Monthly Archives: June 2011

Philippines’ Palawan Underground River Vies for 7 New Wonders

The search for the 7 New Wonders of the World is on and the Philippines’ Palawan Underground River makes it to the 28 finalists. In the final round of voting, only seven will be chosen. For interested voters, click here.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino III has urged Filipinos in the Philippines and in other parts of the world to strongly and aggressively campaign for the subterranean river park. He is encouraging everyone to use multi-media channels in voting the Puerto Princesa Underground River (PPUR) in the online contest of the New 7 Wonders of Nature. Embassies, consular offices, and labour offices of the Philippine government abroad are also being asked to encourage overseas Filipinos to vote for Puerto Princesa’s underground river.

Mobile phones are also one of the best ways to vote since majority of Filipinos own this communications gadget. Filipinos can use text messages by typing Text PPUR and sending it to 2861.  Also, voters can log on to The last day of voting will be on November 10.

I had the opportunity to go there myself when we scouted for location sites for our company calendar. The entire site is a haven of geological and ecotourism delights. The underground river is divided in the centre by a limestone outcrop known as the St. Paul mountain range. It rises 1,028 meters at the highest, 11 km long, between 3-5 km wide and covers an area of around 35 sq. /km. Scientists believe it is between 16 – 20 million years old.

It was formerly known as the St. Paul Subterranean National Park when it was established as a protected park in 1971. In 1999, the national park was expanded to 22,202 hectares and was renamed Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park. On December 11, 2003, the National committee on Geological Sciences declared it as a National Geological Monument.

To vote, click here.

Communicating CSR and the Filipino Psychology

Let’s face it, a company cannot do CSR if it is not in good financial position.  That is why we see businesses linking their CSR programs with their core business and supply chain to meet both their obligations to their shareholders while practicing sound social responsiveness to the community and the people surrounding the business. Today, it makes more sense for a business to be socially responsive rather than just dole out material benefits. In the end, a strategically embedded CSR program can effectively create reputational benefits and ethically obtained profits.

However, a dilemma arises when big multinational corporations decide to implement a CSR program in countries of operation. What happens when a foreign company invests locally and what kind of CSR strategy could be pursued vis-à-vis local context? An accompanying communications strategy for the firm’s CSR program becomes crucial when the considerations go beyond than just business practices and legal compliance. The communication strategy must also be sensitive to the social, political and even cultural contexts of the host country. In today’s article, I’d like to introduce a few concepts on Filipino psychology and how they could be applied to corporate communications vis-a-vis CSR implementation.

CSR Then and Now

R. Edward Freeman sparked the stakeholder theory discussion in his book Stakeholder Approach to Strategic Management (1984) and this definition is most often quoted in CSR discussions: “[Stakeholder] is any group or individual who can affect or is affected by the achievement of the organization’s objectives.” Since then CSR activities emerged as instruments that will either make stakeholders simply happy with the firm’s good behavior or will be used as a vital component of the overall corporate strategy to produce better corporate performance. Companies practice CSR because satisfied customers and happy stakeholders are desirable ends. Other firms practice CSR because it is a moral duty asked of them in a society of wants. Businesses are placed in a position of power and affluence and failure to seize this opportunity to do good could result in losing this position. CSR today then seeks to achieve an end goal that is beyond the economic and technical interests. We now see the development of CSR as a central component in the policy formulation process and not just an incidental activity added to the firm’s profit-maximizing goals.  The orientation of CSR has changed from that of obligation and responsibility to that of responsiveness.

A business is well advised not to jump into the bandwagon of the CSR fever. A truly effective CSR program is one that has assessed the areas of need where the company is in the best position to help, identified the key stakeholders and linked the CSR prerogative to the business imperative. As often the case of a closely connected global village, the activities of multinational companies can now be scrutinized easily. Obviously, there is a gap between the regulatory environments of the country of the mother company and that of the host country of the subsidiary. The United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD) gathered CSR research with special focus on the new agenda of CSR and development. The realization that was reached in that conference was that the prevailing neoliberal policies have created a lopsided situation wherein transnational corporations were benefiting much from operations in the developing world without assuming commensurate responsibilities or returning obligations. For example, in the Philippines and South Africa, research on the food and beverage sector has shown that the CSR agenda ignores key issues to do with food security, ethical marketing, nutrition and consumption patterns.

