How social responsibility can rebuild the country
HIGH GROUND By William M. Esposo 2006-02-06
In a talk with four Rotary Club chapters on two separate occasions over the last three months, I had suggested that they each consider adopting an entire depressed community as the focus of holistic outreach programs that promise more permanent and long-term benefits. I suggested to them to be a shepherd to the poorest communities so that these poor folks can move up from their present socio-economic class E category to living standards and mindset that reflect at the very least, those belonging to class D.

To better appreciate the distinctions between class D and class E households in the Philippines, we can refer to the following criteria which friends in ACNielsen gracefully provided:

1. A class D household head could be a farmer-tenant, unskilled worker, white collar, skilled worker, or a foreman. A class E household head could be a farm hand, unskilled worker, vendor or unemployed.

2. A class D family may be renting or own a house and lot. A class E family maybe renting or own a house on squatted land.

3. A class D housewife has a little education and may have household help. A class E housewife has very little or no education and no household help.

4. A class D family would have a P3,001 – P8,000 total monthly household income. A class E family would have a P3,000 or less total household monthly income.

Rotarians are outstanding in their outreach programs and I laud their consistent contributions in helping indigent communities. Knowing their well-established commitment and sincerity, and the fact that they are also businessmen who value effectiveness and impact, I knew that they would appreciate hearing ideas that could help make their outreach programs more meaningful.

Medical missions, free textbooks, scholarship programs and other such outreach projects benefit individual members of any given poor community. Most of the time, these types of assistance provide momentary or limited relief from poverty or hunger. A scholarship program can get a poor student through college. If he or she is lucky, his immediate or extended family might even benefit from his increased capacity to earn.

However, most of these efforts are no better than giving a man a fish that will nourish him for a day. On the other hand, empowering an entire depressed community with a set of values and mindset will turn them into fishers of renewable bounties in the open sea of opportunities. Empowered communities of course will have multiplier effects on the economy and the nation.

I’ve stated many times in this column that the difference in the amount of money that a rich man and a poor man can amass is also the difference in each person’s level of information, education and opportunity within reach. The gaps in information and education have created a cul-de-sac for the poorest sectors, entrapping them into the mindset and value system of one who is resigned to his fate as a born loser. More than just the good opportunity of a well paying job, education is the pivotal factor if one is to escape the poverty trap because it helps in the formation of a new mindset and sense of values that empower and promote individual progress.

How many times have we seen people who managed to make an enormous amount of money and yet amount to nothing at the end of the day? Some well-known boxers who became world champions fall in this sorry category. Former world junior lightweight champion Rolando Navarette may have earned more money than what a bank teller would have made in her entire career and yet Navarette today is a pauper, last heard appealing to Manny Pacquiao for handouts.

Money to a poor man who did not have the benefit of a value transformation that reshaped the mindset and attitude that kept him poor will not last very long. Opportunity given to a poor man who also did not undergo value transformation will likely not be of much use either.

Once upon a time, there was a German managing director in the company where my younger sister worked. Believing so much in Filipino talent and wanting to help, the German executive sponsored a gifted student for college in an exclusive private school.

Making sure that the girl focuses on just having a good education and to prepare for a bright career ahead of her, the German benefactor placed her in the school dormitory, took care of both board and lodging and all other expenses like her books, lab fees, miscellaneous expenses and daily allowance. It was a truly touching and noble gesture, indeed.

Guess what derailed the girl’s path to opportunity and a better future? It was the girl’s mother herself!

Having been poor all her life, long-term goals such as career, opportunity and success were beyond the mother’s comprehension. Instead, she resented the loss of the helper who was assisting her in their small house-based food vending business. The mother could not find value in the opportunity that waits in the more distant horizon for one with a college diploma. The mother felt that one studied in order to have a job or a business. Since they already have a means of livelihood, there was no reason to go to the university, even if their only source of livelihood could hardly provide them the basic necessities and could not give them a better house other than their vermin-infested abode.

