Deep gladness, deep hunger
At a joint session of the United States Congress, Pope Francis said, “Business is a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving the world.” This is something I have sought to embody in my life and responsibilities.
Beyond creating jobs and paying decent wages, my company, Phinma, chooses businesses that impact the lives of the poor through the provision of goods and services that meet their needs at an affordable cost. This is best exemplified by our entry into education. Of our 70,000 students, 75 percent come from households that earn no more than $300 per month; 25 percent come from the lowest income class and are below the poverty threshold.
To serve these most vulnerable, we brought our management, systems and decades of experience to bear on what was so fundamental a need, education. We reduced education to its most essential elements — appropriate facilities and learning material, a proper classroom and a great teacher. We spend heavily on faculty development, run our own in-house training programs and give full graduate education scholarships.
As a result, our tuition and fees remain affordable, averaging $250-300 per semester; significantly, 65 percent of our college freshmen are first-generation college students. We are giving Filipino families a chance to graduate, for the first time, a child from college.
Business’ ability to impact society is not only limited to its products and services; process is just as important. The way we do things must in itself make lives better.
That is why, during my term as chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Philippines’ most influential business organization, the Makati Business Club, in 2013, together with other business organizations, we set up the Integrity Initiative: an effort to promote good governance and transparent business transactions, and implement strict integrity standards among enterprises.
The Initiative believes corruption prevents the operation of a level playing field for business, and, more importantly, exacerbates poverty. It commits corporations to ethical business practices — such as proper financial reporting and prohibiting bribery — and to support a national campaign against corruption.
Following the rules, paying taxes correctly, avoiding graft and corruption, treating employees fairly and well, protecting the environment, running business ethically, and living lives of integrity: The way we do things also has the power to change the world.
Finally, we must go beyond our families, professions and businesses and reach out to society at large. Our lives must also be about citizenship, about influencing a people’s development.
This is why, in 2006, with other CEOs, we founded Philippine Business for Education (PBEd). Our intent was to advocate policy reforms to make the Philippine education system inclusive and effective. Building classrooms, training teachers, and providing scholarships were not enough; the entire education system had to change, and business had to participate in and, if need be, lead this change. The shift from a 10-year to 12-year basic education cycle, probably the largest transformation in the Philippine education system in recent decades, was one of PBEd’s first and most effective advocacies.
Another advocacy close to my heart is arts and culture. In 2010, I accepted the chairmanship of the National Museum of the Philippines. Our landmark project was the conversion of the pre-World War II Department of Tourism building into the new National Museum of Natural History. Since opening in May 2018, the museum has seen record inflows of visitors, with attendance also increasing at the National Museums of Fine Arts and Anthropology.
None of this involves extraordinary hardship or sacrifice. I aim to do nothing heroic, only what is right. As American novelist, preacher and theologian Carl Frederick Buechner wrote, “The place that God calls you to [aka our mission in life] is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
I have been truly blessed to be given the opportunity to be of service, and it has indeed been a deep, deep gladness.
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Ramon R. del Rosario Jr. (rrdelrosario@ gmail.com) is president and CEO of Phinma and former chair of the Makati Business Club. This piece is excerpted from his remarks on accepting the Business as a Noble Vocation award from the Uniapac organization of Christian business executives in Lisbon last month.
Business Matters is a project of the Makati Business Club.