CSR in the Philippines

The bayanihan spirit, the symbolic value of a community acting together to help its members, best captures the essence of Filipino generosity. Pakikipagkapwa (a shared sense of humanity), pagtutulungan (mutual aiding), and kawanggawa (charity) are cultural traits that tend to underlie Filipino philanthropy.

After World War II, public rehabilitation organizations were formed to support the rehabilitation of war-torn cities and to aid philanthropic groups.  In the 1950s and 1960s, private philanthropy gained more prominence as wealthy individuals and corporations began spearheading fundraising activities and campaigns, complementing the work of the Church and government. By the early 1970s, efforts to coordinate philanthropic activities resulted in the creation of aggrupations like the Philippine Business for Social Progress (PBSP) and Association of Foundations.

The dictatorship of the Marcos regime in the country from 1960s to 1980s has exposed the inefficiency of the government to provide for the welfare of the people. By the time the regime was ousted in 1986, half of the country was living in poverty. The environmental degradation has been rampant and the national coffers were decimated leaving nothing for the newly installed democratic government to stimulate economic recovery. It was during this period that focus was turned to civil society and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to fill in the void of the socio-economic development agenda.

Today, the Philippine Government has a poverty alleviation program, and recently an environmental agenda.  Most of the country’s developmental goals are hinged on the United Nations Millennium Development Goals and the resulting policy that came after the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol, which provided companies avenue to pursue climate change related CSR activities. Another important area worth mentioning is the effort on conflict resolution in the southern part of the Philippines where Filipino Muslim minorities have been affected by the war on terrorism. The poorest province can be found there and the quality of life is ranked lower compared to the other regions of the country. The business sector is expected to take a more hands-on role in nation building. Hence, businesses need to integrate with society more meaningful and one way of doing that is through CSR.

CSR Practices in the Philippines

Figaro Coffee: Saving Local Farmers

The Philippines was historically one of the world’s top producers of coffee, with export earnings of at least US$150 million before 1986. However, the situation started to decline in the 1990s until only 500kg per hectare can only be produced. This change affected 60,000–80,000 coffee families, the majority of which are small farmers. Demand had fallen because of imported Arabica and large-scale domestic production of Robusta by large corporations. In 1998, the Figaro Coffee Foundation was formed to boost Filipino coffee production, particularly Barako, the indigenous liberica coffee species grown in the southern regions of Luzon Island. The company’s view of its community has subsequently expanded from its consumers to the farmers that produce its products. While the task of rehabilitating the local coffee industry and saving the Barako remain challenging, Figaro and its various partners have developed the right channels and networks to solidify and integrate their efforts as a collective unit making longer-term success achievable.

The ‘Save the Barako’ cause has somehow given the coffee added value as portion of the bean sales is channeled back to into a project to promote the revival of the Barako. The project encompasses awareness programmes, new plantings, research, and targeted marketing, and is coordinated with the Figaro Coffee Foundation. The waning supply of Barako beans prompted the company to be more aggressive in securing supplies. The ‘Save the Barako’ campaign is its showpiece effort, and has earned the company a reputation as a company that cares for the coffee farmer. More than just to sustain its core product or core business, Figaro has become the trailblazer on how ‘out of the box’ ideas can be used to encourage farmers to plant the Barako again, motivate local governments to do their part and get cooperatives working toward one goal.

Food Wrapped In A Leaf: The Story of Binalot

The Philippines is a culture of tradition. Its colorful and vibrant traditions are a product of many influences. Three hundred years of Spanish colonization inspired the local food and fiesta culture. The most popular form of public transportation is the Jeepney, an adapted military jeep left behind by the Americans after World War II. It was from this idea that the business of Binalot was created – a company that is both socially responsible and culturally sensitive. Binalot wanted to recreate and reintroduce a lost piece of Filipino culture to modern urban dwellers. The company also wanted to make Binalot the number one fast-food chain in the Philippines by promoting Filipino humor, values, and culture. Binalot started serving food to its customers the traditional way—wrapped in banana leaves.

