NextBillion Editor

When It Doesn’t Make Sense NOT to Invest: Tyler Norris of Kaiser Permanente on healthy communities and creating change

Editor’s note: The following is part of NextBillion’s coverage of SOCAP15, where editors James Militzer and Kyle Poplin heard from and interviewed key players in impact investing.

Tyler Norris had the audience’s attention when he kicked off a SOACP panel discussion about how major institutional players have started to collaborate “across silos” and are accelerating change in impact investing.

After all, Norris is vice president of Total Health Partnerships at Kaiser Permanente, one of the largest nonprofit health plans in the U.S. and a firm at the forefront of the collaboration movement.

But Norris really grabbed the room when he gave his grim view of health care in the U.S.  – where, despite massive spending, the current generation will live five years less than their parents, thanks in part to the “rationing (of) health care by wealth” – and challenged the social entrepreneurs in the room to help fix it: “Let’s do something that’s worthy of our lives.”

Norris has spent more than three decades promoting better health as a social entrepreneur himself, working in the public, private, nonprofit and civic sectors. A lot of his ideas are framed around the concept that healthy communities yield healthy people and, therefore, community health should be a big part of impact investing.

“It doesn’t make sense to not invest in things that keep people healthy,” he said during the panel discussion.

NextBillion caught up with Norris after that panel and between his many mentoring sessions, and he elaborated on some of his key points.

On Kaiser’s investing: “With the Affordable Care Act, more people are getting access to care. That places the nation at risk for health, and that’s why we’re investing in things like physical activity and nutrition, and cutting tobacco, and moderating alcohol and drugs. And by doing that, we’re essentially investing in what creates health and that reduces the bill for people who are unhealthy. And so, essentially, there’s not only a moral issue for providing access to care, making sure people have care at the right time and place, but by going at risk, it causes us to invest in health in a way that boosts productivity and lowers health care costs over time. … For us, total health is a cause. It’s not just some corporate social responsibility thing we do at the margin, it’s who we are.”

And he’s convinced that the U.S. should start to think generationally about improving health – like raising a family: “If we want to be able to look at what improves health over time, to reduce the chronic disease rates that are essentially driving health care costs and breaking the bank of the economy, we need to look at changing behavior such as eating healthier and moving more and setting those patterns into place with young people. Then as they grow older, have their own families, we’re essentially creating patterns of healthy behaviors rather than people that are not caring for themselves and then, in time, contract chronic disease and are high-suffering and creating a lot of cost in the delivery system.

“So, by looking at a generational approach, we’re saying, let’s make sure the kids get off to a healthy start, that their schools are serving healthy, fresh foods, and making sure they get physical activity, and building a culture in our schools, in our workplaces and in our communities that support health and well-being, as a way for people to thrive, be more productive and, again, lower the costs that drive health care costs.”

For more of Norris’ thoughts on why people get sick, how social entrepreneurs can partner with Kaiser and what happens when people reach their potential, check out the interview below.

Health Care
corporate social responsibility, impact investing