Business Matters

Profit with prosperity for all

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The staff of the Makati Business Club (MBC) organized last Dec. 19 a Christmas outreach for 30 children of Sitio Gipit in Antipolo, Rizal. The whole MBC team participated in an afternoon of storytelling, games, art, gift-giving and merienda. The little treat was appreciated tremendously by the children and their parents who live in a rural poor community spawned in part by the operations of a huge cement factory in the area. We crossed some rice paddies to get to another side of the community and were informed that these were the work of tenant farmers who use their harvest to pay for the use of the land and for debts incurred and feed their families either with the harvest itself or with the little they still manage to sell.

It is amazing how I continue to see these kinds of poor communities all over the country in the context of my colorful work experience—whether in Amnesty International working on human rights and human rights education, or in Centennial Card Corp. providing credit card services for the AFP and PNP, or in the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process promoting the peace process, or today working with big business to craft and advocate constructive ideas to build the nation. I have seen these communities as a student in Ateneo de Manila doing Tulong Dunong tutoring in Marikina public high schools in the 1980s and I still see more of these communities today and the number of people—and children—in these communities has certainly swelled as well.

It felt good to spread some cheer to the Sitio Gipit children this Christmas season. As one of the MBC staff put it, “Naramdaman niyo na ba ang Pasko?” (“Have you now felt the Christmas spirit?”) No one really answered but I would guess that many like me did. But, like many who take part in these outreach activities, the question that lingers is always what more can be done. We all go on with our usual lives and, on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, we celebrate with food, beer and wine, but most of us will remember a Sitio Gipit or two and wonder how the children and their families will celebrate. Or better yet, how can we make it possible for them to celebrate Christmas and New Year? There must be another way.

For government, that other way is called good governance and inclusive growth. For the business community, that other way can only be inclusive and sustainable business. This is business beyond just the bottom line and beyond traditional corporate social responsibility (CSR).  This is business with strategic and embedded CSR that the AIM Ramon V. del Rosario Center advocates for.

I would like to be bold and propose further that what can make a real difference is for big business to step back and manage their profits so that the bottom of the pyramid can start feeling very merry Christmases and truly prosperous New Years. I am certain that many huge corporates—most of which are members of MBC by the way—will already insist that they are doing this. My 2013 New Year’s appeal is for them to look again and see if there is more that they can shave from their bottom lines to help spread the cheer. And mind you, this is not a call for more bonuses for employees because this is not what inclusive and sustainable business is all about.

This is about helping more and more micro and small enterprises to grow, become part of national and even global supply chains. This is about not killing the small hardware store and mini grocery that have been there for decades but exploring options and opportunities with them and even for them. This is about buying potatoes from farmer cooperatives being given much needed support so they can become competitive.  This is about not always buying from the cheapest supplier and certainly not burdening them with 120-, 90- or even 60-day payment terms.  They need cash to survive and grow and they need it now.

This is about corporate foundations working with other NGOs, communities, churches and cooperatives already working with poor communities rather than starting their own programs. Yes, it is often more complicated to nurture relationships with these groups but it is definitely the more sustainable way forward. And if the local group is weak, then make it strong by helping it professionalize, become more accountable and transparent, and manage its resources better.

This is about public-private partnerships (PPPs) that make nation-building and poverty reduction part of the bottom line. PPPs must help put in place the infrastructure and services that will not become just another way by which the poor are further marginalized. At the end of the day, we must all accept the need of corporates to make a profit in a PPP but the challenge to the private sector must always be, How much lower can you go so that the cost to our significantly larger, poverty-stricken Filipino population can be genuinely affordable? And to both government and the private sector, let’s get corruption out of the equation altogether because the poor pay for that, too!

May 2013 be truly prosperous for all!

Peter Angelo V. Perfecto is executive director of the Makati Business Club.

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