As the business grew, its founders realized that there was another, equally important purpose behind the business. What is uniquely Pinoy (slang for Filipino) is the practice of hospitality, that sense of community, and the strong belief that each is responsible for one another. In most villages, banana farmers earnings barely afford them the necessities of life. This led to creation of the Binalot Foundation to help farmers find diverse uses for the banana, such as making flavored banana chips or finding a bigger market for the banana flower as a vegetarian delight. The result was the Binalot DAHON community. DAHON is an acronym for Dangal at Hanapbuhay para sa Nayon, which means “Livelihood and Dignity for the Rural Community.” Under its CSR program, the company has helped the farming community by getting banana leaves direct from the farmers to eliminate the middlemen, and teaching the village women to cut and pack the leaves, which provides jobs. Soon, the women became more skilled and could finish the job in ninety minutes, and their rate of pay rose significantly. They also trained villagers to make banana chips, which were sold in Binalot stores, giving them another source of income. Binalot buys all the harvests from these communities, ensuring their market and income, and in turn, building a happy supply chain partner.

Filipino Psychology vis-à-vis CSR

From the cases of Figaro and Binalot, one could observe the cultural underpinnings that drove both companies’ CSR programs.  CSR itself should be seen in socio-cultural terms aside from political economy settings. Communicating the CSR policy and activities of a transnational company would certainly require ample understanding of Filipino psychology if the message must be transmitted and interpreted properly.

According to Virgilio Enriquez, the Father of Filipino Psychology, Sikolohiyang Pilipino is defined as ‘‘the study of diwa (‘psyche’), which in Filipino directly refers to the wealth of ideas referred to by the philosophical concept of ‘essence’ and an entire range of psychological concepts from awareness to motives to behavior.” It is based on assessing historical and socio-cultural realities, understanding the local language, unraveling Filipino characteristics and explaining them through the eyes of the native Filipino. These resulted in a body of knowledge, which includes indigenous concepts and methods. This particular field of study is thus designed to be a psychology of, for, and by Filipinos, one appropriate and applicable to dealing with health, agriculture, art, mass media, religion, and other spheres of everyday life.

The values within Filipino Psychology

Filipino Psychology locates the identity of the individual in terms of the web of his social relations. For instance, the experience may be a response to colonial oppression (Philippines was a colony of Spain for 300 years, USA for 30 years and Japan for 3 years during the occupation). In terms of areas of protest, Sikolohiyang Pilipino is against a psychology that perpetuates the colonial status of the Filipino mind. It is against a psychology used for the exploitation of the masses. Hence, CSR programs must treat community members as partners and not as passive recipients of dole outs.

Enriquez and his school of thought unfolded the concept of kapwa (shared identity), which is at the core of Filipino social psychology, and which is at the heart of the structure of Filipino values. He discovered that it is not maintaining smooth interpersonal relationships that Filipinos are most concerned with, but pakikipagkapwa, which means treating the other person as kapwa or fellow human being. In this realm, the Filipino views someone as ‘outsider (ibang tao) and ‘one of us’ (hindi ibang tao). Understanding the nuances of these perceptions will enable the communication of CSR program to be more effective because the rapport will have to be established at a higher level of personal interaction.

Sharpening one’s shared inner perception or pakikiramdam is a particularly desirable skill in many situations involving Filipino social interaction. Pakikiramdam is especially useful in conducting community extension work that may be part of the whole CSR process. If time were allowed to understand the local community’s cultural ways, they would feel comfortable enough to disclose their opinions, knowledge and experiences to the company. How the company is placed in the Filipino stakeholder’s perception determines the level of interaction that will be afforded to it. For example, if one is regarded as ibang-tao, the interaction can range from civility to interaction, conformity or getting along with. If one is categorized as hindi-ibang-tao, then the firm can expect acceptance and being one with the community, which is the desired state of interaction in order to make the CSR program truly effective.

