Lopez Holdings

 

OPENING REMARKS
by
OSCAR M. LOPEZ
Chairman, Knowledge Channel Foundation

At the LEAD THE CHANGE 2010 An Evening of Discussion For Action
With Guest of Honor
PEGGY DULANY ROCKEFELLER
Founder and President Synergos Institute Held at the
Rockwell Tent, Makati City
on February 17, 2010

Developing countries like ours cry out for greater awareness of inequality in society that demands an all-hands-on-deck approach in addressing it. There is no running away from being our brother’s keeper in a society where a fourth of the population or some 4.4 million households or 22 million people (at 5 persons per household) go hungry each day.

There is so much to do to make the lives of millions of our countrymen more human and more productive. Since 2003, the number of Filipinos living below the poverty line had risen from 30 percent (24.4 percent of families) to 33 percent (26.9 percent of families) in 2006.

In education, out of 100 Filipino kids who enter school, only 65 get to finish primary. Back in 1998, 70 got to finish; while only 42 finish high school today compared to 54 who did in 1998. Add to that the fact that public expenditure per high school student (as a percentage of GDP per capita) fell from 10.7% in 1999 to 9.2% in 2004.

As a developing economy, we are perennially lacking in budget to take care of the health needs of our people. While hundreds of thousands of Filipino nurses take care of the sick in hospitals worldwide, millions of Filipinos suffer inadequate medical attention.

Our resources for development are said to be limited. We have a serious fiscal deficit problem that could cause our sovereign credit rating to be downgraded. Corruption reduces the already limited amounts we have for infrastructure to build our economy and give our people a means to climb out of the poverty pit to which they have been condemned for ages. Unless something is done, the instability of the social fabric threatens us all.

This is why in this country, we in the business sector now find CSR a necessity to continue being in business. And I am talking not of CSR as Corporate Social Responsibility but of CSR as Corporate Survival Response. In other words, we do not have a choice… we must be sensitive to the needs of greater society or risk the danger of being swallowed by a social upheaval whose coming may otherwise be just a matter of time.

It amuses me that in the developed world, they are still debating whether CSR is a proper function of private business or if government is just off loading functions that are rightfully theirs. Well… in our developing world, we know that government is offloading its responsibilities to us in the private business sector but we don’t have much of a choice but help carry the burden.

CSR in the context of a Corporate Survival Response is nothing less than the business pursuit of sustainable development. Without it, we have a bleak future as business corporations or as members of society. It is a question of how innovative we can be in reaching the twin goals of corporate profit and social good.

Sometimes, businesses can cause social good without realizing it or even outwardly aiming for it. Forbes Magazine cites the experience of the Rockefellers.

When John D. Rockefeller made his fortune in kerosene, he caused worldwide demand for whale oil to plummet, contributing to a significant decline in whaling in the late 19th century. The best way to save the whales was to come up with a cheaper and better alternative to their blubber. Standard Oil probably saved one or two whale species from extinction, but we don't see pictures of Rockefeller or other oil industry leaders on the walls of Greenpeace's headquarters.

Today, however, at least one Rockefeller, our guest tonight, Peggy Dulany Rockefeller, daughter of David Rockefeller is consciously pursuing social good long after her family has given up having much to do with Big Oil. She has travelled the world and worked in the more challenging places on earth to see how big wealth can be responsibly used to make this world a better place. Long before CSR became a popular concept in the boardrooms, she has preached the gospel of every one of us being our brothers’ keeper. We can learn from her insights here tonight, as she is one of our speakers.

So here we are this evening … the captains and taipans of Philippine industry gathered to put our minds together… to craft a viable strategy for Philippine business to address the threatening dark clouds in our horizon. And I say it again, what we need is nothing short of a survival response. Three weeks ago, the prestigious Philippine Business for Education or PBEd, a civic CSR group headed by Ramon del Rosario and where I also sit as a trustee, came out with its manifesto which it called the Education Nation’s 10-point Education Reform Agenda. In his opening remarks at the press launch , del Rosario said: “We at Education Nation are saying ‘enough’. We cannot simply sit back and watch our already dismal education system even further deteriorate. It is time we demand of our government leaders at all levels to demonstrate their genuine concern for the plight of millions of Filipino children … our country deserves quality education for all. We demand it we shall fight for it.”

