MAMITA Pardo de Tavera -- to those who did not know her -- would give one the impression of an elegant but formidable mestiza lady. And yet, after working with her for a few years and considering her a good friend, I found that she was, if nothing, a veritable pussycat. She was multi-dimensional, able to go beyond her normal ken as a “simple doctor,” as she would characterize herself. I discovered that this wonderful woman possessed the most innate of management skills, able to harness like-minded people and motivate them to move in a particular direction. She often professed not knowing anything about management or a technical issue, but would listen intently to one's attempt to explain a problem to her. Mamita was also trusting to a fault, one who entrusted management responsibility to her subordinates or associates. I met Mamita through mutual friends in Pro-Life circles. Seems she was looking for someone who had knowledge about setting up an on-line lottery system, something I had studied extensively a few years before but had put in the back burner. When I met up with her on this, I admitted to her that I shelved the study because I was not sure how it would be treated by certain government agencies then, but that I was willing to take up the challenge for her in her capacity as the new chairperson of the PCSO. Simply because I knew she was both honest and forthright. Coordinating closely with her loyal and trusty (former undersecretary at DSWD) associate, Linda Valenzona, I then set about establishing parameters for setting up the system and designing the RFP for a bid for the equipment, software, and expertise. But that is grist for another story. During her abbreviated stay in PCSO, she had a few obsessions. One of them was to have the funds to establish a chain of renal care centers in key provinces all over the country to service the problems renal complications posed, especially for the poor folk. One of the key services the typical renal care center was to have would have been the availability of dialysis machines which would have brought this important medical procedure down to the level of the masses. Anyone who is a diabetic or who has kidney problems knows how important dialysis is especially when the all-important cleansing function of the body ceases to work as well as designed. To top it off, the cost of a single dialysis session is tremendously high and out of reach of the ordinary poor sick person. The idea then was to make dialysis available to all for a nominal fee… or, knowing Mamita, for free. Thus, one of her mandates to us who composed her small online lottery team was to ensure that enough funds were to be raised to support the establishment and maintenance of at least 10 renal care centers. I recently inquired old friend Serge Valencia -- current chair of PCSO -- if he knew or heard of this plan, and he had not. Pity. This would be a wonderful advocacy either by the PCSO or some other good Samaritans who could mobilize to set up even just one renal care center at first in a province where the most people could benefit.
November 2007 Archives
SOMETIME in the mid-80s, news about what (now Magsaysay awardee) Mhd Yunus and his Grameen Bank were doing started filtering back here. From what I gather from talks I had with several people in the late 80s, interest about how such a venture could be set up here had piqued the curiosity of different people. One of them, if I remember, was Bruce Tolentino, then an Undersecretary or Assistant Secretary at the Department of Agriculture. Without my realizing it, one other agency in government decided to get off the high horse and put up a similar program, albeit, with local flavor. Remember my previous blog post about one of my favorite people, the late Mamita Pardo de Tavera? Well, it seems that the Department of Social Welfare and Development had already begun to explore the possibility of bringing the Grameen concept over here, minus the trappings of a bank. When the good woman transferred to the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) to serve as its chairperson, she brought along with her a trusted Undersecretary, Linda Valenzona, plus a coterie of trained social workers. Me, I only had toyed with the concept, and like a typical alpha male, kept mulling the idea over and over in my mind. These women did what I believe many women are best at: They just went ahead and did it. So, while drawing up the parameters for the online lottery project, I kept looking over my shoulder to see what these busy women were doing in this new field of microfinance. The group in the PCSO set up a small fund in low nine figures -- a much more intelligent and beneficial project than those blasted ambulances that almost never got used as ambulances -- as a seed fund. The social workers were trained especially to work with poorer people in the rural areas. The basic model of using groups of five was retained, with each group or different sets of fives placed under a sponsoring NGO. The NGOs took over the task of training, monitoring, following up, etc. Basic accounting skills and fundamental knowledge of banking procedures followed. The end result? Linda and her group were happy to report to Mamita that the groups all managed to pay back, or, even with slight delays, paid in full. And the amounts given out for projects were typically Grameen-sized: very small. Happiest were the NGOs when they were told that they could recycle the funds into new groups of five but with the provision that the present groups they were working with would serve as trainors. I bumped into present PCSO chairperson Serge Valencia a couple of months back in birthday party of a mutual friend. When I asked him, he said they were not running the project anymore. He was surprised to learn from me that the social workers brought over by Mamita were still there, and could mobilize in an instant. I wonder if he will take the cudgels for this project.
