – Walgreen Boots Alliance


Walgreen Boots Alliance

Two Sides of the Same Coin

How a Business Leader can help to make a world of difference


Walgreens Boots Alliance
Ornella Barra. Image © Diane Bondareff/UN Foundation

Ornella Barra,Co-Chief Operating Officer, Walgreens Boots Alliance, Inc.
Our purpose at Walgreens Boots Alliance (WBA) is to help people across the world lead healthier and happier lives. This passion drives our business and our approach to the products and services we offer. This is why we offer pharmacy, wellbeing and beauty services and products – and it also extends to our Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) work. Indeed, we might say they are two sides of the same coin. 

“I’m fortunate enough to be a business leader of one of the 50 most important companies in the world and I know that businesses cannot sustain themselves by driving only towards profit”
In addition to stewarding our business operations, I am also privileged to oversee our CSR agenda and strategy. My two roles, just like our business and our CSR efforts, are two intrinsically related operations supporting our drive to achieve our organization’s purpose. I have a privileged perspective, contributing to running one of the 50 most important companies in the world (as per Fortune 2016 Global 500 List), I know that businesses cannot sustain themselves by driving only towards profit. We must understand our roles and responsibilities in the global ecosystem. I have been a manager and entrepreneur for a long time and am thrilled to see growing momentum around CSR in the business community.

Walgreen Boots Alliance

As more and more companies are contributing to society in meaningful ways, a number of terms for this work have emerged: social impact, corporate citizenship and sustainability, among others. But at Walgreens Boots Alliance, we prefer to call it CSR. To us, it means that the business is taking responsibility for all of its actions and is shaping a world worth living in. We focus our passion and resources on four pillars: Community, Environment, Marketplace and Workplace that are also clearly connected to all 17 of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

Within Community, we champion everyone’s right to be healthy by supporting many partnerships that improve the health and wellbeing of people across the globe by addressing public health issues, like our HO2PE Campaign and our partnership with WE – Free the Children and Unilever.

Walgreen Boots Alliance

As one of the world’s largest purchasers of prescription drugs and many other health and wellbeing products, we are able to use our knowledge and skills to create activities that are strategically relevant to our business but embody our wider purpose. The “Get a shot Give a shot” and “Vitamin Angels“ campaigns are good examples. I believe it is possible to make a sustainable business and show our investors that we are a profitable company at the same time.

We also mobilize our resources to support every step in the fight against cancer. Cancer is one of the biggest killer among diseases, so, as one of the world’s largest health companies, we have to do something. Thanks to our multiple partnerships around the globe, we are contributing to try to find a cure for cancer. With EORTC Cancer Research Fund, we help to provide tailored treatments for people with cancer. Together with Macmillan Cancer Support we care for people that live with cancer by providing information and support in their local communities.

Walgreen Boots Alliance

It is in our hands to build the world we want for our children and our grandchildren. In the Environment area, we take our responsibility to safeguard our world for future generations seriously. We are determined to address the threat of climate change and take action to reduce our carbon footprint. Our Walgreen’s Distribution Center in Moreno Valley, CA, was sending approximately an average of 22 metric tonnes of waste per month to landfill in fiscal 2015. Following a great team effort and a structural change in April 2016, we have so far achieved a reduction in waste of approximately 82 per cent from the monthly average in fiscal 2015. Additionally, Walgreens is committed to reducing energy use by 20 per cent from 2010 to 2020 across 100 million square feet of real estate. As part of this initiative, we opened our ‘net zero’ store in Evanston, Illinois in November 2013, which we believe is the first net zero energy retail store in the US, that is capable of producing at least as much energy as the store uses. Also the Boots UK EnergyCare Program, formed in 2012, enables the future growth through energy reduction and increasing the security of supply. This programme has now been rolled out also across Walgreens to encourage an energy conscious culture.

Walgreen Boots Alliance

Within Marketplace, we are creating a global process to enable transparency of ingredients and their traceability for our exclusive consumer retail product brands and we continue to drive ethical sourcing practices. Our work with a wide range of stakeholders helps to forge a strategy, especially through our partnerships with Forum for the Future and Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families.

Finally, we know our people are our greatest asset and our social responsibility includes managing the health, wellbeing and development of our more than 400,000 employees across the globe. We take our employer responsibility very seriously. For this, Walgreens earnt Best Place to Work for LGBT Equality Recognition in the 2017 Corporate Equality Index. Furthermore, to support our efforts hiring and retaining women, WBA hosted 250 female directors and vice presidents to discuss topics related to women in leadership at our Global Executive Women’s Conference in July 2016. We are also proud to promote our Retail Employees with Disabilities Initiative (REDI), launched in 2012, which includes in-store training to help people with disabilities gain retail and customer service skills.

Walgreen Boots Alliance

And while these initiatives – one step at a time – truly make the world a better place for our employees, customers and communities, they also strengthen our business. I feel a great responsibility to both my organization and the global community. Working to achieve the WBA mission from my role overseeing business operations and our CSR programme provides me with insight into the strengths and intersections of these two functions. I personally believe that, now more than ever, this is the role of a business leader in the 21th century.

About the Author

Ornella Barra is Co-Chief Operating Officer for Walgreens Boots Alliance overseeing Global Brands, Pharmaceutical Wholesale, the Retail Pharmacy International businesses outside the UK and Republic of Ireland, Human Resources and other business services. Born in Italy, Ms Barra graduated from the University of Genoa with a degree in pharmacy and embarked on a career in the healthcare sector. She started out as a pharmacist, first managing a pharmacy and then setting up her own. In 1984, she founded the pharmaceutical wholesaler Di Pharma, which was taken over in 1986 by Alleanza Salute Italia. Following a series of a key career progressions, in 2014 Ms Barra played a pivotal role in the creation of Walgreens Boots Alliance, the first global pharmacy-led health and wellbeing enterprise. Ms Barra is also Leader of Corporate Social Responsibility, a position through which she oversees all corporate social responsibility activities across the Company. In October 2016, the United Nations Foundation awarded its Global Leadership Award to Walgreens Boots Alliance for its commitment to the United Nations Foundation’s Sustainable Development Goals and supporting wellbeing around the world.