BD Gold Humanism in Community Health award to Malvise Scott (October 29, 2019)

Nancy Young is a writer for the Gold Foundation and the writer-in-residence at the SAKALA community center in Cité Soleil, Haiti, where she specializes in environmental, health, and social justice issues.

By Nancy Young

Malvise Scott is the great connector.

Just ask Jennifer Farrington, senior director for social investing at BD, a global medical technology company and a founding member of the Gold Corporate Council. 

“She is one of the great leaders in community health,” Farrington said while introducing Scott as the recipient of the inaugural BD Gold Humanism in Community Health award at the Gold Humanism Summit in Orlando recently. 

After Hurricane Sandy struck in 2012, BD was looking for a way to help. Farrington found Scott, who is senior vice president for partnership and resource development at the National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC). Scott in turn connected BD to Direct Relief, a nonprofit that provides medicine, supplies, and other resources to communities in need all over the world. 

Many years before that, after Hurricane Katrina, Scott had been a vital link in connecting Direct Relief to community health centers in the US after the devastation in New Orleans made Direct Relief realize that the needs here at home in the US could be just as great as overseas. One result of all those connections facilitated by Malvise Scott is the BD Helping Build Healthy Communities Program, a long-standing three-pronged partnership between BD, Direct Relief, and the NACHC.

Jennifer Farrington, Senior Director for Social Investing at BD and Dr. Richard I. Levin present the BD Gold Humanism in Community Health to Malvise Scott at the Gold Humanism Summit.

“The word ‘partnership’ is often overused, but Malvise embodies it,” said Damon Taugher, vice president for global programs at Direct Relief. Taugher has known Scott since 2005, when he was working to find ways to connect Direct Relief to organizations helping after Hurricane Katrina. It became clear that community health centers were key to the recovery – but how best to connect with them, Taugher wondered. You can’t just call individual health centers out of the blue offering free medicine – no one would trust you.

Enter Malvise Scott into the equation. She heard Direct Relief out and then connected them to the community health centers who could use the resources the most – something she was uniquely qualified to do because of her decades of building trust and expertise in the field.

“With her connections, we could provide the resources,” Taugher said. Scott’s connections were vital to BD as well when the company was looking for a way to help after Hurricane Sandy struck in 2012, Farrington said.

“She has been a breath of fresh air,” said Farrington. “She clearly communicates the needs of her organization and how we can help to improve the lives of these centers’ patients.”

What Farrington especially appreciates about Scott is how she is a “seasoned expert” who pulls no punches, but who is also very friendly. If you come up with a bad idea she will just give constructive feedback on why it won’t work, but “she doesn’t hold it against you.”

The result is a positive working relationship where good ideas and true partnership can grow. That in turn has meant that the BD Helping Build Healthy Communities Program has flourished. According to a BD press release, since its inception in 2013, the program – working through Direct Relief and the NACHC – has awarded $5.8 million in grants to health centers in 20 states. It has also donated 33 million insulin syringes and 713,000 pen needles to more than 1,200 health centers across the country. In all, the company estimates the program has helped 450,000 patients across the US.

And it all started with human-to-human connections fostered by Malvise Scott.

Scott’s name is now synonymous with community health, but she said actually happened on the field by accident in the 1970s when she was a graduate student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill thinking about a career in academia and research. But the first interviews Scott went on left her feeling disenchanted. It seemed there was more interest in using her to be the face of diversity programs that were diverse in name only. She didn’t want to be used to mislead other black and minority students that they were coming to a place that truly valued diversity when it didn’t.

She went to a community health center in Raleigh to see if she could do research. From the beginning, the community health center felt right. What she loved most about the health centers “was the concern people had about the folks around them.”

It turned out that the community health center was not really interested in Scott doing academic research, but they were interested in her becoming the marketing director…even though she had no business or marketing degree, had not even taken a single course. For the interview, Scott was supposed to come up with a marketing plan, so she wrote one. She contacted the dean of the business school – a person she had no connection to — to see if he would review it.

He agreed, he told her, mostly because he wanted to meet the person who would “have the nerve” to contact the dean of a prestigious business school out of the blue for such a thing.

His judgment: “for someone who has never taken a marketing course this is pretty good.”

Scott’s marketing plan also sparked an epiphany for the dean: he had always thought of marketing as something for businesses, not for nonprofits. So, when Scott eventually got the marketing director job, he started sending her two marketing interns a year to work in the center. Decades later, Scott is still making those crucial connections that have helped so many.

“I went to this health center to see about getting a job to do research and I never left,” Scott said during the award ceremony at the Gold Humanism Summit. “I never left that commitment to provide health care for people who need it.”