Concluding Notes

Communicating CSR programs in the Philippines would inevitably focus on the levels of interactions with the local community stakeholders. A certain level of mutual trust, understanding and rapport should be reached, at the minimum, in order to be assured of harmonious relations. The dichotomy of the ‘‘one of us’’ and the ‘‘outsider’’ categories reflects a value for defining membership in a group which determines the boundaries or the extent by which the dimensions of the CSR program should take its effects. As a general rule, the firm needs to explore the meaning and experience of business-community relations at the local level, giving importance to the Filipino’s aspirations as a people. Knowing what kind of citizenship the firm will assume will determine greatly the CSR path it will pursue in the host country. Tapping into the wealth of those values in the Filipino psyche becomes useful when analyzing the multiple claims or interests that stakeholders hold while matching the citizenship role that the firm intends to assume.

To serve the company’s strategic business thrusts, CSR must be rooted in the nature and demands of its operations and reconciled with the needs and expectations of the stakeholders. Creating solid partnerships with stakeholders, most especially with the community, enhances the success of any CSR program. Working beyond what is required will do a lot of wonders for both company and stakeholders. Although laws and regulations dictate that the firm must comply, going the extra mile will provide added business security in the long run.

In the Philippines, there is a big opportunity for the government to harness business enthusiasm for CSR to achieve its goal of improving the quality of life of poor Filipinos.  Right now, what needs to be done is to identify, and strengthen, CSR priorities and incentives that will work in the Philippine context. With the ongoing crisis in corporate capital that resulted in more and more Filipinos towards poverty, there is good reason to agree that society needs CSR now more than ever. The business sector, as the country’s economic prime mover, could also be the country’s driving force in effecting a timely and relevant social change.  It’s time to walk the talk and take the big CSR leap. This then should be the driving force for doing CSR in the Philippines. One simply has to recognize, appreciate and emphasize the indigenous elements and rethink the foreign formula of CSR and put them in the context of the Philippines as a country of strong values. What is important is the positive impact that CSR will create in solving the problems in Philippine society.

Of CEOs, Corporate Communications and Orchestration

There once was a man of extraordinary talent who wielded his charm through a magical musical instrument – the Pied Piper of Hamelin borough he was called. The townsfolk sought for his help to get rid of the infestation that has been destroying their crops. The Piper blew his pipe and gathered all the rodents and led them to the river to drown. But he was not paid his due and the entire town realized their mistake too late for the Pied Piper blew his pipe again and merrily led their children away never to be seen again.

Pied pipers are communicators who could, if they were today’s CEOs, lead many organisations to riches and formidable reputation. Or, they could also lead them to rapaciousness and ruination.

The Metaphor and the Need to Orchestrate Corporate Communications

Webster’s extended definition describes orchestra as “a band of instrumental musicians suitable for the performance of symphonies, overtures, etc., as well as for the accompaniment of operas, oratorios, cantatas, masses, and the like, or of vocal and instrumental solos.” There are at least forty string instruments with a proper complement of wind instruments. A conductor usually directs the orchestra. It is interesting to note that the early orchestra did not have a conductor and used the concertmaster or harpsichordist to play this role.

The need for ‘orchestrated’ strategy stems from the fact that today’s organizations are getting more complex as a result of globalization. Changes in technology and production of ideas tend to be faster and these will have an impact on how organizations harness information for its own advantage. The propensity to orchestrate becomes stronger when the organization undergoes a strategic change. And during that period, the organization will confront questions like ‘How will it redefine its business position in the new business landscape?’ ‘Are traditional customers enough to meet the bottom line?’ ‘How can the business be sustainable?’ ‘How do you tell stakeholders that you are a responsible enterprise?’

Often the answer can be found in corporate communications (or public relations, or whatever names today’s corporate jargon produces). From the early feudal structures to the highly industrialized societies, man has always needed an organized form of handling communications.  Communication management is not new. The interconnectedness of the modern world, on the other hand, desires for a more strategic approach of communicating with a web of stakeholders. Regulatory regimes and the well-informed customer give rise to the strategic communication imperative. Developing an integrated, strategic approach to communications will be critical to organizational success. Executives are now finding it urgent to ensure that their communications practices contribute directly to corporate strategy implementation.

Aligning Communication with Strategy

A good corporate strategy will make sense to also use a communication strategy. Whereas corporate strategy provides the vision i.e. where an organization wants to go and how it intends to get there, the communication strategy designs the appropriate set of communication programs, functional and operational, to be directed at targeted stakeholders so that the corporate vision can be achieved.