THE PAST two months saw the passing of two people I have always looked up to and have worked with at one time or the other. Since there are so many things to say about them and the magnificent work and things they stood for, we will visit them and their work from time to time. Thus, this time around, we will just do some sort of an intro -- some impressions I have of the two: Dra. Mamita Pardo de Tavera and Dr. Conrado Dayrit. Mamita, not surprisingly, touched the lives of so many people through her various advocacies, including her personal NGO, AKAP. In fact, it was while attending the wake of Dr. Dayrit that I learned that his son, the former Health Secretary, worked with Mamita in AKAP. Mamita was no high-falluting doctor. She believed in bringing medicine down to the level of the barrio. One product of this constant ministering to the poorest of the poor was a series of little booklets in the vernacular -- with graphic pictures -- that could be used by even semi-literate people to act as barefoot doctors for the most common ailments. I have a set or two of these booklets somewhere in the house, and they are really a labor of love. I called Dr. Dayrit Tito Ading because he is the father-in-law of my youngest brother. This wonderful man also became my heart doctor by default, and I would visit him from time to time for free diagnoses (he would bristle at the thought of me paying him for the service!) and random discussions on his favorite topic, the healing properties of virgin coconut oil. Why do I bring up these two wonderful people? Well, Mamita left behind her NGO, AKAP, which her children have vowed to continue supporting. I know of the wonderful work AKAP has done and is capable of doing. It deserves some measure of support from benevolent friends who wish for Mamita’s work to continue. The children of Dr. Dayrit, meanwhile, just launched a new foundation in his honor to further some of his advocacies, including further work in the fields of VCO (virgin coconut oil) and herbal medicine. When we consider that Dr. Dayrit provided the ammunition (the analysis and labwork) that proved the soybean lobby wrong about tropical oils, we can say that he really helped keep the coconut industry alive. His new foundation deserves support too, if only for this. Two great people I really looked up to and have had fond memories working with: Mamita and Dr. Ading. You will hear about them again and again from this corner from time to time.
A COUPLE of days ago, I came across a short article in some forgotten corner of my favorite newspaper. Unfortunately, I failed to set it aside, which explains why I will write about this situation in general terms. It seems that a fishing village somewhere in Leyte is protesting because a corporate entity won the salvage rights to a shipwreck off their shores. They noticed that their fishing catch dropped dramatically once work on the wreck
stopped started (Editor's note: Thanks to reader Kargante for pointing out the error.). When they tried to stop the salvage work, their own town officials stonewalled them and threatened mayhem. Methinks that misplaced profit motives once again rear their ugly heads to the detriment of the general well-being of a community.
First, let us go into Ecosystems 101 and Web of Life for Dummies.
Coral reefs are living thriving communities that attract a whole spectrum of sea and animal life that feed off and sustain each other in what is known as the Web of Life. The corals provide the fundamental basis for the food chain that goes all the way up to the king of the hill, Man, who feasts off the various fish, crustaceans, and other edible life forms that the coral system makes possible. That is why environmentalists go to extreme lengths to preserve the life of the fragile ecosystem that is the coral reef. Corals propagate by letting go of minute spore-like fragments that look for places to implant themselves in. These spores become new corals in themselves once they find a suitable host habitat, which can mean almost any protruding object in the shallow foreshore areas. That explains why shipwrecks prove to be such irresistible magnets for coral and other life-forms, which explains why the foreshore areas off Leyte Gulf -- where a huge naval battle was fought in the closing period of WW ll -- are so rich, given that so many ships of the two opposing navies went to Davy Jones locker.
