Ronald McDonald House Charities’ Bright Minds Read isn’t your run-of-the-mill dole out CSR program


MANILA, Philippines — In a country where poverty is as regular as the common cold, implementing education-centric programs in public schools is not only recommended—it is needed.

Reading, in particular, figures highly in the country’s most pressing educational issues as a Department of Education (DepEd) survey revealed that four out of 10 first-graders attending public schools couldn’t read. “There are so many education programs being implemented now by organizations, from computerization to developing technical skills, but sometimes we think so far off that we tend to forget the fundamentals,” asserts Margot Torres, executive director of the Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC) Philippines.

“When we started RMHC in the Philippines, we had the option to follow the CSR model in the U.S. that focused primarily on providing homes for children with critical illnesses,” says Torres, “but our founder George Yang thought about the key issues here in the Philippines that would still be consistent with the primary target of children, and he felt that we should invest on education instead.”

Raising Readers

The founder’s r e a l i z a t i o n follows the same analogy as that old Chinese adage, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

“ W h e n RMHC started, we were just like a charity ward doing different t h i n g s — o fc o u r s e s ome of these things were really needed, like goods for calamities, and we were always there; but we needed to focus and find out where we can really make a difference in the lives of Filipinos,” recounts George Yang, chairman of the Golden Arches Development Corporation and founder of RMHC Philippines. “We realized that investing in education helps not only with national development on a bigger scale, but on the micro level, reading can really make a difference in the life of a child so we decided to attack it there.”

The first Bright Minds Read program was thus born and pilottested in 2002. Working in tandem with the Department of Education (DepEd), RMHC picked 14 schools in the NCR region to conduct a pretest that eventually revealed only 40 percent of children in these schools knew how to read. “Bright Minds Read works by providing schools with kits that contain 33 books, lesson plans and worksheets—that’s good for four quarters of the school year. After our pilot program, the results showed that non-readers had dropped from 40 percent to 4 percent in just one year,” shares Torres. “It was such a great result that it became the most important selling point to expand the program.”

A Company-wide Initiative

From 14 schools in the National Capital Region, RMHC has since expanded its Bright Minds Read program across the nation. “Today, there are about 2,700 schools that are Bright Minds Read schools, but the total number of public schools in   the country is 37,500 so that’s still a long way to go,” says Torres of her team’s herculean task. “RMHC is committed to get Bright Minds Read rolled out with the help of the DepEd, as well as the local government and McDonald’s.”

Corporate Social Responsibility has already been a part of McDonald’s corporate philosophy even before it was imbued by many of today’s corporations. “We’ve been practicing CSR the day we established McDonald’s—even if these were activities that have no direct correlation to our sales. I’m glad that now, CSR has become a widespread trend among different corporations because that’s a very good thing for the Philippines. There is only so much that our government can do, and it falls on the private sector to step up,” says Yang.

Indeed, from the regular McDonald employee to the higher-ups and even down to the country’s wide network of franchisees, involvement is apparent. McDonald’s employees take part in RMHC either through salary donations or by volunteering their time to the clean-ups of Bahay Bulilit, a daycare program of RMHC in partnership with the DSWD. “We also have key executives donating their time to organize companywide tournaments where proceeds go directly to RMHC, and beyond  our employees are our franchisees who are very critical to RMHC’s expansion,” shares Torres. She adds: “A lot of them are outside Metro Manila and they engage their local governments to support Bahay Bulilit and Bright Minds Read. Some even donate the land for our daycare centers—involvement varies, but every participation counts.”

Bright Minds Read is a prime example of what makes a good and effective CSR campaign. “The effect is intangible—it’s not a one-time dole-out, but it has lasting value and it is exactly what the community needs,” asserts Yang. He adds: “Of course, tragedies like the one during Ondoy, you really have to give goods because the need is immediate. But the reason Bright Minds Read is effective is that it uplifts the life of the children in the long run, and that is really what social development is all about.”

Published in the April 18, 2011 issue of the Manila Bulletin’s Business Agenda section.