Corporate strategy can be compared then to an enabling law while communication strategy is the manual that translates the intent into actionable programs. As a strategic function, corporate communications will be involved in the decision-making process where corporate strategy is concerned.  Here, the communicator must assume the role of a communication strategist in the corporate strategy team.

Corporate Communication Roles

What role do corporate communication practitioners play in strategic decision-making? Academic research has established two general types of corporate communication practitioners and cast them into broad roles: the manager and the technician.

Communication technician: The role creates and disseminates messages, the tactical implementer of decisions made by others and is generally not involved in management decision-making and strategic decisions concerning communication strategy and programs.

Communication manager: The role is primarily concerned with externally oriented, long-term decisions, rather than solving short-term, technical problems. It typically uses research to monitor the organization’s environment and opinions of key stakeholders. And because they possess the needed intelligence gained from research, managers are more likely to participate in the organization’s decision-making and strategic planning.

The CEO and the Orchestration of Communication

 In today’s modern times, reporting to a CEO who understands, appreciates and utilizes communication strategy to the fullest extent is a corporate communicator’s boon. When the CEO assumes the excellent communicator role, the entire organization will be able to harness communication strategies and tools to achieve business objectives. The CEO’s deeper understanding of the corporate communication function spells the difference between the success and failure of the function and more broadly, can enhance the company’s ability to build its reputation and get its strategic objectives implemented. Otherwise, the CEO’s corporate communications group will just be assigned superficial tasks taking care of short-term image enhancing, which cannot create effective foundations for a truly reputable organizational performance.

 By using the orchestration metaphor, we could  contextualize the necessity of one baton-wielder to produce a singular music created from the harmonization of different musical instruments. There will be instances too when the CEO will perform the role of the conductor aside from being a composer. Richard Pascale, the management thinker sees the CEO as “an orchestra conductor, directing change according to a score which all players agree upon.” He ensures that everyone knows the score.

Some CEO’s like to perform both roles. It is rare to find a CEO who actually comes from the PR ranks. But there are quite a few out there. I was able to work with such one and he did perform the conductor’s role. This was understandable because of his previous stints as political communications manager. He assumed the helm of an organization at a time when it needed a visionary leader. As a PR man himself, he was hands-on in formulating and implementing one of its most successful strategies. He was effective in rallying the support of gatekeepers while ensuring that the transaction was carried out in the most transparent and ethical manner possible.

 Wielding the conductor’s baton becomes more important in times of significant organizational change e.g merger, divestment or privatization. The important thing to remember is that corporate communications is not a solo act, hence the metaphor of orchestration. It would also be favorable if the team leader assumes the role of the strategic communication manager, wields a certain ounce of power in the organization, and has a two-way symmetrical perspective of the organization and its stakeholders. Yes, in some cases, CEOs can be an effective communicator. Unlike the Pied Piper of Hamelin, these CEOs blew the pipe to lead their organization to a better business position.

The MBS Chronicles: Sustainability, Business & Society

Starting with this entry, I will be posting some of my memorable learning experiences while studying in the University of Manchester. The opening salvo of this chronicle-type series will cover sustainability as the new paradigm of corporate social responsibility…

Is sustainability just a buzzword? Or is it a reinvention of the environmentalism fad that caught the imagination of people in the 90’s only to evaporate in the post-9/11 era? People of my generation often wonder how we could ever fit in today’s weary world – have we become passive recipients of the burgeoning capitalist phenomenon or have we had enough of this post-modern apathy that has been plaguing our so-called couch potato existence?

It was against this backdrop that I found myself going to the United Kingdom to pursue a masters studies. With the naïveté of a freshly minted international student in Manchester, I left that mooring on sustainability tucked in my pocket because I had to face the demands of postgraduate studies in the business school. A few months later, I found myself dipping back into that pocket to take out sustainability and ponder upon it again when I took an elective module called Skills in Sustainability and Social Responsibility (SSSR). By enrolling in the module, I expected to discover better, and perhaps original, ways of looking at sustainability challenges and most importantly, provide creative solutions to the sustainability problems. The appeal of the class is its problem-based learning (PBL) approach, which was totally new to me.

