As Anouk gets up to go and order another coffee, I take a look around. “Your average Starbucks crowd,” I think to myself. “Apart from that lot at the next table. I wonder what they’re up to?” Sitting at the table next to us is a bunch of smartly dressed men and women huddled round a tablet. Their conversation seems pretty intense, with steely silence while one of them works on the tablet alternated by moments of rapid-fire chatting and laughter. I catch part of the conversation.

Meeting GE healthymagination - CoolBrands Around the World in 80 Brands
Meeting GE healthymagination – CoolBrands Around the World in 80 Brands

“No, it’s a low fat latte… That’s 175 calories.” “Yes, but you added caramel so it’s up to 215.” “Looks like you’re running tonight for at least 30 minutes or it’s salad for dinner,” one of the women says laughing. Never shy, I tap one of the guys on the shoulder. “Hi. I couldn’t help overhear you guys talking. Is that something to do with Weight Watchers? You see, we’ve been on the road for weeks now and I’m starting to feel pretty unfit. I can only speak for myself, but I could do with some healthy living for a while.” Just as I finish, Anouk comes over with two more caramel macchiatos and a slice of lemon cake. I look meaningfully at Anouk, and then at the guy at the other table, who smiles.

“I see what you mean,” he says with a broad grin. “Hi, I’m Robert. No, it’s not Weight Watchers. We’re all from GE Healthcare – umm, General Electric – and we’re testing a new app called My Diet Diary. It’s pretty cool actually. You enter your personal details and it helps you plan what you can eat, keeps track of your calories, suggests meals and an exercise routine, etc. The most important thing is that it’s all tailored to you.”

“Now that’s what I need,” Anouk says, staring with a somewhat guilty expression at the cake. “Can I download it?”

“Sure. You’ll find it on our healthymagination website,” says Robert.

“Ahh. Now that rings a bell,” Anouk responds. “We did a story a couple of years back on ecomagination – your sustainability programme. Is it related?”

One of the ladies at the table gets involved. “Hi guys. Robert, if that’s okay?” He nods. “Hi, I’m Rachel. I’m the General Manager of Healthymagination at GE Healthcare and I was also involved in ecomagination. To answer your question: no they’re not really related, except that I think it’s another great initiative. Instead of sustainability, this project is all about healthcare.”

“What did you say? Healthymagination?” I ask.

“Right,” Rachel responds. “There are some pretty scary things going on out there. Chronic disease is getting out of hand and populations are getting older and older. Did you know that every year 100 million people around the globe fall into poverty due to healthcare costs? Or that around two billion people live without access to basic healthcare? Here in the US, weight is one of the most obvious problems, but it’s not the only one. Smoking, Alzheimer’s and all sorts of cancer need our close attention. At GE, we want to help people get back on track.”

“But, I mean, this is huge,” I add. “How are you going to make a difference here? We’re talking about global health, tradition, culture, eating and living habits, people who live in remote areas, etc.?”

“That’s exactly our point,” Robert says. “We’ve made a shared commitment to creating better health for more people. Really together. Not to brag, but we’ve created some brilliant ways for people to access our know-how in a low-threshold kind of way. ‘I’m expecting’, for example, is a pregnancy application that’s helping mothers track symptoms, add doctor’s appointments and even upload snapshots of the bump. ‘Morsel’ provides a daily task that anyone can do to improve their health each day. It’s real, hands-on, ready-to-use help that’s available to anyone.”

“That’s true, Robert,” Rachel confirms. “But the apps are just a tiny portion of what we’re doing. Let me explain the scope. We have committed $6 billion to this project. That’s 6,000,000,000. Three billion is being invested in R&D to launch at least 100 innovations that lower the cost of healthcare, increase access to equipment and improve quality – all by 15% – by 2015.”

“Wow – that’s a lot of money,” I say, amazed. “But Robert, can money alone achieve that sort of change?”

“In a word, no. Our CEO Jeff Immelt always stresses that healthcare needs new solutions. For him, and us, it’s about innovating with smarter processes and technologies so we can help doctors and hospitals deliver better healthcare to more people at a lower cost.”

“But what sort of solutions?” Anouk asks.

“For example,” Robert continues, “some of our latest innovations include a low-cost digital x-ray machine, portable ultrasounds, more affordable cardiac equipment. They’re all going to cut costs for doctors, hospitals, the government, families and businesses. We’ve seen it happening already. Rural and urban areas and developing countries can now get their own technology on site for a decent price.”

“But what does that bring GE, except a good image?” Anouk asks.

“Well,” Rachel says, “GE is a commercial organisation, but we believe that brands should have a purpose. What role does a brand play in people’s life, in society? The purpose of GE, with healthymagination, is to provide better and affordable healthcare. We are convinced that we can do great things for people and still make a sound profit, which is essential for the survival and sustainability of the company.”

“Wow,” I say. “You’ve set yourself a serious challenge. But if your ecomagination results are anything to go by, I’m sure you’ll make it. I’m definitely checking out the My Diet app whatever happens. I need to fit into these trousers for the rest of our trip. Thanks!”

[ From the General Electric website: The healthymagination charter is (by 2015) to improve the quality of care by 15% or more, to reduce the cost of procedures and processes through the appropriate use of GE technologies and services by 15% and to increase the access to essential technologies and services essential to health by 15%. ]

© 2012 CoolBrands – Around the World in 80 Brands


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Tags: Global Storytelling Campaign, Anouk Pappers, Maarten Schäfer, Around the World in 80 Brands, Around the World, 80 Brands, Around the World in 80 days, CoolBrands Storytelling, Storytelling, CoolBrands, cool storytelling, third party storytelling, creating talk value, storytelling, sustainability, people planet profit, healthymagination, ge, general electric, meeting healthymagination, meeting ge, meeting general electric, meeting jeff immelt, ecomagination, improving healthcare, making healthcare accessible, investing in healthcare, sustainable business model, mydiet app, ge healthcare