Young Scientists

Seema Kumar, Johnson & Johnson: "Good ideas can come from everywhere"

What is Johnson & Johnson?

Johnson & Johnson is a broadly based healthcare company that does work in consumer products, in medical devices and diagnostics, as well as in pharmaceuticals. And we are probably the largest healthcare company in the world. We are a very purpose driven organization and our purpose is to combine heart, science an ingenuity to profundly change the trajectory of health for humanity. It is an organization that is 132 years old. We have 130,000 employees all over the world and our focus is on healthcare and improving the world. And in fact, at the end of the day, we want to create a world without disease, unleashing the power of science and technology to really improve the health of everyone everywhere in the world.

Why is it important to support scientists in Africa?

Science is actually at the core of everything that is important for progress for society. For us at Johnson & Johnson, science and technology is in the DNA of our company. But also we believe in supporting science all over the world because we believe great ideas can come from anywhere which is why we are also the founding sponsor of the Next Einstein Forum, because that is the inspiration that the Next Einstein for this world will come from Africa. So supporting Africa science and encouraging young millenial population, as well as anybody in Africa about science that is taking place in Africa and by African scientists is going to be a very important part for us.

What kind of projects do you run in Africa?

Believe it or not, Johnson & Johnson has a very long legacy in Africa. We’ve been there for more than 86 years and so we have many of our businesses there, including our consumer business which is located in South Africa, in Cape Town, where we have a manufacturing plant for consumer products. And we also have pharmaceutical and medical devices businesses across Africa. And then we’ve had for a long time a legacy in global community impact or social responsibility, of working with local NGOs on a variety of different initiatives all across the continent. And then finally, we also have what we call a global public health group, the headquarter of which is in South Africa, but we have offices in Ghana and Kenya. And the global public health organization is focused on three different areas, which is tuberculosis, HIV, mental health, but also in many other platforms including for example Ebola and global health security. Because when there was a big outbreak in West Africa in Ebola, one of the big things that we did was that we brought forward and accelerated a vaccine for use in Africa. So we manufactured 2 million doses of vaccine for Ebola which is ready for use should there be an outbreak again. And when there was a recent outbreak in DRC, we were standing by, ready to deploy the vaccine. But the good news is that it seems to be contained so far.

What is the Africa Storytelling Challenge about?

At the Next Einstein Forum in Kigali, we launched what we call the Africa Storytelling Challenge. Because we know that there are more than 25,000 scientists of African descent or in Africa, and unfortunately, most of the time, the rest of the world doesn’t know about the great science that is going on in Africa. So we launched the Storytelling Challenge to inspire African scientists to tell stories about the science that they are doing. And it’s a contest, so that first of all, any story that is validated and is checked out, we will publish all of them in a digital compendium and we also have winners of the Africa Storytelling Challenge and those winners will also be announced on a rolling basis. And this is a way to actually bend down the stereotypes of Africa as a country that is ridden with poverty, disease, and other problems. It is a positive story of Africa and the science and the entrepreneurship and the millenials who are actually taking a big role in African local based solutions to local challenges.

Interview by Jean-Bruno Tagne


Afriscitech, all science throughout all Africa.

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