In his remarks to the press, Dr. Chito Salazar, President of PBEd, had a more vivid and sarcastic comment about our education situation.

“From school with leaking roofs and no electricity, to classrooms bursting at the seams with 130 students, to teachers faced to teach areas they never studied, to the majority of high school graduates who can barely read.

We live with the reality of the millions of our youth who due to poverty and the lack of choices have no option but to accept the education system put before them.”

And to think that just 3 to 4 decades ago, the Philippines was admired for its excellent education system. Unfortunately, this advantage has been eroded as a result of the dual pressure from rapid population growth and declining budgets, with little recognition from the authorities that the system is in trouble.

The continued deterioration of our educational system threatens our source of workers and managers. It even threatens our current source of foreign exchange because our OFW markets will dry up if we are unable to give our people the kind of education and training that the world needs. Our world dominance in BPOs will vanish as our youth lose our generation’s ability to communicate well in English. Our failure to educate new generations of scientists, engineers and doctors will prevent us from tapping the potentials of a world hungry for tech savvy people.

At this point, let me say a few words about the sponsor of this evening affair, namely Knowledge Channel Foundation. Knowledge Channel was established 11 years ago by my daughter Rina Lopez Bautista. Since childhood Rina was always on outgoing sports-minded person who accompanied me on my various mountain-climbing expeditions to Mt. Pulag and Mt. Apo, the 2 highest mountains in the Philippines. I know she wanted to do something big and meaningful for the country just like what her cousin Gina Lopez was doing in ABS-CBN foundation.

In the 1990’s, she was working in our Sky Cable TV station and after a few years, she and another Sky Cable executive, Carlo Katigbak, came out with a plan to promote public school education through television. The idea was not to compete but rather to help and complement the public school system that was floundering badly due to the impact of a run-away population explosion these past decades and the lack of adequate government budgetary support to build more classrooms to train more teachers and provide more books and other reading materials to the students. And mind you, all of these tragic events were happening under the auspices of our teacher President in Malacañang these past 9 years. Let’s hope the new president we elect in May will correct some of these problems.

Knowledge Channel operates under the principle enunciated by the United Nations agency, UNDP, that it is only the modern application of Information and Communication Technology or ICT that can raise the quality of education in the Philippines, because of its wider reach and because ICT serves as an effective teaching method.

Since Knowledge Channel operates on the public school curriculum system, it has to coordinate closely its efforts and programming with the Dept. of Education. In fact, I have just signed last month with Education Secretary Jesli Lapus the second 10-year Memorandum of Agreement outlining the responsibilities of each party to this joint agreement, after the expiry of the first 10-year agreement this year

Donations received from the public and private sectors, including the Lopes group of companies these past 10 years made it possible for Knowledge Channel to reach 3 million students in over 2,000 public elementary and high schools in 54 provinces. But there are still 40,000 more public schools with a total population of 17 million students who are still waiting to be served by Knowledge Channel. I guess this is the main reason why you are all here tonight.

But even if you don’t give anything tonight, you can at least have the satisfaction of knowing what Knowledge Channel is doing to improve the quality of education in this country. You will be glad to know that in a study done by the U.P. Statistics and Research Foundation in 2007, shows that continuous viewing of Knowledge Channel has resulted in on a 3% improvement in national achievement test scores of the sampled schools. And we hope to improve these scores in the future.

Thank you and a good evening to all of you.

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Lopez Holdings Corporation (formerly Benpres Holdings Corporation)
4/F Benpres Building, Exchange Road, 1605 Pasig City, Philippines

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