Business Matters

Fil and the business of doing good

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Today’s Business Matters column should have been written by Prof. Felipe “Fil” Alfonso. Unfortunately, Fil passed away last April 5, a week before he was to turn 76. His passing marks a loss to the business community, especially because of his passionate commitment to corporate social responsibility (CSR), or what many refer to as the business of doing good.

I had the opportunity to work with Fil at Phinma, Philippine Business for Education (PBEd), and the Makati Business Club. He served in the boards of these organizations and was always an accommodating “boss” and mentor. I would have benefited more from the wisdom of this man if I had more time working with him, but as many know, Fil had a hundred and one commitments to attend to and, certainly, so many other individuals like me who also needed his guidance and counsel.

The one consistent message I remember most from Fil was that for a business to do good, it has to embed doing good in its corporate strategy and DNA. He loved Phinma’s slogan—“Our business is our CSR and our CSR is our business”—that

Ramon del Rosario would often brag about, especially when talking of the Phinma Education Network. He reminded us at Phinma that when CSR is part of strategy, its budget allocation remains even in bad times. A crisis situation may even signal the need for more support for doing good. On the other hand, project-based CSR, corporate-foundation-driven programs and corporate philanthropy may easily be the first casualties of a business climate downturn.

In the book “Doing Good in Business Matters,” Fil Alfonso and Milagros Amacanin summarized Chapter 7 thus: “Integrating responsible business in the core values, strategy, and operations of the firm has become a vital element for the long-term sustainability of the firm. As industry standards have been enhanced by best CSR practices in some industries, firms have to take their CSR initiatives more seriously. The CSR agenda has to be taken on the boardroom level, and the CSR strategy has to be clearly communicated within the organization and its broader stakeholders—government, media, interest groups, civil society, and community. CSR strategy and initiatives in the focal issue areas of CSR, which include the marketplace, workplace, environment, and community, have to be linked to business objectives to be more effective and sustainable.”

As inclusive growth continues to be elusive despite the improved economy brought on largely by improved governance, the adoption of strategic and embedded CSR especially by big business may be a key lever in supporting the administration’s effort to address poverty. A recent AFP article cited data presented at a recent economic forum showing that the growth in the aggregate wealth of the Philippines’ 40 richest families in 2011 was equivalent in value to 76.5 percent of the growth in the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) at the time. This calls for a genuine CSR response from the corporate community. This is an opportunity to make a contribution through strategic CSR to address what some experts cite as structural problems in Philippine society.

Fil’s message, which may have more significance today, is actually a key advocacy of the AIM Ramon V. del Rosario Center for Corporate Social Responsibility that organizes the annual Asian Forum of Corporate Social Responsibility. Fil was the executive advisor of the center and the executive director of the Asian Forums. With support from the Makati Business Club, the AIM Center published in 2011 a manual for CSR practitioners titled “Towards Strategic CSR: Aligning CSR with the Business and Embedding CSR into the Organization.” The manual responds to the interest expressed by delegates to the Kuala Lumpur Asian Forum in 2010 “in a process that integrates CSR into their operations and business strategy.”  To make the manual available to more corporations and to spread the word of making CSR everybody’s business, the AIM Center and MBC conduct workshops for CSR practitioners.

The manual’s opening paragraph states: “[CSR] involves the interface between the enterprise and its environment, including stakeholders. CSR can be aligned with the business when programs are developed and implemented while taking into account the goals and resources of the enterprise as well as the reality of its business situation. CSR can also be fully embedded in corporate strategy and operations. This involves ensuring that all of the corporation’s philosophies, goals, strategies and activities take into account the company’s impact on its stakeholders, the environment and society as a whole.”

With the passing of a true champion and genuine hero of CSR, this may be a perfect time to carefully evaluate the state of CSR in our various enterprises. To what extent are our companies responding to the challenge of strategic and embedded CSR? To what extent are our industries adopting best practices? To what extent are our corporations moving away from PR-driven and award-focused CSR initiatives? As inclusive growth continues to be elusive, what role can Corporate Philippines play to do its part in reforming and building the nation?

An answer to this question may lie in the adoption of strategic and embedded CSR, especially by the larger firms steered by our top 40 families.  They must consider Fil’s message on the business of doing good.

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

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