Sustainability and Social Responsibility

At the beginning of the module, we were re-introduced to the concept of sustainable development. When I saw those three circles overlapping to create a common centre, memories from high school and college days came flooding back.  The concept of sustainability as a universal goal is the result of a conference spearheaded by the United Nations in Stockholm, Sweden in 1972. It was from that conference that the Brundtland report titled Our Common Future was commissioned. In gist, sustainability is a macro-level framework used in addressing the so-called trilemma of our world – how to reconcile the conflicting natures of economics, environmentalism and equitable development. When I joined the corporate world, this was viewed in the triple bottomline paradigm – financial, ecological and social sustainability. It challenged firms to consider the ecological and social equity dimensions of doing business.

Corporate sustainability and the triple bottomline approach (Elkington, 2006)

Most people confuse sustainability with the narrow concerns for ecological/environmental preservation. However, for those who had been working in responsible corporations, sustainability is viewed as a balance between financial gains and social/environmental impact. Progressive businesses are now viewing financial sustainability as something that is rooted in the firm’s long-term viability vis-à-vis sustainability of supply chains. It is not enough that firms pay taxes and follow laws. Codes of conduct and business ethics pervade the entire business system and while ensuring that responsible business is also practiced by its suppliers and partners. A stable economy and a healthy environment are not conflicting ideals, rather they should be treated as complementary goals that could actually be achieved in the 21st century sustainability paradigm. Most importantly, this paradigm does not exclude the community and the people that live in it. This is the third circle that completes the new paradigm, and yet most people do not immediately see this circle in the sustainability equation. This third circle is used to address the problem of social inequity. The other two circles, which strive for economic stability and environmental preservation converge with the third to meet the basic needs of man as well as create opportunities to satisfy each person’s aspiration for a better life.

In the business sector, the idea of running a sustainable operation is mostly rooted in the practice of corporate social responsibility (CSR). A company practices CSR because satisfied customers and happy stakeholders are desirable ends. Other firms practice CSR because it is a moral duty asked of them in a society of wants. A firm’s sustainability character can often be defined by its adherence to CSR and how it is being implemented as part of the overall corporate strategy. In the 21st century sustainability paradigm, the third circle has elevated stakeholders to a higher level of influence in that dimension. R. Edward Freeman sparked the stakeholder theory discussion in his book Stakeholder Approach to Strategic Management (1984) and this definition is most often quoted in CSR discussions: “[Stakeholder] is any group or individual who can affect or is affected by the achievement of the organization’s objectives.” This stakeholder definition had always been at the centrepiece of the problem-solving strategy in our class. We have experienced the complexity of addressing stakeholder demands in the cases about water footprinting and food tracking. There were numerous stakeholders that were identified in those cases and recommending a solution was not easy knowing that trade-offs will definitely happen. In situations like these, a good track record in delivering CSR programs could be the best justification that a company could use, either lessening the reputational damage or shielding the organisation from unwieldy crisis situations.

Enabling Change

As far as enabling change is concerned, I am of the belief that there is much work to be done. Since the Brundtlandt report, sustainability has made inroads but the journey is nowhere near its destination. Multilateral agreements and intergovernmental cooperation on sustainable projects are some of the results of that idea. I am mostly appreciative of the impact that sustainability had on the academe. One of the positive effects of Brundtland is that it launched the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development from 2005-2014. The University of Manchester goes one step in the right direction by integrating sustainability in the higher education curriculum. One can see the sustainability effort being devoted by the university through its policy on sustainability and through its course offerings that focus on the applied sciences of sustainability studies. Even if MBS has not offered a solely sustainability-based program yet, I believe that creating this particular module is also in congruence with this recent development. We are nearing towards the end of that decade and our mere participation in the SSSR class demonstrates the influence it has had in our academic and professional pursuits.

Here at the Manchester Business School, we are constantly reminded to apply original thinking. For a foreign student like me, there is a two-level process of learning in MBS: discovering new ways of thinking and doing things and relating them into our own individual contexts i.e. country of origin, racial background, undergraduate study, professional orientation, etc. For students who already have work experience prior to studying here, there is yet another process that needs to be undertaken, that of the process of un-learning old habits.  As a PR practitioner back in my country, there is a wealth of practical knowledge that I had acquired from being involved in actual projects. To be able to understand and appreciate new knowledge, one has to learn how to check biases and to keep an open mind. Later on as critical thinking is required, one would have to revert to the shoes of a professional practitioner and examine whether or not the new learning is closely related to reality: is the theory and model responsive to real-life problems? Can we actually use it to frame the problem? Does it offer an appropriate solution to the dilemma at hand? Most importantly, do we have access to the right information? How could we use these to provide solutions to the case problems given to us?

