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How does finance fit into the conversation around our health?

Written by Emma Jane Pristov

7 May 2024
News 4 min read
A conference foyer. A woman is talking to a young person, behind them is a sign that reads "my vision for a healthier future"

Author: this blog is written by Emma Jane Pristov, who works at VicHealth and attended 'The power of finance and investments for addressing the commercial determinants of health' session at World Health Summit Regional Meeting


Commercial organisations have the capacity to positively shape community health or they can choose to undermine it... 

But how can a business impact your health? 

From the apps on your phone, to the sales at the checkout and the shareholder meetings behind closed doors- the impact of business on our health is prevalent and often unseen.  

As the world becomes more complex and global events are impacting our daily lives, public health has turned its head towards commercial and economic actors to better understand their role on shaping our health and how we can prioritise the health and wellbeing for Victorians. The summary of this Lancet Series has a deep dive into the definition of the commercial actors and their impact, which was built on during the World Health Summit Regional Meeting in April 2024.  


Latest conversations at the World Health Summit Regional Meeting 2024 


Let’s paint a picture. Melbourne Convention Centre. Autumn. Crunchy leaves. 1,200 people gathering together to discuss the health of the Asia Pacific region, learning from each other and connecting over curry.  

In a room with 100 health professionals, VicHealth explored the concept of ‘The power of finance and investments for addressing the commercial determinants of health’ and how public health officials can influence commercial actors to consider and impact health in their operations and decision making.  

By attending the session, the participants gained:

  • Insights from Catherine Howarth on how to influence business and their impact on health (more on Catherine soon)
  • An understanding of the risks (and rewards) of working with businesses on their impact on health
  • A common understanding on how health promoting agencies can influence businesses 
Catherine Howarth standing on stage in an orange skirt and white top delivering her keynote speech.

Opening strong - key note presentation from Catherine Howarth

Catherine Howarth, CEO of ShareAction and first time visitor to Melbourne, started the conversation strong, telling our audience how fertile the ground is in the financial sector and ready for change. Catherine left us with three key insights:

  • Sharing public health values and principles when starting a conversation in the finance sector is critical for meaningful conversations 
  • Shareholders are committed to company success but are open to conversations when beginning with friendly dialogue  
  • To be brave and use tools and tactics outside the traditional public health toolkit 
Caterina Giorgi  on stage wearing a grey suit and speaking into a microphone

Setting the scene- Caterina Giorgi  

Caterina Giorgi, CEO of the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) or Cat for her friends, set the scene for the panel and encouraged our audience to lean into the grey. To capture a snippet from her opening remarks when talking about the importance and difficulty of working with industry:

“It's an approach that involves a lot more grey than we might be used to more traditional approaches to public health – where we sometimes paint industry as bad and orgs and people like us as good.

And its understandable on why people have painted these areas as black and white – because this is partly about trust – and its difficult to place trust in companies whose ultimate aims are primarily to make a profit.” 

Catherine Howarth, Tay Choon Hong, Dr. Adnan Hyder and Dr. Ella Robbinson are on a panel discussion on stage.

Learning from the experts

This group of world leading experts let us know their insights and experiences of working with business. This panel had it all. Deep conversations and learning from our past, practical explanations for our audience, banter, laughter and more insights than I can keep to myself.  

From each of our panel we learnt:

  • Catherine Howarth reminded the audience to not underestimate the power of the voices of those with lived experience e.g., person who lost home to bushfire caused by climate change.
  • Tay Choon Hong shared his wisdom as a health promotion advocate encouraged our audience that starting conversations with industry can be awkward to begin. To support moving through this, we focus should on identifying the roles we play in the system.
  • From Dr. Adnan Hyder "Our power lies in data or education...when you have it[data] you can use it in multiple ways"
  • Dr. Ella Robbinson reminded us that by changing public sentiment we can change what customers want and that will change what investors want. 

Some final thoughts

  • Trust and relationships take time, consideration and investment. But by being open and curious, we are able to change the financial landscape
  • That to lean into the grey and create systematic change takes time and bravery, so working together and continuing the conversation is critical

Thank you to our panel and our audience for your time and insights for such an inspirational conversation. 

If you have any questions about VicHealth's work in the commercial and economic determinants of health space, please reach out to the team: [email protected] 

Artwork by Dexx (Gunditjmara/Boon Wurrung) ‘Mobs Coming Together’ 2022
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VicHealth acknowledges the support of the Victorian Government.

Artwork Credit: Dexx (Gunditjmara/Boon Wurrung) ‘Mobs Coming Together’ 2022, acrylic on canvas. Learn more about this artwork.