The action of a corporation to make money off the steel to be salvaged off the shipwreck will bring some benefit to the institution concerned, probably some funds to the community and -- horrors, pockets of those who made it possible -- a few others. But over the longer term, the fishing village will suffer for posterity as the source of its main livelihood is carted away and destroyed.
I suggest that small incidents like these be looked into more thoroughly by concerned citizens, so that the bottomline of one corporation does not get enhanced at the risk of impoverishing an entire fishing village.
IT'S easy to think of companies big and small as existing for no other reason than to make money -- and piles of it. They are greedy, out to pull a fast one on their employees and consumers, and certified tax dodgers. But after having been involved in the business section for 16 years, I have come to realize that not all of them are like that. I would even dare say that there are more companies out there that are not only doing well, but doing good as well in one way or another. And it makes business sense to do that because the more sophisticated consumers today want more for their money than just a good quality product and service. When faced with two choices, consumers will likely favor that company that they believe does something more with their profit, like channeling a good portion to help the environment or put a needy child through school. Just look at Body Shop. To its legions of loyal customers around the world, it does not matter that their shampoos, lotions or body scrubs easily cost twice as much as the popular brand lining the supermarkets. They are still willing to shell out the extra cash because they are attracted to the Body Shop's promise that it stands up for women's rights, is against animal testing and celebrates women as they are -- wrinkles and all. It is heartening to note that the Philippines does not lack for examples and we can talk about more of them in the following weeks.
WHEN I was just a young and precocious kid, I was treated to stories at home and in some of our parents’ friends’ houses about brave and intrepid young men and women who went on medical and aid missions to countries in war-torn Indochina. There were pictures of doctors and nurses treating wounded and sick victims of both poverty and the seemingly unending conflicts that seem to have plagued Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam in those days. My father told me of some volunteers who gave their lives heroically in countries other than their own, in pursuit of personal or other ideals. They had a name for this project: Operation Brotherhood. The idea remained fixed in my mind for quite some time. I quickly volunteered for a summer job in a local version of OB when they set up shop in a squatter relocation area to minister to the needs of disenfranchised families adjusting to a new and hostile environment. There was a program aimed at teaching crafts to some mothers and children. (Guess who was tasked to go to the metropolis to sell the finished products consisting of bags and fans made from native materials?) We had to work the pump in a nearby well for water to drink and bathe in. Then, there was that late night when I was roused from a sound sleep to help in the delivery of a baby -- something I was totally ignorant about -- and got to simply hold a flashlight in place so the midwife could do her thing. All in all, a heady and enervating experience for a city-slicker used to having househelp cater to every need or whim. This and a few other adventures of a similar nature opened up a whole new world of service to the less fortunate that, for a few years, found expression in a series of leftist excursions. But common sense prevailed and it did not take long for this desire to help others to seek a new battleground in the warrens of the corporate world. It has never been easy to do charity work in the corporate context, and this is still probably true to a certain extent to this day. Admittedly, more people are aware of the need to work to uplift their fellowmen by providing better opportunities for self-improvement, whether these be in the form of palliatives or in terms of deep-seated and long-term programs. We are not here to judge such efforts, but to express gladness at the increasing number of executives aware of the need to get involved in socially uplifting projects. There are many ways one can get involved. At one time in the past I dared the institution I worked with to adopt a very poor community and look for ways to help its members to advance by way of economic and social opportunities. The project envisioned the provision of certain skills that could be used to produce items that could be sold to our company or our clients. No hand-outs here… just a chance for economically-deprived people to rise above the muck without denting their self-image and pride of self. This would be over and above the usual projects aimed at answering shelter, health, and other needs. Well, the concept failed to excite the imaginations of my superiors then. But later on, I found out that my former staff dusted off the same proposal and got someone to godfather it through the usual bureaucracy corporations are famous for. To make a long story short, it eventually won the Grand Anvil award. Naturally, I was happy to learn of this even if I was not around to marshal it from start to finish. What is a pity, though, is that the project failed to implement