Friday, October 29, 2010

Executing ideas with confidence

Ideas are only as good as they are executed with confidence. Reading news reports from the 36th Philippines Business Conference and Exposition, the writer was figuring out – perhaps unfairly – if the takeaway from the gathering would come down to ‘executing ideas with confidence’.

Rightly so, President Aquino proudly articulated the administration’s efforts to aggressively tap foreign direct investments. And the business sector (PCCI) for their part offered an excellent agenda: ‘to adopt an industrialization and an integrated infrastructure program as part of a long-term economic plan to boost growth’.

The PCCI deserves plenty of credit for stepping up to the plate. And recognizing how much effort they expended to distill their proposed agenda, they do deserve our praise. The writer had early on talked about the JFC’s (Joint Foreign Chambers) efforts to define 7 strategic industries where we could be competitive; and for which we could attract foreign direct investments, of $75 billion. These two initiatives could represent the best chance for the Philippines to move its economy forward. And thus the key is to execute them with confidence. And that means the public and private sectors solidifying the partnership that they appear to be forging, recognizing that partnerships aren’t necessarily perfect.

The global economy demands the highest levels of competition – and it starts in the mind. We can’t afford to be tentative nor lacking in resolve. We have other challenges and issues but we can’t afford to dissipate our efforts either. That may not be easy because of our compassionate heart and our instinct to be inclusive? But if indeed we are compassionate, we need to recognize that until we have the means, our compassion would be toothless.

For instance, there is a fly in the ointment: ‘The European Union (EU) has warned that if the Philippines continues to drag its feet on a possible Free Trade Agreement (FTA), the EU might not be able to accommodate the Philippines anymore because it is processing several agreements with other Asian countries . . . This comes at a time when even Vietnam has already overtaken the Philippines in terms of exports of manufactured goods to the EU.’

And what’s our response? ‘We have already said that the FTA with the EU may take between four to six years to complete . . . It entails a lot of work for all of us . . . FTAs should not be entered into lightly. In fact, the current FTAs of the Philippines have been underutilized . . . Our own business sector has not been taking advantage of the opportunities with FTA . . .’ (The Philippine Star, Oct 16)

Is this another one of those where we seek perfection? Perfection is not of this world? Analysis-paralysis, is that what it is? In business the mantra is: the organization first – because it serves a large and diverse constituency and thus a force for good when so committed; and in our case, it is the country first – not friends, not relations, not cronies, not hierarchy? Country first – or is that Greek to us?

Or are we again protecting an industry – which is why we’ve been failing the country for so long? Of course nothing is simple, but when we are the basket case of the region and there is a market to be tapped, what is the excuse? Mañana? In the private sector, that kind of attitude and foot-dragging is simply unacceptable – and so it is in nation-building? (‘Needs to be studied’ seems to be the code to justify our foot-dragging, as the tax row raised by KLM suggests – even when ‘the Philippines is the only country that charges airlines these taxes, Tourism Secretary Alberto A. Lim said’.)

Leadership is about ideas executed with confidence. We now have nearly fine-tuned ideas but the challenge remains: can we prioritize and execute with confidence?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

‘Sufficiency economy’

Indeed we must heed the advice from two Americans (Broad and Cavanagh, who visited the country and have written books about the Philippines;, Oct 13) that the vulnerabilities of our economy should worry us. Net, we cannot afford to be complacent given that our income stream is not driven by a ‘sufficiency economy’.

But the writer parts ways when they say that our economy must be ‘more rooted in local production for local consumption’. That is the conventional wisdom the West is preaching to China (and others) in order to balance trade, i.e., China’s economy remains robust because of exports while US exports took a hit and the economy suffered amid the global recession. China noted the advice by restricting credit and encouraging local consumption – but it does not mean that China will shy away from being an export powerhouse. (Other Asian countries suffered during the recession because the export market tanked. But the fundamentals of these countries are much stronger than the Philippines and thus have higher GDPs per capita, and can take bumps on the road; and Singapore, for example, is demonstrating explosive growth once again.)

Also, the writer’s definition of a sufficiency economy is much broader. And that is, beyond local production and consumption, the bigger challenge is competitiveness. The writer represented a US MNC during the period when investments were pouring heavily into China and other Asian countries. Obviously his company wanted to develop local production and encourage local consumption in the counties where they were present. But in a free market, enterprises must seek the optimum return in order to sustain profitable growth. And that means ensuring that they are globally competitive so that the investment in one country has the capacity to serve a broader market, i.e., tap regional economic/trading blocs. That is why MNCs are establishing ‘centers of competence or excellence’. Simply put, the product portfolio of an MNC could be farmed out on a specialized basis across several countries ensuring optimum return on investments.

