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Private sector as the reliable partner for economic recovery

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, Philippine companies, including the Ayala group, were already working on programs around the evolving, expanded role of private institutions in society.

And that expanded role is to help address the pain points of the community at large, and of the nation even—not just of our shareholders—and to be more inclusive in purpose than the singular focus on profit that Milton Friedman espoused a little over 50 years ago.

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This pandemic has made it even more urgent and important for us to be inclusive in our survival and recovery efforts.

This pandemic has been most democratic, sparing no one; but its effects have been much more devastating on society’s already vulnerable segments than on larger, more buffered and diversified entities like ours.

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Stepping up

I firmly believe that our sustainable recovery as private institutions can happen only if the communities that support us and host us also survive and thrive.

They need us now, more than ever, to share in their adversity. And it cuts both ways: we also need them—the entire ecosystem—to recover and thrive so as to ensure our sustainable prosperity.

Looking back at the last 12 months, I dare say that the private sector collectively stepped up and did more than our fair share in addressing this adversity and supporting the communities-at-large.

It is gratifying that, in a nationwide survey last September 2020, 85 percent of the Filipinos agreed that the private sector is a key and necessary partner of the government in national recovery, up from 72 percent a year earlier.

The private sector acted swiftly, dug deep and used our balance sheets in order to protect our employees’ financial and physical well being.

We pivoted our businesses to stay afloat so we could extend payrolls and preserve jobs, knowing that our employees depended on us to feed their families and afford other expenses; hopefully not medical.

We supported our customers so they, too, could stay afloat and, in turn, extend similar help to their own set of customers.

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The private sector went outside our employee and business circles.

In Project Ugnayan, 270 private companies came together and quickly raised donations to provide food for 14 million economically vulnerable individuals in the greater Manila area.

Other than peer partnerships, we also partnered with the government to help build pandemic facilities and donate supplies to frontliners. We took bold, business-led actions to solve multiple pain points, not just the economic ones.

At present, the top priority that the public and private sectors are working on is the safe, scaled, and swift rollout of the country’s COVID-19 Vaccination Program.

The challenge is quite massive and unprecedented. As a country, we will need to reach up to 300,000 vaccinations per day—some say even 500,000 vaccinations per day—if we are to achieve our target of [herd] immunity late this year.

As before, several companies are contributing their financial resources, their contacts and network, intellectual capital, and logistics assets to help our government in planning and executing an end-to-end vaccination roadmap.

This includes helping procure large quantities of vaccines from reputable suppliers, logistics from port to warehouse to vaccination sites, administering the doses and monitoring the results.

Contribution, partnership

With all these examples— from financial amelioration programs to testing and treatment facilities to vaccine procurement and donations—several international experts have cited the degree of the Philippine private sector’s contribution and partnership with the government as globally unique and unprecedented in scale. And that it is worth sustaining, strengthening, and perhaps even sharing with other nations as a model for nation-building.

We anticipate that this private sector contribution—through individual firms, private-with-private partnerships or private-public partnerships —will continue well into post-COVID times, particularly in figuring out how to rebuild and recover.

The strengths of the private sector—its resources, ingenuity, energy and performance management discipline—are crucial to augment the Government’s massive machinery; and even codevelop new ways to deliver critical aid and other forms of support to our stakeholders.

In closing, I will leave us with a challenge to build on a strong base; and further magnify our private sector efforts by leveraging the membership body and platform of each of our Philippine business groups and business associations.

What more can we do?

Certainly, as individual firms – and sometimes as part of special purpose coalitions like Project Ugnayan — we have already been engines of growth and doers of good for this nation. And some of us may think we have already pushed our limits.

But how can we do more?

Without necessarily spending more than our already stretched limits, are there synergies we can and should pursue?

For example, as members of Philippine business groups – be it PCCI, ECOP, MAP, MBC — can we force multiply our individual company’s impact by aligning with a strategic initiative of the Philippine business group to which we belong?

As leaders of the Philippine business groups or associations, how may we tap and organize our membership to generate and demonstrate a collective impact that is more than the sum of its individual parts?

To get lift-off, what one meaningful initiative can we start with that the members of my business association can boldly rally around — likely within our area of shared interest or domain expertise?

For example: we may think of common, measurable commitments around manufacturing competitiveness for the Philippines, support for MSMEs, digital enablement, data security, entrepreneurship, hunger and poverty alleviation, education, job creation. The needs are many; and likely, each of us is already doing something on these many strands. By combining our efforts, we may unleash more impact.

I sincerely believe that the private sector is a force for growth and a force for good. And if we continue to put our collective resources and determination to task, we will be able to force multiply the growth and the good that we contribute to nation-building.

This is a modified version of the speech delivered by the author during the ADR-Stratbase Forum held on March 26. Zobel de Ayala is the chair and CEO of Ayala Corp.)

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TAGS: Business, economic recovery
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