The interplay of societal institutions combined with the historical role of business and its relationship with society produces quite different articulations of sustainability for each project given to us. I realised that the questions posed in those projects highlight the need to explore how economic institutions either enable or constrain the business’ articulation of social responsibility/sustainability.

The Learning So Far…

By breaking away from the usual elective courses that my other classmates chose, I realized that I pursued both my needs to experience a different learning environment and to interact with students outside the ambit of corporate communications and marketing. SSSR polished my knowledge on sustainability, expanded my understanding of the different facets of the sustainability paradigm and to a certain degree, provided me with extra professional skills that I will definitely use when I resume work in the Philippines. Armed with all these wonderful experiences, I am now more confident that I can go back to my country and complete the sustainability project I temporarily left.  Sustainability is a destination that we aspire to reach with the selection of the sustainable pathways that we choose as we proceed along the journey. I will return richer with ideas, wiser with experience.

View of Sackville Street Building from Renold Building where we held our SSSR classes. Sackville is one of the university's oldest buildings coming from the merged UMIST campus.

Strength in Numbers?

These days in Manila, the debate on the Reproductive Health Bill rages on. Of course, the strongest critic of the proposed legislation is the Catholic Church. Being the only predominantly christian nation in Asia, the influence of the Vatican in this part of the world is exercised through the Philippine Catholic Church. The Church obtained the support of boxing champion Manny Pacquiao who has been pronouncing arguments against the bill. It is interesting to know that Jinky, Manny’s wife, has publicly admitted that she used birth control pills. Is the Pacquiao household polarized on this issue? The RH bill debate is, indeed, a polarizing issue among Filipinos. At the bottom of this debate is the underlying notion that a well-informed citizenry would result to responsible parenthood, which would eventually help manage the growing population of the country.

This debate has once again sparked my long-standing view about the RH Bill and how it could be linked with the so-called “population as power” argument. There is this one file  that contains my notes on the population policy issue from a previous work. When I opened the files, a blast of memories came flooding in. I remember how the former NSA probed and punctuated holes into my presentation. The impression that I got from him is that he has this nontraditional view about the Philippines’ burgeoning  population. He wanted to conduct a study on how a large population such as ours could be tapped so we could at least attain economic, if not political power. The Philippines, a superpower by sheer large population? Was that wishful thinking on my naive mind 10 years ago?

But good ole’ NSA had my young mind asking tough questions back then. For a second there, he had me thinking about the plausibility of such an occurrence.  History tells us that the old superpowers attained dominance by sending out armies to conquer new lands. Spain, Great Britain and France once commanded the biggest armies that raided continents in the name of imperial glory. And their common denominator? They had the largest populations at that time which was successfully utilized to invade lands, colonize them and perpetuate their influence through trade and political subjugation of the conquered peoples.

Even now, we see some vestiges of their clout in world affairs. The United Kingdom, France and Germany are still regional powers. But theirs have diminished with the rise of the USA and its 311 million people as the superpower of this century. India, China and Japan have wielded theirs not only in the Asian region, but has also flexed their muscles in world affairs. Don’t start me about Russia  and its 138 million population. In the Latin American continent, Brazil with a population of 190 million has been demonstrating its growing affluence and rising influence in international events. In Southeast Asia, Indonesia and the Philippines are the world’s 4th and 12th most populous country, respectively. But do these countries command that kind of power?

Okay, so I dug my notes and these are some points:

Historically, the growth of Western economies was explained by the phenomenon called demographic transition. As fertility declines, the working-age population increases relative to the younger and older populations. THAT CREATES A ONE-TIME OPPORTUNITY FOR GROWTH, a DEMOGRAPHIC DIVIDEND.

