CSR Challenges to CorporationsMy speech will talk about something I learned just a few weeks ago. Allow me at the outset to state my message today. It is time for us in the corporate world to start getting rid of our pork barrel. Pork Barrel? Yes. Corporate Social Responsibility, unless we are more thoughtful about it, is nothing more than corporate pork barrel.
Let me explain. No one, least of all me, will deny the many good things that CSR has done in the many years since we started calling corporate philanthropy - CSR. Given our country’s needs, there is always a big role for the private sector to step in and fill the gap.
There are, for example, many companies, including our own broadcast group, whose CSR activities have made a difference. Sagip Kapamilya, for instance, had been heroic in reaching out to help victims of natural calamities in places that are hard to reach even in the best of times.
In the field of education, we have seen patches of good work here and there because of CSR. Some companies have actually put up model classrooms that have produced exemplary students from among the socially marginalized. Others have given scholarships that have changed lives for young people in the grip of poverty. Our own Knowledge Channel has effectively used technology to improve teaching methods.
The problem with CSR in a country like ours is that it is never enough… we are not even scratching the surface of our massive problems. With half our population of 100 million living in dire poverty, every peso doled out as traditional charity or philanthropy or CSR is quickly absorbed… like a drop of water in a parched land.
Our problem is how to make sure what we are doing matters and is sustainable and with enough scale. The easiest part of CSR is writing the check and smiling before the cameras as we turn it over to a beneficiary. But unless we are able to make a difference, we would have failed despite our best intentions.
I realize we approach CSR today the way we do because we have not given it much thought. One benefit of being retired is the time I have to think about a lot of things. How to do a more meaningful CSR is one of the things I have been thinking about.
We are mistaken to think we have done our part by merely committing a percentage of revenues to CSR. That makes us feel good and perhaps even a little self righteous... but shallow.
Well my friends, that is nothing more than the practice of Corporate Pork Barrel. We are no better than some politician who doles out scholarships, medical aid and even lunch money to the throng of needy people that line up outside his house each day… so they will go away.
To go beyond the pork barrel, we need to do a whole lot more. I have always taken the position that CSR, to be truly meaningful, must be fully integrated in a company’s operations. We ought to think like social entrepreneurs always wondering how we can integrate our money making activities with our social obligations.
It comes naturally to me because social responsibility in this sense is one of the Lopez Corporate Values. If the value of social responsibility is ingrained in a corporation, there may even be no need for Foundations as we know them…
Some ways are quite obvious… as integrating livelihood activities of a community or several communities to our supply chain. A food manufacturing company can do contract growing of everything from chickens and pigs to coffee beans and cassava. By helping farmers gain better technology to improve yield and then assuring them a ready market, we become a part of their lives… and they become part of ours.
In the field of education, we are always complaining about how difficult it is to find qualified people to hire. We complain about how our schools, colleges and universities have failed to teach the skills we need and that would make their students employable. But what have we done beyond the usual whining year in and year out?
I realize that a corporation’s main mission is still to run a profitable business. But wouldn’t we be more profitable if we helped train our college students? We cannot save the world, it is true, but what about making an impact within our small corner of the world?
A good example of how a corporation has invested time, money and effort in the field of education comes to mind. I had the occasion to meet the super energetic and persuasive country head of IBM Philippines. She is Mariels Almeda Winhoffer, a Filipina who studied at Assumption like my own daughters. She went to college in the US and worked for IBM for many years. Her last assignment before she was sent to head IBM’s Philippine operation was as a special assistant to the now retired IBM CEO Sam Palmisano and Chairman Lou Gerstner.
A few months back in Manila after decades of absence, Mariels noticed the big potential of Filipinos in the field of Analytics. Despite their big contributions to the country’s economy today, she is not satisfied with call centers and other applications of business process outsourcing. She wants the next few levels up.
Mariels saw how her company, the legendary IBM can help create value adding jobs in the hot area of Big Data or Business Analytics. She had this bold idea of making the Philippines a Global Center for Smarter Analytics. But that's not possible without the trained manpower skilled in the handling of Big Data. Is this too big a dream to be realistic? Not, if you ask Mariels.
According to Mariels, the Philippines can capture a good part of the estimated US$212 billion global market opportunity for Analytics. This is an emerging discipline, and Mariels feels if we move with the right strategy and speed, as we did in BPO, it is possible to bring in at least 200,000 analytics jobs in the Philippines in the next five years.
But where do we get the trained manpower? Mariels was not discouraged by the enormity of the challenge of training our young people. She immediately started the painstaking work of putting the building blocks together.
First stop for Mariels is the Commission on Higher Education. It didn’t take long for her to convince CHED Chair Dr Patricia Licuanan to share this vision and make it a reality.
Mariels leveraged the resources of IBM worldwide. She brought in IBM experts, as well as signing up local professionals to craft a curriculum that college students can take to become Analytics professionals. With the curriculum done, Dr. Licuanan issued a Memorandum Order that incorporated Analytics in the undergraduate curricula for Business and IT…
By 2015, we will start having some Filipino graduates, ready to take on the industry requirements for Analytics. We have thus become the first country to declare Analytics as a profession. Among the schools that adopted the CHED curriculum for Analytics include UP, Ateneo, La Salle, Asian Institute of Management and Asia Pacific College.
That is only one example but an awesome one because it clearly demonstrates how an iconic multinational, because of the social entrepreneurship of its local country head, integrated CSR into their business model. It is a win win situation for IBM, the country, our educational system and our young people.
Mariels knew IBM couldn’t do this alone. She organized some of the country’s top corporations to share the dream. Thus, ABS-CBN, BPI, Meralco, Shell, SM, IMI and PLDT are part of a private sector consortium committed to see this dream of making the Philippines a World Center for Analytics happen. These top companies will help by providing the opportunity for the first graduates of the Analytics course to spread their wings. That’s integrating CSR into operations.
Along the lines of gearing education to the needs of the corporate world, there will always be opportunities to do our version of what IBM did. In implementing the K-12 curriculum for example, companies can offer internship programs that will use the skills students are learning in the last two years of the program.
Internships, apprenticeships are nothing new. Dual Tech is a concept that has worked well in Europe. Apprenticeship is a good way for companies to integrate their social responsibility with the communities that sustain them.
There are always gaps to be filled if a company is inclined to do even more basic CSR in the field of education. There are teachers to be trained, teaching materials to be provided and even something as mundane as providing a good nutritious breakfast for the pupils who would go to school hungry because of poverty.
The thing is… we need to do whatever we do in a sustained and programmed basis and with the proper scale. If all we do is paint a few classrooms in a Brigada Escuela effort or do some worthwhile things here and there, we risk having no real impact in the sea of poverty out there.
If we continue to think of CSR as dole outs or even as occasional award winning projects, we are doing nothing more than Corporate Pork Barrel. That’s what politicians do.
We in the private corporate sector know we can do better. That is the challenge before us today. We need to have impact on the lives of the people we claim to be helping.
CSR shouldn’t be Corporate Pork Barrel. That’s so unworthy of us because there is so much more we can do.
Thank you and a good afternoon.
Remarks of Oscar M. Lopez, chairman emeritus of the Lopez Group, at the League of Corporate Foundation's Communication and Education Committee Forum with the theme "Towards More Strategic CSR in Education" on July 25 at the Bulwagang Karunungan, DEPED building, Pasig City.