LCF: Invest in human capital

Michael Alan Hamlin

Posted on July 28, 2007

Two billion children in the developing world are our future

The annual League of Corporate Foundations’ (LCF) Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Expo wound up a week ago last Wednesday. This three-day conference and exhibition had as this year’s theme, “Putting CSR to the Test: Cultivating Shared Values for Business and Society.” Its approximately 130 speakers and panelists are executives of the Philippines’ leading domestic corporations and multinationals operating in the Philippines and local and international authorities on CSR.

This post was originally written during the first-day sessions, which featured presentations by Dr. Christopher Thomas, sector manager for Education in the East Asia and Pacific Region of the World Bank; Manuel V. Pangilinan, chairman of PLDT; and Cesar B. Bautista, co-chair of the President’s Task Force for Globally Competitive Service Industries. The morning’s keynote speaker was President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

The speakers were both eloquent and in many respects refreshingly candid. As compelling as they were, however, another group of presenters came close to stealing the show Monday morning. They were the Las Piñas Boys Choir. This excellent group of young musicians and singers brought clarity and meaning to the theme, rendering a version of “What a Wonderful World” to an audio-visual presentation that first depicted the squalor that accompanies poverty and apathy, and then segued to scenes depicting the enhanced quality of life that accompanies investment and development of human resources.

The choir, incidentally, is competing this November in the 9th International Choral Competition in Athens, Greece. They are not just representing the Philippines. The choir is the only entry from Asia to this prestigious global competition. If you are interested in helping them raise the funds required to travel to Athens to participate, “investments” can be directed to Fr. Benjamin “Didoy” Molina, Jr. of the Ascension of Our Lord Parish in Goodwill, Parañaque (inquire@lpbc.ph or frdidoy@thinkdiocese.org). He directs the choir.

This year’s LCF Expo was about whether organizations who talk the CSR talk are walking the walk. The speakers all dwelled on the stakes involved. Thomas, who spoke on investing in education, noted that there are two billion children of primary and secondary school age in developing countries that will soon determine how the world’s economy, governance, culture, environment, technology, and capacity for social tolerance will evolve.

These children “need to be prepared to participate in an increasingly competitive and globalized economy,” he said. The education that will prepare them for what’s ahead, Thomas explained, will also reduce poverty and improve quality of life. That assertion is solid. World Bank research shows that rates of return on investment in education are universally high. But he also warned that to realize that return, the investment first has to be made.

Unfortunately, the Philippines lags compared to both developed and developing countries, which typically spend five to six percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in investment in education. The Philippines invests around 2.7 percent. The impact of this low level of investment in education on economic development has begun to alarm business leaders, as Pangilinan pointed out.

“Investment in human capital is crucial to economic development,” he told the almost 900 delegates that attended his noontime session on strategic CSR and competitiveness. Who is going to make that investment? Pangilinan acknowledged that much of the responsibility is that of government, which must invest resources to stimulate development. Education is a strategic investment because it has a long gestation period, which makes government’s role pivotal.

While “most corporations are still trying to find strategic ways to develop and implement CSR programs,” Pangilinan reasoned, he said individuals – people – have a stake in the country, and are each responsible for its development. For Pangilinan, who is also president of Philippine Business for Social Progress (PBSP) and the PLDT-Smart Foundation, personal involvement in contributing to development involves championing a substantial CSR initiative geared towards education and empowerment.

And he had some straightforward advice for making a successful investment in development. First, he said, CEOs should actively champion their CSR programs. “Follow your passion and get personally involved,” he advised. Second, invest in a few specific programs in which progress towards goals is measureable. Third, foster teamwork among other concerned corporations and organizations, even when they are competitors.

Both PBSP and LCF are testimony to cooperation among competitors in both investing in CSR and raising awareness of its impact. Finally, Pangilinan advised that CSR should be a long-term commitment. When it is, children like those in the Las Piñas Boys Choir get a real chance to influence the development of their countries in a positive way. In the end, our stake is in their development.

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