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Aspen Medical, health care with an impact

Glenn Keys, Co-founder of Aspen Medical

Aspen Medical is a global provider of high-quality healthcare in challenging and under-resourced environments. They have most recently been at the forefront of providing humanitarian relief to assist Syrian civilians in the war-ravaged region of Northern Iraq and also in West Africa during the Ebola outbreak. 

We spoke to Glenn Keys, Co-founder of Aspen Medical while at the Champions Retreat in Alice Springs to learn more about how Aspen Medical embodies B Corp values .

How is Aspen Medical a force for good?
We have always had doing the right thing as part of our DNA since we started the company 14 years ago. We deliver healthcare solutions around the world and in Australia where we provide everything from the buildings, the equipment, the people, the pharmaceuticals, the consumables, the ambulance and aircraft. When we started, we didn’t begin with a design. We knew we were incredibly lucky and wanted to give back from day one and so we built it into our DNA. Over time we have grown and developed what was originally our CSR and philanthropy programme. In the next stage of our evolution we started to see that what we were doing was in line with being a B Corp. We have rolled all of those things - our Reconciliation Action Plan for Indigenous Australians, our Foundation, our corporate giving and our matched giving on our side to our team - all under our B Corp banner and have made sure that is implemented in the 12 countries we operate in around the world and communicated to our 1,600 team members.

When did you become a B Corp?

We became B Corp in September last year so we are relatively new, and that is part of the reason for us being here at the Champions Retreat. There are 4 of us here in Alice Springs. We are here to soak up and learn from others and have found that the generosity of spirit from other the B Corps is enormous. Starting from people like Allan English and his staff at Silver Chef, the time and commitment and open access to material they have given us is great. The quality of people we have met here, and from around the world from Hong Kong, Latin America, the US and UK has been outstanding. We are drawing on all their ideas and we can see our team getting excited by the prospects of implementing all they’ve learnt when they go back. It is quite infectious.

You were saying purpose was already there in your DNA. Does that come from a personal place?

It does. One of our three children has Down syndrome so we have always been heavily involved in the disability community and strongly believe in the need for inclusion and social equity. As I talk to people and see what others are doing, our ideas around what we are doing at Aspen Medical is getting greater clarity. Fourteen years ago, if someone said, ‘Is what you’re doing at Aspen Medical around social equity and inclusion part of B Corp values?”, I wouldn’t have known what to say as I didn’t know what half those terms were. Whereas now we can see it is absolutely clear that you can make a profit and also make a difference in community and society. We are really excited to be a part of that.

Community is a big part of what being a B Corp means. How does community fit into your own work?

I’ve always had the strong view that people see business as separate to government and community. That is a completely flawed model as they are not distinct items. They are absolutely intertwined. People who work in businesses go home, they’re involved with community, they’re members of clubs, their kids go to schools, they drive on public roads, they use the police. It is apparent that government, community and business are absolutely intertwined. The sooner we can realise that, together we can achieve far more than apart. That is when our society will be the place that we will want not just for our kids, but for our grandkids and our great grandkids.

I think somewhere along the way we’ve forgotten the values that have raised us. I think we are in a very privileged time where a lot of us are very lucky. We live in a country with a great rule of law, in a democracy where there is justice, there is lack of corruption, access to capital, education and health. If we don’t exploit those for the benefit of those that don’t have those things, be it people from Indigenous communities, disabilities or no education, then shame on us.

I love that you’re using your privilege to do something, when most of us are complacent with it.

I talk a lot about this with business. When you start your business work out what you can do. It doesn’t mean you have to donate all of your profits or your salary but you may decide that you might want to donate your services to businesses that may not be able to afford it. Maybe offer a low bono instead of a pro bono service. Do something because the next person who starts at your company will be attracted to it and it will soon enough become part of your DNA. Start small, and that will be the way you will go forward.

Sense of purpose

I got asked to present to a group of chartered accountants on corporate social responsibility and someone asked how my shareholders felt that I’m running my business like this. I said if you want to be absolutely brutal, don’t look at productivity, look at staff turnover. Our staff turnover is half that of the health industry in Australia or two-thirds of every other industry in Australia. If we took that number and accounted for the cost per head lost, that gap is about $75,000 on average across every position. That is a third less than the industry at large and $3.5 million a year in savings. We haven’t even talked about productivity yet. Even staff who have left Aspen Medical get in touch about stuff we can do together as they have now become ambassadors for us whilst working for other companies.

Is it in the nature of the work they do in this industry that they’re finding their purpose?

Absolutely. In the health industry it is easy to do good work, be it in indigenous communities, supporting clearance of surgical waiting lists or even helping people in remote sites with resource centres - all of those are good bits of business to be involved in. On top of that when you then look at the programmes we are doing in communities around disability and Indigenous health, around supporting people in the Pacific islands and Africa, when they look at those things on top of the work we do it is absolutely a no brainer that they’d be motivated.

‘Be the change you want to see in the world’ - Mahatma Gandhi
What are your own lived experiences of the values in your work and your everyday?

We try and make sure those values are very clear. A percentage of all our profits are given to our Foundation. My wife Amelda is the Chair of that Foundation and it has strong corporate engagement from staff. Our team are critically aware of all the things we are involved in and for me the power of how that has shown - at one event we were raising money to go to purchasing sporting equipment for East Timor for those who had disabilities. We were doing a wheelchair basketball competition over a weekend. My wife, my son Ehren and I went to watch it. One of our staff members walks out in an Aspen Medical shirt. He said he read that the company was sponsoring the event and he put a team in. They all paid their own entry fee, and came in as an Aspen Medical team. They spent their own money and spent an entire Sunday there which was brilliant off their own backs. They had a ball.

Another example is at our Special Olympics fundraiser - we were having a trivia night. The same thing happened again. 20 staff paid for the tables themselves on a Friday night. To me, that commitment by our team to be seen as Aspen Medical when they didn’t need to , shows that not only are we living the values but they are too.

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