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Without waiting for an answer, he continued: “get yourself an invite on Clubhouse, because that’s what’s happening.”
This was my personal introduction to a social media platform that is based on people getting together and talking, as equals, about both everything and nothing. Yet, as someone open-minded to new platforms, I was naturally intrigued. Intrigued enough to accept an invitation from serial health innovator and entrepreneur, Tara Wacks, and so began a journey of joining countless rooms where people excitedly felt like they’d got the golden ticket. Now they could chat ‘exclusively’ about the rise of digital health, startups, or any kind of topic you can possibly imagine, with people they’d never normally get to meet.
Now, I am no healthcare spring chicken. I have spent many an hour in conference networking rooms, advisory boards, focus groups and market research. So imagine my surprise when I found that these conversations felt, suddenly, ‘fresh’. This was a new type of expression space, a set of unexpected conversations, a noticeable step away from the traditional ways to discuss healthcare.
Fancy a chat with Elon Musk? Or Kanye West?” Two immediate thoughts crossed my mind when my 13-year old son suddenly suggested this: “What would I say to those guys?” and, naturally, “What the heck are you talking about?
It made an impression. I began to wonder, how could we use this new media differently to change the game?
But, like a new kid at school, I craved some familiarity at first. I searched for known faces and quickly happened upon two of my frequent ‘disruptive’ collaborators, Paul Simms and David Hunt, both of whom had joined the platform only a couple of weeks before and were themselves still finding their feet. We put our heads together and decided we could harness our collective influence to curate a new dialogue, unhindered by the conventional rules, where people from all walks of life could come and suggest how life sciences could be transformed, with no money or glory involved. As if to prove the hypothesis, we were quickly supported by passionate patient advocate Christine Von Raesfeld, who now leads many of our club’s conversations despite never having worked in a pharma company. She embodies the idea that improving patient care can be more important than egos, employment status and earnings-per-share.
Over the next few weeks we evolved into a ‘daily show’ format. People are busy, so we agreed on maximum 30 minutes per session, every day at the same time so no scheduling was necessary. A tight time-limit, but we agreed we’d always leave a few minutes spare for anyone to ask a question or throw in their perspective.
On Mondays we tackle Diversity and inclusion, a longstanding issue in a white-male-heterosexual dominated industry. Aurora Archer, Pamela Raitt and Kelly Croce Sorg are leading a fascinating and provocative conversation about the new faces of our future industry.
On Thursdays we double down on the patient engagement and listening agenda, with the help of Christine and Kristof Vanfraechem, by giving them the mic to express their needs, hopes and frustration, and propose solutions for patient empowerment.
Tuesdays and Wednesdays have become days where we could talk about creative ideas that are needed to revitalize our industry’s communications and trust, and where we could hear about the career failures of executives in a constructive, learning environment.
Did I mention the refreshing nature of the conversation? Our no-cost, no-commitment, no-glory approach has opened unexpected doors, with very senior and distinguished leaders volunteering to take guest spots, and the size of the club growing beyond 1500 in just a few months.
Today, we feel more of a movement than a mere conversation in a trendy app. Our rooms are places where renegades converge naturally, where broken industry dialogues are restored, where networking becomes about quality over quantity – joining executives, providers, patients and even their families. Many report that they learn more in a 30-minute session than a whole month of more structured sessions.
This was made possible by agreeing that everyone talks as an equal, representing only oneself, genuine and empathetic, a collective of like-minded people propelled by the same values and a desire to turn words into action.
Last week saw a new initiative, bringing our club out of Clubhouse and onto more established platforms such as Zoom. With no advertising, no communications campaign and no marketing director, we registered in mid-August more than one thousand people.
It turns out that a ragtag collective of wide-eyed industry optimists can create a stronger sense of engagement than even the most well-orchestrated, well-funded initiative. Because we want to raise the tide for all ships. After all, death and taxes may be certainties, but so is the fact that we’ll all become patients in our lifetime. This is surely what paying it forward means.
Join the movement.
The Views and opinions expresses in this article are those of the authors