The Asian Forum on Corporate Social Responsibility underscores the importance of mitigating risks, rebuilding from devastation, forming partnerships, and ensuring good governance to sustain economic gains among communities across the region
‘Of all the qualities required to surviving and prospering in today’s unpredictable and turbulent world, what can be more important than resilience? The capacity to withstand adversity, the capacity to rise from adversity, the capacity to adapt to adverse conditions, and the capacity to transform and thrive even when things are not going well—what could be more important than this?”
This was the stirring statement Conference Chairman Dato Paduka Timothy Ong posed to the over 500 participants from 30 countries who gathered at the recent Asian Forum on Corporate Social Responsibility (AFCSR). This year’s theme, “Building resilient communities: How business, government and social enterprises can work together,” has never been more relevant, especially in a region that’s not only seen remarkable economic growth but quite the number of environmental disasters whose impact seem to become more alarming every year.
“When we talk about leading in Asia, we need to be mindful that some of the communities that we serve are among the most vulnerable in the world,” avers Ong. According to him, events like the AFCSR allow current and emerging leaders to find ways on how to better collaborate to ensure devastating events, both natural and man-made, will not erase the progress that both private and public sectors have achieved.
A COUNTRY OF RESILIENCE
Starting off the conversation on resilience, AFCSR participants were fortunate to hear the words of keynote speaker, H.E. Dr. Jose Ramos-Horta, the former president of Timor-Leste, as he talked of his country’s long struggle for independence. Instrumental in achieving a just and peaceful solution to the conflict of Timor-Leste, Dr. Ramos-Horta was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1996 for his role as peacemaker.
Fourteen years ago, Dr. Ramos-Horta shares, “Timor-Leste literally started from the ashes of war. Communities were frowned upon, there was a lack of rule of law, no functioning force, a discredited police force, no private sector, no electricity in rural areas, and [there were] serious power shortages in the capitol building…buildings in the country were either completely or partially destroyed.” To illustrate the extent of destruction, Dr. Ramos-Horta says that 95 percent of schools were destroyed in 1999.
Much has been achieved since, he points out. Since its reconciliation with its “largest and mighty neighbor, the Republic of Indonesia,” Timor-Leste has been a model of community building for the 21st century.
“We’ve learned that in order to be developed, a community ought to live in peace, feel safe, and enjoy political stability,” Dr. Ramos-Horta says, emphasizing that long-lasting peace, stability and security can only be attained through dialogue, political inclusiveness, social innovation, fostering partnerships, and establishing coalitions between government, civil society, communities, and the domestic and international private sectors.
He also highlights the role micro and social businesses play in achieving sustainable and equitable development. “Without inclusive economic growth, social peace will always be in jeopardy. Social innovation is needed to ensure long-lasting sustainable peace in our young nation. This can be achieved through social and micro-businesses working side by side with complementing public investments,” he says.
WHY GOOD GOVERNANCE MATTERS
In her plenary address on building national resilience, Senator Grace Poe asserts that the Filipino’s eternal optimism “that things would eventually sort out in the end” perhaps best explains why it seemingly isn’t inherent to the Filipino to plan ahead for emergencies and disasters. “This is where government intervention is all the more important,” Senator Poe points out, “It is left to the government to pull forth. Good governance is an absolute prerequisite towards the attainment of national resilience.”
Speaking in front of an audience composed of a majority of corporate executives involved in their organization’s CSR, Senator Poe acknowledges the vital role good management plays toward making businesses run efficiently and effectively. “If a corporation is managed well, an organization reaps financial profits. [Correspondingly, in the context of] government, good governance can actually help save lives,” she avers, citing Visayan LGU San Francisco in Camotes Island as a prime example of this.
At the height of Typhoon Yolanda, the disaster resiliency program of San Francisco gained national attention as it was the only town in the Visayas to have been hit by Typhoon Yolanda and suffered zero casualties. While the number of victims grew in number in the provinces of Leyte and Samar, San Francisco had already fully recovered in a matter of weeks. Senator Poe shares that they were able to achieve this using a simple yet effective disaster resiliency program. “They call this the Purok System—unlike in most LGUs where the local government is organized only up to the barangay level, in San Francisco, their LGU is organized up to the ‘purok’ level,” she shares.
Each barangay in San Francisco, on average, is comprised of seven to 10 puroks, with each comprising its own leader and complement of workers and volunteers. When Typhoon Yolanda hit in 2013, the purok leaders were fully prepared and quick to mobilize and able to evacuate the residents to safer ground just in time.
“The beauty of this system is that in this purok, majority are blood relatives, so it became easier to evacuate and account for everybody in times of disasters,” she says, adding that, “the element of trust is very important in disaster management programs. This is why the purok system was so effective for San Francisco, and also the reason why in some places they were unable to fully evacuate. There was just not enough trust and experience.”
Senator Poe lauded ex-Mayor Alfredo Arquillano, Jr. for being the main catalyst of such system. “Today, San Francisco has bounced back and fully recovered. Open na ang mga negosyo, bukas na ang mga beach resorts, at naayos na ang mga bahay. It’s [because of] the vision and foresight of this man,” she says.
Indeed, the LGU demonstrated that good governance can lead not only to economic growth, efficient public service, zero graft and corruption; it can also, as evident in San Francisco, truly save lives. “It can make all the difference in times of emergencies and calamities,” says the Senator. “The question now is, how do we replicate these best practices in San Francisco to other parts of the country? How do we institutionalize good governance to make the Philippines more resilient?”
REBUILDING FROM DEVASTATION
Senator Poe avers that there would be no national resiliency without food security. “Provide proper nutrition to the segment of the population who cannot afford to feed themselves. No nation is resilient who cannot feed their people properly. Food security must be a component of a national resiliency program,” she says.
It also pays to learn a thing or two from other countries that experienced widespread devastation and how they were able to bounce back from it. Speaking for her country, Myanmar, Daw Lahpai Seng Raw concurs with Senator Poe on the key role food security plays. The founder of the Metta Development Foundation says, “We have to come to terms with how crucial the agricultural potential of the land is, and the strength of arms of the people and their will to survive.” When Myanmar suffered a debilitating loss due to Cyclone Nargis in 2008, Seng Raw says the experience drove the villages to grow more mangrove forests, and maintain and cultivate windbreaker trees.
Indonesia’s Anton Soedjarwo, founder and director of Yayasan Dian Desa (Light of the Village Foundation), says that, in the end, no single organization/sector can do everything. “Rebuilding infrastructure is an issue on one hand, while economic and livelihood recovery is another. Government, NGOs and common donor organizations may not have all the necessary experiences and capacity needed, and it is in this arena where business and social enterprises can work together and make innovative and sustainable intervention. You have to take into account the strength of the business and private sector, and the need for a dedicated networking platform where all these ‘actors’ can communicate and help each other,” he ends.
Published 8 September 2014, Manila Bulletin