LUCKILY, while surfing channels, I caught an interview of a friend, Walter Brown, the president of Philex Mining, who turned an otherwise plain-jane business chat into a more interesting one stressing what their company does vis-a-vis the environment. From what I heard, and from what I know of the company from its past history, we actually have a mining company that walks the environmental talk. One of the biggest violators of environmental concerns is usually the mining industry. Philex, per Walter Brown, builds total environmental concern into its business and operating plans. They don’t react to problems of this nature; they anticipate them and put plans into motion that either neutralize or eliminate the more negative aspects of mining. They end up with more trees than found in the original areas. Tailings ponds are built way beyond specs and, hopefully, follow what is practiced abroad by way of putting in proper safeguards to prevent both spillage and leaching. Their employees are cared for as human beings, not as chattel. Even their work with tribal and local groups is planned beforehand, knowing full well the various problems they are up against in trying to navigate these potentially treacherous areas, many of which extend into the political realm. All in all, it was an interesting talk. Not that I expected less from the man, knowing that Walter’s basic core human virtues and spiritual values do not allow him to play the game in the cheap or tawdry manner that some others do.
December 2007 Archives
A GREAT part of my growing years was spent visiting our family farms in Negros and Davao. The one in Panabo was particularly interesting, since it involved a huge tract of land that was only partially developed. I still remember spending many a time wandering around with a guide inside the byroads of the farms, surrounded by huge virgin-growth tropical forest trees teeming with all sorts of wildlife and flora. Those were heady years that, unfortunately, went by the wayside when our family succumbed to the lure of whole-scale banana farming by way of a lease to a multinational. To make a long story short, they promptly mowed down all the trees and planted banana stalks, making short shrift of a wonderful forest primeval. Not being in any position to make an issue of this, it became convenient to look for nature’s bounty in other settings. (Another story for another time.) Fast forward to the early '70s when I decided to join my father's Jaycee chapter, the Manila Jaycees, as a second generation member. By coincidence, JCI was embarking on an international theme of major proportions that ran for several years: "Man and His Environment." The Japan Jaycees sponsored in international symposium on the theme. Back home, I was nominated to be chairman of the Manila Jaycees newly formed Man and His Environment Committee. Among other things, we began to churn out various papers and informational materials meant to highlight the perilous course being taken by countries and individuals with respect to the environment. As expected, we were largely ignored, but that did not stop many of us from studying the subject further and becoming more and more involved in various endeavors to save planet Earth from the mindless machinations of man. It was truly akin to tilting against windmills, since no one really seemed to care about the problem. Our dwindling forests were being mercilessly cut down and not even replaced as lumber companies employed clear-cutting methods instead of the more environmentally-friendly selective cutting methods used by countries like Sweden and Finland. Waste recycling was a pipe dream and industries continued to use dangerous chemicals and components that were not biodegradable. In a few words: We -- and the rest of the world -- were an environmental wasteland. Now, Al Gore and the IPCC have a Nobel Peace Price to their credit, and the Bali summit has agreed to start moving in the same direction. The work ahead will be laborious, if only to get countries to agree on common standards for curbing greenhouse gases. It may take years just to agree on a common agenda and standards, and a few more years to get these down to the level of industries, companies, and individuals. Hopefully, we will not have embarked on this much needed direction much too late for the planet which is fast reaching the tipping point.
THERE is a tendency among some corporate mavens to liken their CSR activities to token activities meant to spread some goodwill and, hopefully, improve the public relations aspect of said institutions. These acts of tokenism strike one as being both short-term and self-destructive in nature. In the first place, people are not stupid. They can probably spot photo-op tokenism a mile away, and if they do keep their silence, it is probably only out of respect for those involved. If we look at a given organization, especially a corporation which ultimately looks to its bottom line in almost any given situation, CSR is sometimes the orphan child in the organization simply because it does not do enough for the bottom line. Instead of building it as an integral part of a business model, it becomes tail-end Charlie in the allocation of company resources. As a result, these token activities do not realize their true potential in providing platforms for energizing both the company and its stakeholders, especially in how they relate to their various publics. The maxim that “One cannot give what one does not have” is very true in the case of CSR. How can a company postulate a program of social responsibility if it does not practice business ethics and foster an atmosphere where officers and employees are encouraged to think and act in ways that benefit each other, the corporation, and society in truly meaningful and positive ways? For example, can a company say it is socially responsible if it does not pay a decent wage, use environmentally friendly means of production, eschew wasteful consumption, or share some of its largesse with the less fortunate? There are many ways of measuring if a company is socially responsible, but we are not in that business. We can only exhort and provide positive cheer from the peanut gallery.
