3M Seeks To Expand Access To Dental Care In Minnesota As Part Of New Social Justice Initiatives


Apple Tree Dental, like many dental clinics focused on underserved communities, has thousands of patients on its waiting list.

Lowest state reimbursement rates for Medicaid patients, on whom more than one million Minnesotans depend for dental coverage, has kept the nonprofit from keeping pace with demand in its eight sites across the state.

Decades of the state’s demand for more money lay empty until 3M showed a group of lawyers how to persuade the legislature to spend an additional $ 61 million on dental benefits earlier this year.

“It’s going to mean that we can hire more staff, we can see more patients and see them earlier,” said Michael Helgeson, CEO of Apple Tree. “I honestly think that many of these great organizations understand that they can only be successful if the communities they are in are doing well.”

After all, expanding access to dental care means more potential sales of 3M oral health products, with sales topping $ 1 billion in the first three quarters of 2021.

3M, based in Maplewood, argues that its social justice initiatives, which grew out of the unrest last year after the murder of George Floyd, are more than lip service. Many companies like 3M now recognize that it will take more than donations to make lasting progress on issues like health equity.

The dental campaign is an example of how large companies can deploy their strength to help others by offering skills and know-how.

“We’re the people on the ground, but every group has their lingo. What 3M has taught us is how to translate that for decision makers,” Helgeson said. “Historically, big business donates, and we need the money, but these skills continue to give: the ability to translate good intentions and good ideas through this very complicated political process and get something done. the end.”

Last year, 3M announced it would spend $ 50 million over five years on “the gaps in racial opportunity through workforce development initiatives,” which include scholarships. and mentoring opportunities. This week, the company has identified areas of equity it will focus on around the world: access to healthcare, ownership, transportation equity and workforce skills.

“These are the areas we have decided that we can uniquely address given the people, products, philanthropic dollars and key partners of our business,” said Garfield Bowen, who has been appointed senior vice president of 3M’s social justice strategy and initiatives last year. “We are really excited to be able to do this and recognize that we are here for the long haul to make sure we are able to continue this work. “

While the company is forced to consider its own environmental heritage through regulations and PFAS clean-up, 3M is taking a proactive approach to these other social issues outside the company and within its ranks. Bowen said the company’s “inclusion index”, which is based on employee surveys, fell from 70 to 76 between 2019 and 2020.

“We know this kind of change can take generations,” Bowen said. “How do we work with the team to integrate this work into the DNA of our company?

Companies around the world have pledged to step up anti-racism philanthropy and hiring practices following Floyd’s murder, with Minnesota companies like Target and US Bank announcing millions in donations to social justice and community health organizations in the part of an overall increase in racial justice donations.

Businesses can have the greatest social impact when they focus on the areas they know best, said Jiao Luo, a professor at the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota and an expert in corporate social responsibility.

“Pick a few things that best match your skillset, something that your organization has the most benefit from working with, and focus on them for the long term,” she said. “What are these internal resources that they can provide and what makes them a good cause? “

Bowen said the company has taken a “listening trip” among its 96,000 employees around the world and among communities in the 70 countries in which it operates and has aligned what it heard with the Sustainable Development Goals United Nations.

“When we think about fairness in transportation, one of the biggest reasons children around the world are losing their lives is because they don’t have the right infrastructure to navigate the roads,” a- he declared. The company’s transportation security segment, which has grossed $ 727 million so far in 2021, “can leverage its products and capabilities.”

Corporate giving has long been linked to a return on investment, but now translates less directly into the bottom line. Employees want to be part of an organization that makes a difference, said Luo, and this is especially important in retaining workers in a tight labor market.

“We have research that shows that if you give employees [sense of purpose], they are happy to stay with you, they work harder and they are often willing to be paid the same, ”she said. is an important cause. But they don’t need to be in conflict. “

3M’s announcement this week contained few details on what the global rollout of its equity initiatives will look like, but Bowen said fieldwork will begin next year. He underlined the broad internal support to make social justice a permanent part of the company’s trajectory.

“We are making these plans to see how we are evolving for maximum impact,” he said. “The more lives we can transform, the better it can be for businesses.”


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