And in his current engagement in Eastern Europe, the writer continues with the model (with people nascent to the free market) because it is fundamental to economics and business and productivity, i.e., high value-added products that generate economies of scale optimize return on investment and thus ensure sustainability. In one word, competitiveness! And it applies to the US as well. America must remain head and shoulders above the rest of the world with a constant stream of innovative products and services. It is way pass the stage of low-cost generic products – i.e., its high-cost structure while a disadvantage must serve as a motivation to constantly seek excellence, and both the US and the world will be the better for it. Edison, Gates, Jobs and their peers are respected beyond the US because of excellence in innovation – i.e., man is the true measure of himself. (Disclosure: the writer carries a US passport; and had represented the private & public sectors internationally.)

A globalized economy provides the avenue to optimize economic returns while at the same time global trade allows countries to access their needs – but they must be smart enough to always seek the optimum economic activity. For instance, China’s explosive economy requires huge amounts of raw materials that they source from Australia and Canada, among others. And both countries did not allow the ‘debt and housing bubble’ to infect their economies. Germany, on the other hand, while hit by the recession like other export-oriented countries, is today the only major European country to regain its footing – because it is a highly competitive economy. Their products are true high value-added – from premium cars to high-tech industrial products.

Net, the Philippines need to pursue a competitiveness strategy that can only be driven by drastic increases in investments in select or strategic industries that would be globally competitive. Of course, we must develop the basic infrastructure network upon which these strategic industries can be erected – and as importantly, the courage to be a world-beater by digging deep into ourselves? A nation that produced a Rizal won’t be true to itself if it prides in OFWs instead? But a cacique-like culture will celebrate it? (Disclosure: last summer was the 3rd time where the writer and his wife heard an earful from OFWs on a cruise ship. They wonder if we get it.)

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Even success can lapse into failure

When corporate America was in pilgrimage-mode to Japan, the conventional wisdom was that Japan would rule the world if American businesses did not fix their problems. Fast-forward to 2010, China overtakes Japan as the world’s 2nd largest economy.

TQM (Total Quality Management) became a must, priority initiative for major American businesses. Beyond creating the new function of TQM, TQM seminars were held in ballrooms to accommodate the hordes of wannabe-quality experts. New manufacturing facilities in North America were designed to satisfy the parameters of TQM. And on a visit to Tokyo the writer was awed by Japan’s electronic prowess years before iPods and iPhones entered our lexicon – he saw for the first time a waiter taking orders via a wireless gadget. But there were underlying realities that were visible – that perhaps the country was taking certain things for granted?

The writer and his wife with Japanese friends were on their way to a rooftop restaurant surrounded by overwhelming skyscrapers – he wondered how the commercial real estate bubble would play out and impact the economy; and as it turned out, they were moving to ‘the lost decade’. (And the US seems to be in the same trajectory.) And the writer’s wife told the Japanese friend that she would want to invite his wife to join next time – and in jest added: ‘otherwise we won’t go out with you’. It would not be surprising if an expatriate is told of one of the must-dos: the work place is characterized by harmony – i.e., if a serious conversation is to occur especially where loss of face is possible, it has to be done after hours. And the bars are where these conversations take place and why the Japanese salaryman is not expected to be home early – which is fully understood by the wife?

In another Asian city, the writer became acquainted with a Japanese corporate executive who spoke better English than him. A product of the Harvard Business School he was then recently seconded to the country as general manager. Probably talking out of school, he said it bothered him that relatively few of them could speak English – how could they be a true MNC or global company? He was like an exception and could explain why the writer had met him in a regional forum – he was their face to the English-speaking business community.

One’s greatest strength could be one’s greatest weakness – who would imagine that Japanese cars would endure quality problems, for example? Was it culture, history or tradition that made Japan take things for granted – when change is the only thing constant? For instance, because the work place is characterized by harmony, the US operations of a Japanese auto company have separate entities – the sales function the pioneer or the first to be established is separate and apart from manufacturing which came later. A classic case of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing?

They have other problems: an ageing (that is growing poorer) and declining population, the lack of diversity if not isolation from the rest of the world, the emergence of strong competitors like China, India, South Korea, Taiwan, for example. Of course they can be strong again – they have a very strong base to build on! But they need to regain their export muscle – and the recent currency intervention does not guarantee that over the long-term?

What’s the lesson for us Filipinos – even a first-world country (Japan or even the US) could fall flat on its face if it takes things for granted: like their culture, history and tradition? For example, our inward-looking economy has shut us out of the spoils of the global economy – from capital to technology to talent . . . to market? And we don’t have the strong base that the Japanese have?

