Forging partnerships for sustainable development

“MAP Insights” Column in BUSINESSWORLD – 27 July 2010

By: Edgardo C. Amistad

Nation building, while government led, should be the concern of everyone. The just concluded 9th annual Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Expo held on July 14 and 15 with the theme "Synergizing for Change" provides a platform for every citizen to do his part for nation building, through public-private partnerships. The engagement among the government, the private sector, civil society, academe and grassroots organizations is indispensable. That the passionate response of the members of the League of Corporate Foundations (LCF) to the challenge of nation building was palpable during the conference should bode well for the administration of President Aquino which brings with it a fresh enthusiasm for serious and genuine change for a better tomorrow.

Public-private partnerships, in the context of CSR, is unlike its traditional meaning involving a contract between the government and a private party where the latter assumes financial, technical and operational risks in providing a public service or project, while the former provides support, such as revenue subsidies or tax breaks. For the members of the LCF, partnering with government to provide a public service means formulating a sustainable project that is integrated with the member’s core business. It is by no means philanthropy since the project, by itself, should be sustainable. Responsibility for the success of the project is shared among all stakeholders including the community for which the project is set up. Each partner in the undertaking brings with him his own unique expertise, strength and resources to create synergy.

Managing a partnership, though, is easier said than done. Partnerships require commitment and a culture of innovation and learning among all stakeholders for a project to be successful. Other elements include the realization that each partner is inextricable from the other and that partners must be willing to retain an open mind and address issues amidst tensions or conflicts. They must not compete but rather complement each other. These bring about synergy – and synergy is the force behind partnerships.

It must be emphasized, though, that the provision of a public service through strategic alliances must be done within the bounds ofsustainable development, i.e., bringing about improvement in the quality of life of a community while observing proper natural resource stewardship. Promotion of the well-being of the current generation must not be done by sacrificing the welfare of the future generation. In fact, at the back of mind should be the goal of paving the way for a better future for all. The proper use of natural resources cannot be over emphasized especially with climate change currently staring us in the face.

Taking this a step further, the objective of providing a public service should be to bring the disadvantaged sector to a level where it could take off on its own towards the path of sustained development. This is the other face of sustainable development. Still another facet is that the project being undertaken must be financially self-sustaining. Neither the government nor the private sector can afford to waste resources.

The task of nation building is enormous. It is too big a task for just a single organization, or just a few. Happily, most of the members of the LCF have already embarked on partnerships to contribute to nation building. One very good example is the 57-75Movement that aims to reverse the education crisis through focused interventions and school-community action, towards system-wide performance improvements. The partners involved are the Ateneo Center for Educational Development, the Foundation for Worldwide People Power, the LCF, Philippine Business for Education, the Philippine Business for Social Progress and the Synergeia Foundation.

The immensity of the task at hand for the Philippines is enough reason for all the members of the LCF to come together and tap their collective intelligence as they walk their talk with CSR in their hearts. While the members of the LCF may continue the various poverty reduction projects that they have already started, more alliances need to be built and deepened but in a more systematic way. The LCF can develop an inclusive development agenda, then break it down to smaller parts or specific projects which the close to 80 member foundations can choose from or adopt. These 80 member foundations, backed by their respective companies, can provide a well-spring of resources and special skills that can start the ball rolling which in turn can create a swell of efforts towards poverty reduction.

The inclusive development agenda can be based on identified needs or projects suggested by government. The Honorable Secretary of DSWD Dinky Soliman proposed a coherent program with three legs to improve human well-being: projects for the family, the community and sustainable livelihood. Likewise, the Honorable Secretary of Education Bro. Armin Luistro said that the country will need 200,000 classrooms, 7 million desks, 145,000 toilets and 126,000 teachers in the next two years. UP Economics Prof. Arsenio Balisacan suggested policy levers to promote a sustained income growth which is fundamental to poverty reduction. These are in the areas of health, education, infrastructure, land distribution, demographics and population management, strengthening of institutions, promoting geographical advantages and surmounting initial unfavorable conditions. The millennium development goals (MDG’s) provide a basic framework to begin the development agenda.

Consideration should be made on the fact that the Philippines is an agricultural country and that the vast majority of our poor are in the rural areas. Focus should therefore also be given to projects in the countryside.

Indeed, a lot of work needs to be done not only for us to be able to catch up with our Asian neighbors, or to achieve the MDG’s, but more importantly for our people to be able to live a life of dignity. This is a serious challenge for the LCF. Fortunately, although there may be principal companies of the LCF that are actually business competitors, their corporate foundations have created partnerships, cooperation and alliances in the work against poverty.

(The article reflects the personal opinion of the author and does not reflect the official stand of the Management Association of the Philippines. The author is President of UCPB-CIIF Finance and Development Corporation and Chair of LCF. Feedback at