Pressure and total absence of moral support from the mother forced the girl to drop out and she eventually eloped with her boyfriend. There ended a well-meaning benefactor’s hope of saving a gifted girl from a bleak future and give her an inside track to a promising career.

If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a city to upgrade the standard of living of an entire depressed community. The Gawad Kalinga (GK) communities are a good showcase of how to accomplish that. GK promotes the partnership of the local government, the business community and philanthropists and the poor people themselves in order to create new empowered communities. While the public largely associates with GK the provision of decent domiciles for the poor, the truth of the matter is GK provides an even bigger service – that of a value formation that starts with restoring a person’s sense of dignity.

Providing the informal settlers a new house is not the sole and main GK mission but merely the starting point of a transformation process. Many of the corporations that now support GK are corporations that have been practicing social responsibility. They saw in GK a more meaningful endeavor, one that applied a holistic approach to the poverty problem.

The economic support of Focolare communities all over 185 countries in 5 continents is another model worth adopting. There are now around 800 businesses that help sustain the Focolare communities, following the Economy of Communion (EoC) inspiration of Focolare founder Chiara Lubich. In the Focolare communities live people who come from a wide cross section of society and yet there are no distinguishing landmarks in these communities of who are the affluent ones from those who were borne to much lesser means.

The Focolare’s Economy of Communion recognizes the quest for profit but formulates guidelines for the better use of profit. Among the benefits of EoC are:

1. Protected environment
2. The right taxes are paid the government
3. There is no alarming wealth gap, no extreme polarities in the socio-economic structure
4. Progressive poverty alleviation
5. Consistent value formation
6. Industrial peace owing to the eradication of labor-management potential issues and disputes
7. Ensured growth owing to regularly retained earnings, as mandated by the EoC guidelines
8. Increased productivity and profitability owing to excellent labor-management relations and customer/client-firm relationship

If the Philippines is to move forward from its socio-economic and political woes, the country will have to reckon with the over 40% of Filipinos who live a class E existence (which is living below the poverty line). About 46% to as much as 51% of Filipinos subsist on a daily income of US$2 (P108 at P54 to US$1) or less. The moment we uplift the poorest amongst us into class D mindsets and standard of living, that moment will be the long-sought after dawn of salvation for the nation.

A class D mindset and standard of living translates to:

1. More people who will have the aspiration to attaining a college education and a stable source of income. Class E folks are mired on surviving on a day to day, meal to meal basis – with hardly an idea on how to progress from that level of subsistence. People who have ceased aspiring and have no real game plan for attaining social mobility have very little chance of improving their lot.
2. More people who have acquired the means to obtain proper nutrition, higher education and the basic necessities in life shall in turn improve the economy. More money in the hands of the erstwhile poor people will support more businesses. If 40% who are class E move up to class D, that is easily 20,800,000 Filipinos who can easily afford to spend US$ 20,800,00 (around P1.1 billion) a day if their daily income increases from US$2 to US$3. That is about US$416,000,000 (P22.4 billion) more purchasing power to support our economy for a 20-day working month or US$4,992,000,000 (P268.8 billion) a year.
3. Marked improvement in health, education and other important government services because the country will now have more taxes from more people who have acquired more money. The 12% E-Vat alone from the P268.8 billion increase in purchasing power translates to P32.2 billion in increased taxes.
4. An enlightened electorate will evolve who will now know how to perform their duties as stakeholders of a democracy. Our democracy fails because our masses, lacking proper education and poorly informed, are easily manipulated by traditional politicians and showbiz pretenders.

My dear friend Maria V. Montelibano, who heads GK Communications, told me of an encouraging episode when members of a GK community met several months ago with Vice President Noli de Castro. We all know how class E communities become shrieking star-struck fans whenever a showbiz celebrity visits them. Well, the GK beneficiaries that met that day with Vice President de Castro were not awed at all by the celebrity of the Veep. The GK-de Castro meeting went on in a very business-like manner that was no different from meetings in the corporate world. That happens when we have empowered communities like those of GK.

Like I always said in this column – it is either we bring up the bottom strata of our society or they will bring us down.

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