The conversation with Dr. Geeta Nayyar, Salesforce’s Chief Medical Officer
In our new blog series, “The Conversation”, we discuss how we can co-create agile and impactful interventions for a healthier world.
Meet Dr. Geeta Nayyar, M.D., M.B.A. She is Salesforce‘s Chief Medical Officer. She’s a rheumatologist and nationally-recognized leader in health IT, bridging the divide between clinical medicine, business, and digital health. As a Board Member of the American Telemedicine Association and the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, she helps steer decision-making at some of the nation’s most influential medical organizations. Her work and expertise have earned her appearances on CNN, PBS as well as being featured in the Huffington Post and CNBC. The WHO Foundation is proud to partner with Salesforce in a variety of areas to promote global health. We sat down with Dr. Nayyar to discuss everything from health and vaccine equity, to the role businesses continue to play in pandemic response and our Go Give One Campaign.
What fueled your interest in global health?
I was born in the US in West Virginia, but I spent my early childhood in India with my family. Even as a child, it was clear to me that – in both places – not everyone had access to the things they needed to be healthy. Access to medical care, nutritious food, clean air and water – these are global issues with visible consequences no matter where we live.
Health is the great equalizer. Everyone gets sick. Everyone has been a patient or a caregiver. It’s one thing we all have in common. I always knew I wanted to be a doctor and I entered medical school at 17. Ever since then I’ve been doing whatever I can to help expand access to health-related resources and information to everyone, no matter where they are in the world.
In your experience, how did COVID-19 impact businesses globally? How was Salesforce transformed by the pandemic?
COVID-19 changed everything. Businesses, governments, schools – institutions of all kinds were forced to evolve in ways that otherwise would have taken years if not decades.
I joined Salesforce in June of 2020. At that point, Salesforce was facing the same challenges that all businesses were facing – trying to figure out how to open and close offices, how to put on events safely, and so much more. We had to innovate.
We launched Work.com, we launched Vaccine Cloud, we launched Safety Cloud. We shared our playbook with our customers and our partners.
I became Chief Medical Officer during the pandemic – which says a lot about the reprioritization of health conversations at the C-suite level. Before the pandemic, most in-house medical professionals were leaders in the hospital or pharmaceutical space. These days I’m in meetings with other Chief Medical Officers across industries from financial services to consumer goods. The healthcare industry, like most industries, was ripe for disruption before the pandemic. But I don’t think anyone could have anticipated the pace of change we’ve seen in the past few years. It’s been a truly remarkable evolution.
How do you see your role in creating impact in vulnerable communities, when it comes to health equity?
My primary responsibility is to our employee community at Salesforce. With more than 78,000 employees globally, the range of health-related concerns goes far beyond COVID-19.
Most recently, conversations about mental health have been at the forefront. People are struggling with the impact of the pandemic – from isolation and loneliness, to depression and anxiety, to loss and grief. Fortunately, as the stigma that has surrounded mental health has started to fall away, we’ve been able to find new ways to engage our employees on the topic of mental health. We’ve held town-hall style conversations led by some of our most senior leaders, we host inspirational and expert speakers as part of our weekly B-Well Together series, and we’ve expanded our benefits to incorporate virtual telemedicine benefits, more mental health services and wellness offerings.
Burnout is real. And there’s a reason that trends like “quiet quitting” are in the news. We know that issues like these impact employee productivity and retention in very tangible ways. We’re working to make sure our employees have access to mental health resources before they’re in crisis.
How do you continue to promote health equity at salesforce?
We invest in partnerships like the one we have with the WHO Foundation. Our partnership on the Go Give One campaign is a great example of cross-sector collaboration that has moved the needle on vaccine equity.
Even with all that great work, however, we still find there is a major hurdle in the form of misinformation, which is why I’m actually authoring a book about misinformation right now. Honestly, it’s alarming how much worse the problem has become in recent years with the advent of social media and the shift toward polarized news sources. At Salesforce, we rely on our Employee Success team to help share reliable information with employees around returning to the office, attending events and meeting with customers.
How do you encourage others (employees, customers, partners etc.) in supporting the pandemic response and vaccine equity?
Equality is one of our core values at Salesforce. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we were honored to collaborate with Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance and the COVAX program – to help develop the technology they needed to deliver billions of COVID-19 vaccine doses to those that otherwise wouldn’t have access to them.
More recently, outbreaks of viruses like Monkeypox, Polio, Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) and more remind us that vaccine equity on a global scale is our best defense against disease. We’re all connected. We all share the same planet earth. We all want to be healthy.
Every company is in the health business now. Which means that we have new opportunities to collaborate across sectors in the context of public health and health equity. And as we learn more, we adapt and evolve. If “necessity is the mother of invention,” then now is the time for leadership and innovation. It’s time to incubate, innovate and go.
In your opinion, what is the role of business in responding to future health emergencies?
At Salesforce, we truly believe that “Business is the greatest platform for change.” Marc Benioff is famous for this quote, and it really does permeate everything we do across the company. During the pandemic, we changed our culture, we changed the way we talked about health, we changed our employee benefits, and we innovated like crazy from Vaccine Cloud to Work.com to Safety Cloud.
We offered those tools for free in many cases. We donated 60 million units of PPE across six countries, and teams of volunteers worked around the clock to coordinate the purchase and delivery of oxygen supplies in India. And it wasn’t just Salesforce, so many companies were also doing similar things and finding opportunities to collaborate to create even more impact. It was really special to see that and to lead this effort.
During the height of the crisis, in many cases businesses were able to move faster than the government. There was less bureaucracy and less paperwork. The lessons we learned during this crisis will, I hope, help businesses respond to the next one that much more quickly. Every company that invests in the health of their employees and their customers is moving one step forward to solving the problem.
For this World Immunization Day, what is one key insight or initiative that Salesforce is proud to support and amplify?
We are still actively encouraging everyone – our employees, customers, partners and the public – to donate to the Go Give One campaign. I am incredibly proud that our employees and our ecosystem have helped contribute more than US$3M for the campaign so far, but of course there’s always more to be done. Please join us at gogiveone.org/coalition!