the longer-term aspect of the proposal when it was originally put forward: that it be institutionalized and the subject depressed area be converted into a trainor-organization to help do the same for another marginalized area. A little less than 20 years ago, the country’s bilateral and multilateral donors and creditors attempted to funnel all aid and long-term development loans through a new government agency. Like many such noble efforts, this one also failed in the medium term because its main proponent had to leave after barely a year in office because of health problems. But there is an interesting side story to this short-lived adventure that opened up opportunities in other areas. The chairman of this agency realized the difficulty of channeling all aid and loan programs through government since studies had shown that there was a problem in “absorption capacity.” Even worse was the realization that a bigger problem lay in the loss of funds along the way due to corruption and bureaucratic waste. I suggested that we consider working through non-governmental organizations or NGOs. He gave me a quizzical look and asked plainly, “What are NGOs?” It seems that the brave world of NGOs were not so well known yet to the corporate world in a formal sense even if many of them had been creating and working with foundations and social projects for many a year. To break the ice, I met with Gasty Ortigas, then dean of the Asian Institute of Management, and requested him to arrange a meeting between my boss and NGOs. Gasty simply asked if we could have a broad spectrum -- from left to right -- represented, and I agreed. Needless to say, the first meeting was awkward and testy at the beginning, especially since many of the true NGOs in the field were suspicious of both government and the corporate world, both of which my chairman represented. I addressed the group and told them of our plan to channel more foreign funds more directly to projects through the NGO network, and they reluctantly agreed to our proposal. It helped that the executive director then of PBSP, now a professor at AIM, Ernie Garilao, helped organize the meeting and fully supported our endeavor. Because of this, we were able to point certain aid agencies like CIDA of the Canadians and GTZ of the Germans toward certain regions like Negros and Mindanao where they could work with new or existing NGOs. We also tested the air and were able to help implement the first Debt for Nature program which sought to funnel reforestation funds through NGOs. Since then, more and more development funds have found their way into the NGO network. It is not uncommon to find more and more corporations supporting their own foundations or any of a wide spectrum of NGOs in the field. Some do both. When an NGO proves itself in the field, it becomes a magnet for companies looking for credible outlets to park their development funds in. Not surprisingly, more and more companies find expression in their desire to provide shelter for the homeless by plugging into the existing programs of the Gawad Kalinga (GK) organization. While similar to Habitat for Humanity in concept, the homegrown GK goes beyond the task of house-building to the building of communities and the augmentation of spiritual and moral values. GK communities are not abandoned after the building stage is over, and the process of building continues in the hearts, minds, and souls of the inhabitants. The concept has caught fire even with Filipino and other overseas communities. (This author would like to venture further that the concept is so solid that it will weather current doctrinal issues with its supposedly parent organization, so long as the process remains transparent and focused.) There are so many other areas that need to be looked into, all of which can help in the job of nation- and people-building. Global warming issues should probably spur more companies and individuals to look into ways to bring down greenhouse emissions: tree planting and habitat development; proper waste disposal; the use of the Rs in building and living (reuse, recycle, remanufacture, rebuild, etc); learning to lessen personal and corporate carbon footprints; and so forth. The spectacle of poverty so evident in the country’s many urban and rural squatter colonies should encourage more projects like GK, probably by having more companies and rich individuals sponsor the creation of entire new communities. The problems associated with food production and inadequate diets can probably be mitigated if more entities got involved with or supported foundations like the Family Farm Schools that teach rural boys and girls how to make the most of their existing land, coupled with a rich dose of spiritual formation. The lack of educational opportunities at all levels should make companies seek out the best way to educate and form a whole generation of children who have little or no access to knowledge. There are non-conventional ways to do this: the creation of more public and private libraries with strong IT foundations so that online learning and knowledge building can be done; the development of more online learning centers which would help alleviate the lack of classrooms and probably facilitate home-school programs; and the sponsorship of bright and bushy-tailed youngsters all the way from their formative years, through college and graduate studies. There are so many opportunities that exist for one to give vent to a desire to help and to give. One only needs to take the first step.