THAT short piece I wrote about a week ago about the instilling of environmental consciousness at the grassroots level by at least one unit within the Gawad Kalinga network reminds me of another instance where a small fishing village learned how to preserve their fishing area. Since I am prone to more senior moments lately, I will just recall some of the salient points. The fishing village was somewhere in Western Visayas, and had once been able to lay claim to very rich fishing grounds just nearby. Unfortunately, a predilection for shortcuts and easy money caused the fisherfolk to engage in two of the most despicable means of catching fish: dynamite blasting and cyanide poisoning. In both cases, the coral formations that attracted all aquatic forms of life were destroyed, and, in the case of cyanide poisoning, probably for all time. As a result, their fish catch dwindled till they reached starvation levels. Finally, an outside party -- either an NGO or a group of well-meaning people -- intervened and showed them the fallacy of their short-term methods. They were able to locate an inlet which had the beginnings of aquatic life in it. They were taught to do the necessary things to promote the propagation of corals in the area, such as the sinking of old vehicles -- properly sanitized of any environmentally disastrous components like batteries, etc. -- which would provide a means for the lifeforms to cling to. In less than a year, the inlet became a thriving fishing ground, but with a difference. Now, the village members organized themselves to both guard their prized inlet and to ensure that no outsiders would blunder in to destroy what they had started. A small lesson that tells us how little things like this can be replicated and propagated, especially by groups and corporations, foundations and NGOs.
I GUESS the subject of microfinance is really one that is dear to the hearts and minds of many people who would like to help in the uplifting of countrymen who do not have the normal avenues of access to credit or funding facilities. As a matter of fact, except for company-sponsored foundations, many of the other foundations and NGOs essentially live on a hand-to-mouth basis. Many would like to do much more but are constrained by a lack of the assets needed, namely cold cash. Many of the comments to my initial blog post on microfinance were very helpful indeed. First of all, allow me to state for the record that I have been absent from direct involvement in the NGO field for some time now, and would really welcome any inputs from anyone out there who would like to advance a point or highlight the activities of an NGO or similar group. I have an e-mail address that you can write me to: jmajf at hotmail dot com. The helpful comment by Mr. Louis Laudencia about the establishment of Alon sa Hirap by his colleague, Dr. Octavio, in College, Laguna puts a perspective on when microfinance first got started locally. ASHI has grown internally -- I think -- all these years and now has an extensive membership, branch network, and substantial asset base. The NGO was set up with help from Dr. Yunus no less. In fact, my own impression is that Dr. Yunus is a very helpful and unselfish person, one who never hesitates to share his own experience and knowledge. His one advice to us then was not to copy his model lock, stock, and barrel, but to adopt only those aspects that would apply to the local scene. On the other hand, I will definitely have to get in touch with several of my friends in the business. So, here is a warning shot to these friends to expect a call from me one of these days. One of them commented, and this is Ted Lineses who has set up MABS (Microenterprise Approach to Banking Services). We definitely have to get together. First, to increase my fund of knowledge and, second, to see how we can help those people who wrote in requesting leads on how to set up microenterprise units in their respective locations. So many things to do… and the work in the microenterprise field has just really scratched the surface given the number of Filipinos who would like to engage in meaningful livelihoods.
OK, so I am an unabashed fan of the Gawad Kalinga process, and not just because I have so many friends both in the CFC-GK group(s) and participating organizations. Where else can you get a combination of so many beneficial factors, from group participation, to helping the poorest of the poor, to implanting spiritual growth? Now comes a new twist to the model: The instillation of environmental consciousness. This is a grassroots approach at its finest! As many of us high-falluting economists find out later in life, many of the so-called trickle-down effects of big-ticket items turn out to be a tiny dribble, indeed, the proverbial torrent of goodies reduced to a teeny-weeny trickle because of the debilitating effects of corruption and waste. That is why NGOs find a true place in countries like the Philippines. The relative inefficiencies and inabilities of government in the delivery system provide the fodder within which NGOs can grow and prosper. In the magazine section of a rival paper (ooops!), a GK community in a nearby province was taught how to help preserve the rapidly dwindling numbers of giant turtles. Environmental consciousness is being imparted to them by former Environment Secretary Bebet Gozun, acting in a private capacity as a GK volunteer. The potential for such teaching and nurturing is practically limitless: From following sound environmental practices in waste management, water savings and retention; the use of recyclable materials; lessening the use of electricity; and other similar initiatives. By making the GK -- and probably other nearby -- communities self-sustainable, we may just begin to see the beginning of a true environmental consciousness revolution. A more effective one because it starts from the grassroots. Think about this: What if every upscale village and/ or organization decided to adopt a community and begin to introduce programs like this which would be one step toward the attainment of positive self-esteem for all concerned? From the environment, we could then move to other very commendable projects like livelihood generation and medical practice the barefoot doctor way. Only lack of imagination and will power can possibly stand in the way.