Program to help business leaders address public health challenges


April 27, 2022 – A new certificate program for business leaders will focus on why incorporating public health considerations as a key part of their work can help people, communities, and the planet—and help businesses thrive at the same time.

The program, Public Health for Business Leaders, will be offered both on campus and online. Each participant will take three 1.5-day courses: a required flagship course on June 16-17 called “Leading in the health-first era: A public health foundation for business success,” as well as two additional courses of their choosing—being offered in September, October and November—on topics including healthy buildings; worker health; community and population health; public health data; corporate sustainability, adaptation, and resilience; and global health.

“For too long, you’ve had public health in one silo and business in another silo, and neither has realized the important viewpoint of the other,” said Richard Siegrist, senior lecturer on health care management, who co-directs the program with Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program. “Now that business has experienced the challenges of public health during the pandemic, and realized that public health is relevant to just about every issue they’re facing, wouldn’t it be to their advantage to understand the language of public health as it relates to business?”

Since the pandemic began, business leaders have been reaching out to faculty members at Harvard Chan School for their expertise on how to keep offices, workers, visitors, and communities healthy, while keeping their businesses strong. That’s what led to the creation of the new program, said Siegrist. “Our faculty are getting inquiries all the time, whether about climate issues, healthy buildings, diversity and inclusion, or data science,” Siegrist said. “We thought it would make sense to harness that interest into a program that business leaders can tap into.”

Each course will offer an overview of how a particular public health focus is currently being practiced at businesses and about innovations that have begun or are being planned, as well as how paying attention to public health considerations helps a business’s bottom line.

The courses will not be the kind “where business executives are sitting in a classroom or on Zoom getting PowerPointed to death,” Siegrist noted. “It’s going to include either a case discussion or panels, and it will be very interactive.”

As part of the flagship course, Siegrist will teach a case about a fictitious manufacturing company facing decreased profitability, loss of key customers, and employee unrest—all made worse by the pandemic. The case describes a new CEO’s efforts to address these challenges by steering the company toward an emphasis on various public health considerations. For example, the case describes how the CEO wants to ensure that company facilities are as healthy as possible in terms of ventilation, air quality, lighting, heat, and other aspects; that health and well-being are emphasized among workers; and that the company increase local hiring and investment, to ensure the health of the larger community.

The courses will be co-taught by both public health experts and seasoned executives. “It’s a collaboration, so you get an exchange of ideas,” said Siegrist. “It’s not us public health experts telling business leaders what they need to know—it’s both informing the other.”

Karen Feldscher

Learn more about the Public Health for Business Leaders program, including course details and enrollment information.