Despite growth: ‘Why do 25% remain poor?’

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Sunday, May 25, 2014

CEBU CITY -- The Philippines may have experienced unprecedented growth levels in the last four years, but something that has stayed unchanged is its poverty level.

At the Open Collaboration with East Asia New Champions (Ocean) 2014 Summit held at the Mövenpick Hotel Cebu on Saturday, keynote speaker Senator Benigno “Bam” Aquino IV noted that the way large corporations were including the poor in their growth plans could be one way for development to reach the poorest sectors of society.

By choosing to buy their onions from a group of local farmers, Aquino noted that fast-food giant Jollibee has improved the lives of the Kalasag Farmers of Nueva Ecija and makes for a success story that can easily be replicated around the country.


Though it seemed a simple enough solution, he admitted it took five years to push through, as the company had to change its purchasing system while the farmers had to improve their production and quality to meet the company’s standards. They are now supplying 50 percent of Jollibee’s onion requirements.

He is hopeful that such arrangements can be reinforced once the Go Negosyo bill is signed into law. He reported to summit participants that the bill passed on second reading last February and will pilot in six areas—Batangas, Iloilo, Cagayan de Oro, Quezon City, Taguig, and Bohol this year.

He urged Cebu’s businesses to start a similar pilot and help communities prosper.

Aquino, who was named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum (WEF) in 2006 and is an awardee of the Schwab Foundation for social enterprise, lamented that while the Philippines grew 7.2 percent last year, there is still “significant” unemployment and underemployment rates. He noted that poverty incidence was still high, at 25.2 percent in 2012 and 26.3 percent in 2009.

By engaging in social enterprise, Aquino said communities will be able to upscale their operations and products and gain access to things they were unable to reach before.

The two-day Ocean 14 summit followed the WEF on East Asia in Manila and was meant to be a forum for entrepreneurship, innovation and design involving all sectors of society.

Interactive panels led discussions on inclusive entrepreneurship, sustainable social enterprise, preparing for the digital age, environment in the next decade and the creative economy. About 250 participants registered for the event.

Today, the sessions will be about igniting initiatives for innovation with private and public partnerships.

Ocean 14 co-chair Karen Davila hopes Filipinos attending the summit will see different mindsets and learn from these. “Good governance is important but we can’t be fighting corruption alone,” she told forum participants.

She added that they decided to hold the Ocean 14 Summit to show WEF participants the province of Cebu has been able to merge art and technology.

“We wanted for our foreign counterparts to see the beauty outside of Manila and that is why we planned for Ocean in Cebu, which boasts an impressive community of innovators, business leaders and social change makers,” Davila said.

The keynote plenary session allowed for a wide discussion, including plans for disaster response and coastal protection.

Giving advice to entrepreneurs, businessman Manny Osmeña urged them to include social inclusion in their business models.

Osmeña, who chairs the Manny Group of companies including Manny O wines and the Mövenpick Hotel Cebu, said he has changed the way he does business, admitting that he once did not care how the wastes from his furniture company were disposed of.

These days, however, he dreams of raising US$10 million to build disaster response medical vehicles fitted with medical equipment to serve as mobile hospitals in times of disaster.

He said that three trucks will be enough to serve as a complete hospital in disaster-stricken areas, something the Philippines needs, being a country that encounters disasters every so often.

For Global Shapers Manila Hub curator Anna Oposa, who works in marine conservation, protecting the country’s waters is “most fun and most difficult.”

While the Philippine waters is home to a diverse group of species, she admitted facing challenges in fighting for her cause—protecting the thresher shark that is hunted by fisherfolk in Malapascua island in northern Cebu.

She has had to convince teachers and students, fishermen and the local government to take up her cause while thinking of ways to provide an alternative livelihood that would dissuade them from continuing to hunt the sharks. (Sun.Star Cebu)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on May 25, 2014.

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