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on a positive impact

Trust Talks with: Michael Bzdak, Global Director of Employee Engagement, J&J Global Community Impact

How “talent for good” drives progress toward J&J’s Sustainable Development Goals Commitment

Michael Bzdak is the Global Director of Employee Engagement at Johnson & Johnson (J&J) Global Community Impact (GCI). In his role, Michael leads an initiative he calls “talent for good” that harnesses J&J employees’ passions and talents to deliver social good around the world and drive progress toward the Enterprise’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Commitment. In honor of International Youth Day, the Trust had the opportunity to catch up with Michael to learn why youth play a central role in achieving the Global Goals.

The Trust: The Johnson & Johnson (J&J) SDG Commitment focuses on bringing good health to all by 2030. How does supporting youth fit into the SDG commitment?

Michael: Many of the Global Goals concern youth, so why not engage them? We’re talking about the future, and they are the future. Youth are the oxygen giving life to and connecting the 17 goals to each other. Young people have a lot to bring to the table. At the international level, they’re big thinkers generating fresh ideas and challenging nations and governments to move past the status quo. On the ground, they’re creative problem solvers with the best understanding of the challenges of their communities. And in the age of social media, they have proven to be effective communicators powerful at mobilizing others through activism and advocacy.

What role can the private sector play in building the capacity of youth, and what makes the private sector’s impact unique?

Too many students, more than 1.2 million, drop out of school every year while increasing numbers of young people are unemployed. Sadly, of the 13 million children growing up in poverty today, only 1 in 10 will graduate from college. Issues like youth unemployment can be very concerning, but through opportunities like internships and job shadowing, the private sector has the ability to be the training ground for youth. The private sector is everywhere — we’re the engine fueling community development and scaling up innovations. Youth, when engaged with the private sector, have a great deal to contribute to society, and by nurturing their talent, we’re preparing them not only to be leaders in their fields, but also to be meaningful contributors to a sustainable world. There is evidence that the private sector can to help with filling the academic and skill gaps that hinder our young people from succeeding in high school.

BTE student ambassadors share their learnings at the 2013 Annual Alliance Building & Training Session (ABTS) in Cork, Ireland. Credit:

What are some specific J&J programs that empower youth to play an active role in creating a healthier world?

One Young World (OYW), WISTEM2D, and Bridge to Employment (BTE) are the main J&J initiatives to help young people succeed. This year, we provided independent youth leaders with scholarships to attend the OYW Summit in October in Bogotá, Colombia together with 35 J&J delegates. In addition, the delegates and scholars will be supported through a mentoring and coaching program to guide them in enhancing the impact of their community health projects.

WISTEM2D is designed to empower and inspire young women who are interested in or already pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering and math, manufacturing, and design (STEM2D). Our employees are the spark — they go into classrooms to talk about their careers, conduct hands-on workshops with students, and lead inquiry-based learning to inspire students to set career goals. They guide young people in building their confidence through mentorship and project-based learning. Similarly, BTE, which just celebrated its 25th anniversary, pairs J&J employees with young people to prepare them for college and their careers.

How can the private sector better respond to youth’s needs in order to achieve the SDGs?

Companies need to collaborate to make a difference for even more youth in order to have an even greater impact on school systems and communities. The SDGs are so bold that we aren’t even going to come close to accomplishing them acting alone as independent companies, NGOs, and governments. Whether it’s Microsoft, IBM, or CISCO, we all have our social impact programs and their lessons learned, and we should be combining these lessons so we can provide youth with richer experiences, whether they’re interested in IT or healthcare. That’s one of our biggest lessons moving forward.  

What do you think is the most important takeaway for the global health community and the private sector on International Youth Day?

Our young people should be viewed as assets and they should be encouraged to be actively involved in designing global development policies and initiatives. For example, right now, in many parts of the world, there is a high prevalence of unemployed youth and, at the same time, a large number of open healthcare jobs. If we, as a global community, give more thought to exposing youth at a very young age to the healthcare and STEM professions and entering them into a training program early on, youth unemployment can be alleviated.