If we would plot the Philippines’ population in the next 40 years, we would see a peculiar characteristic. Up to the year 2050, the country would see a widening of middle portion of its population pyramid. This portion is called the youth bulge. This youth bulge would comprise the country’s future workforce, a reservoir of manpower if you like. A unique characteristic of this youth bulge is that it is bigger than the ones preceding and following it. By then, the country will have a work force constituting 68% (NSO estimates) of the total population. Just imagine the potential productivity this enormous manpower could bring if absorbed and harnessed into the country’s production activity – they are the engines that would the run economic machine of the country. Also, it can be observed that in the next forty years or so, the country would experience decreasing dependency ratio, meaning there would be less children and older people who will get support from the productive age group. When analyzed, the dependent and productive age groups will have distinct economic and social behaviors. An understanding of their behavioral patterns could aid in formulating responsive policies to make sure their behavior works in tandem with the economic goals of the country.  Certain conditions have to be prepared, however. Policymakers are being challenged to make the best out of this behavior i.e. the propensity to consume in the young-age population, the need for larger pension system for the old-age retirees and the tendency of the economically active population to be mobile in search of employment.

It has been the common observation that nations lag in economic development because of their high population growth rates. But until a person reaches the productive age, he holds no purchasing power, rendering him dependent on others for his needs. In the case of the Philippines, when the young people enter the labor force, they have to contend with the reality that employment is hard to find these days and even when employment is to be found, the pay is not enough for their self-actualization needs, much less basic needs of food and shelter. As of today, a tenth of the Philippine population is working overseas in search of better employment. What has been a temporary labor policy in the 1970’s has now become a well-entrenched economic practice. The huge remittances of overseas Filipinos is the biggest reason why government maintains this policy. In its failure to generate proper jobs in the local economy, the government opted to take advantage of this labor situation. Yet this labor diaspora leaves the local economy in wanting. The more mobile labor group are those with highly valued skills and are most likely to migrate to find work. What happens is that the key human power, those that are called nation-builders, are leaving the country. No study has been done yet on this but the general view is that this could have detrimental effects for the country in the future. Combine this with a large dependent population, then we have the formula for a social volcano waiting to erupt.

But what really is happening right now? In 2000, the young age population comprised 37 percent of the total population. Add to it the 3.6 percent old-age dependent population. But it should also be noted that the supposedly productive population is already half of the total. By now, the country should have been experiencing higher than usual economic growth as translated from the entry of the productive ages into the workforce. The robust national and domestic output may be an indicator of this, but the country could still do better. Half of the country still lives in poverty. Millions of children don’t have access to quality education. which by the way, is the most important foundation of this population-as-power argument. Millions of less skilled people are no better than obsolete mobile phones in this day and age.

Now back to the RH debate. There are aspects of the population where passive intervention has no effect on population growth rate at all. Ultimately, the issue on population boils down to INFORMED CHOICE. Whether the method is natural or artificial, the important thing is that Filipinos should be  made aware of the options available to them. It is their right to know the choices that family planning offers. One should not underestimate the intelligence of the Filipino people when it comes to deciding the kind of family they want and how they would live their lives. By  scaring church-goers  with morality fallacies, the Church may have stifled the one thing that would have liberated the Filipino’s cultural psyche when it comes to making a decisive stand on this issue. How do you prevent the masses from being gullible or from twisting the teachings of the Bible? Radical as this suggestion may seem, but perhaps, it is now high time that the Church start to be less dogmatic and begin to get in tune with the realities of our modern world. The Church as the proverbial shepherd will run out of green pastures for his flock if it remains adamant to change.

As for the population-as-power argument: Is the Philippines going to be left outside of this demographic opportunity? The demographic transition is only but a rare chance for the Philippines to capture this advantage. Is the Philippines prepared to harness its ‘population’ power? Most importantly, is the national leadership drafting a damn good blueprint on how to tap this potent human power? Does it even catch the national leadership’s imagination to inspire a skills-led development roadmap? Or will it only remain as an unrealized imagination?

Food for thought: what will the millions of young Filipinos do by 2050? Brain gain or brain drain? But that’s another topic. If indeed a large population should be the means by which a nation could become economically and politically influential, then why are the most populous countries today the poorest and the most politically disadvantaged?

Philippine population pyramid 2010

Philippine population pyramid 2050 (Source: