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The future hinges on partnerships

Published 03 June 2020

Call it what you will – a near-death experience, a revelation, an awakening. But when you talk with Alain Bindels, you’ll find a man changed by COVID-19.

“It was a very tough moment in my life,” Alain says. “I really felt helpless in that moment and realised how fragile life is. I mean, it was really two weeks of not knowing what the outcome would be. Like, will I get better, will I be able to see my family again?”

He did recover. But Alain, Head of Innovation Facilitation & Digitalisation at Roche, says he’s not the same man he was before having the disease. After 15 days on his back, a fever as high as 41.1 degrees and losing 10% of oxygen in his blood, he stumbled out of bed with one word ever-present in his mind: solidarity.

Missed connections became clear

Somehow, after COVID-19, he saw connections he’d missed before, and realised the importance of sustainability and our responsibility as a society, a community and at an individual level. He says he understood that the future – both personally and professionally – hinges on partnerships.

Alain at the 2019 Innovation Summit
Alain at the 2019 Innovation Summit

“I think the only way to go forward after COVID-19 is through collaboration and helping each other,” Alain says. “To be honest, before I was not focused so much on sustainability or on sustainable development goals. But through this experience I realised the importance of solidarity, sustainability and building ecosystems to make change happen.”

An opportunity to harness solidarity around the globe

The disease not only transformed Alain, it also transformed the annual Innovation Summit he organises. As he watched the necessity-driven innovation and agility spurred by the pandemic, he also recognised an opportunity to harness solidarity around the globe, and unite innovators across pharma, governments, academia, patients, startups and nonprofits to work together to deliver solutions that matter for patients.

“My wish for the future is that we have built this ecosystem with partnerships of startups, universities, experts, private companies, even NGOs, and we have the patient included really in the middle of all of that,” Alain says. “So the focus is how can we bring those worlds together into a functioning ecosystem that’s centered around patient needs?”

Alain Bindels
Alain Bindels, Head of Innovation Facilitation & Digitalization, Roche
I think the only way to go forward after COVID-19 is through collaboration and helping each other.”
Alain Bindels Head of Innovation Facilitation & Digitalisation, Roche

Life is fragile

When asked what surprised him most about his experience as a COVID-19 patient, Alain says it’s the fragility of life, and the connections that his vulnerability allowed him to see.

“We all are part of a big community in a big world, and we have to take care of each other,” he says. “I think life is fragile, societies are fragile, and if we really want to create a positive future, a sustainable future for everybody, we need to rethink how we are working as a society, as a community and also on a personal level.”

Read more about Alain’s experience in his Voices blog: Something in me changed.

On 23 June, this year’s Partnering for Innovation Summit will be a virtual format that includes a partnership with the European Innovation Council Corporate Day at Roche, with top innovators, entrepreneurs, small companies and researchers bringing their ideas and ambitions to scale-up internationally. The event includes a keynote speech and panel discussion on “How to Innovate with Purpose?” by Roche Vice Chairman André Hoffmann.

Other topics include “Putting patients first – delivering the ideal patient experience,” “Connecting the dots in an entrepreneurial ecosystem,” and “The Power of Design – Future Business Models in Healthcare.” Plenary sessions will be complemented by pitches from relevant start-ups. In tandem, Brain Catalyst Hackathon Sessions that aim to solve business challenges with guest start-ups will fuel co-design of solutions in real-time.

Tags: People, Innovation