And until we recognize the imperative of turning our mindset outward . . . our options and opportunities will continue to shrink? Before we can focus we must know where to turn – and Aquino turning to friends (supposedly our strength) signals the continuation of friends and/or relations first before country – i.e., the root of insidious corruption?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Business English in 6 months

The Eastern Europeans continue to amaze the writer; and one in particular blew him away. One of the roles the writer plays is to critique their business and budget plans. And recently when a former Russian (Ukrainian) rocket scientist came to present, he announced that he was making his presentation in English. Was this a joke? After the presentation he narrated that he took English lessons and in 6 short months was able to stand full of confidence in front of fellow country managers (and other managers) to present and defend his plans.

He runs a sub-region with a handful of small countries that cover 140 million people. The writer had serious doubts about his ability to develop into a business person and has now realized it was because of language that he was not coming across positively to the writer. How many can develop the market in a handful of countries in just a short couple of years, and be confident that he could grow the business exponentially? And in Western lingo, he has balls: he severed the company’s relationship with a business partner signed up by the parent company many years ago – because the partner was not meeting agreed sales goals! And signed up new ones instead!

This could be a simple lesson for us Filipinos. We may be English speakers but how many of us can do what this guy has done? How many of us can be as confident developing the market outside the Philippines, and have balls?

Which brings the writer to the endless analyses-paralysis we indulge in, or the zillion constraints to our economy? When are we going to wake up? Why do we keep on outsmarting ourselves? Constraints are in the mind – the lesson we learned from Eden or why man was driven out of paradise?

Has our sheltered culture turned us into perpetual adolescents – and are we thus perpetuating an adolescent economy?

Beyond the constraints that we perceive, we keep searching for the Holy Grail or the silver bullet that will fix our economy? There is no silver bullet – as the OECD tells member countries? Nor can we lower the performance bar by convincing ourselves that we can’t develop competitive advantage in manufacturing, for example – and why a Japanese rating agency is telling us to our face that we ought to? The writer’s Eastern European friends have more than rendered these excuses empty?

We all seem to be sitting on top of a totem pole dissecting our challenges? Who will do the doing? Let’s stop outsmarting ourselves and just start doing?

‘Perhaps HQ folks would get off their high horse once in a while’? That’s quoting an Asian manager (he’s Catholic) from many years ago speaking to the writer’s team from headquarters. How many Filipinos can say that to their bosses? Hierarchy will confine us to the cellar?

Calling the Catholic Church? Should we re-teach the fundamentals of our faith so that there is no confusion between human institutions and our faith? They are not one and the same – but they appear to be so given our holistic perspective?

Saturday, October 16, 2010

‘The Athens metro has to be the most beautiful . . . system in the world . . .’

It’s delightful to spend long weekends in Greece, an easy drive from the writer’s base in Eastern Europe. He tells his Greek friends that he’d rather do the Athens metro than the New York subway; and is very happy for them. (A travel writer waxing poetic should be credited for the title of this blog.)

Greece poured tons of (borrowed) money to upgrade Athens’ infrastructure in preparation for the 2004 Summer Olympics. But fast-forward to 2010, Greece is one of the sick children of the EU – their public debt way beyond their ability to pay.

Back home, is the Aquino Administration in a pleasing mode – i.e., to please everybody? (Spain tried that with their energy initiative and today are paying the price.) Our capital market is large enough to fund our infrastructure program and/or we could go the debt route? That would ensure that we maintain ownership of these projects – and that is not bad. It is ideal. But there is something fundamental in major economic endeavors, and put simply it is: run the numbers!

What have we been doing all these years . . . decades? Ensuring ownership and borrowing money? And what have we to show? Under-development and a debt-service that eats a big chunk of our economic output – and thus the administration is keeping a tight rein on expenditures? While we wonder when we would make good on our MDGs? (And we’re compassionate so these goals are consuming us? Yet even the OECD is telling member countries that sound economic fundamentals are the key, not palliatives and sound bites?)

Growing up is never easy – i.e., learning from the past? We have to stop behaving like kids in a candy store? We can’t have all the candies to ourselves? It is not only a lesson from the loaves and fishes, it is also fundamental in strategy and competitiveness. That means accessing and leveraging scarce resources from wherever – in order to respond to the ever-changing want of man; and it includes a high-population growth in our case? That is the bottom line if we expect to attain global competiveness? (The writer is a practitioner and any inference to academic discourse is not intentional – the point to make is there are fundamentals and general knowledge that apply to the real world; or why motivational speakers talk about ‘stopping and smelling the roses’.)

We have to start thinking with ‘the end in view’ . . . as opposed to linear thinking – where step-by-step logic is the stricture? The end in view for us is to be a developed economy? And developed economies like Singapore and Hong Kong don’t think about making-do but instead how to be in the driver’s seat? And that means being globally competitive? To be globally competitive we have to move beyond analyzing the global yardstick of global competitiveness and instead think and behave like one?

The business community wants the administration to update them on their road map; but given our traditional thought process of step-by-step logic it is not surprising if between them there is an inherent communication gap – because they’re talking about the means but not the end? The good news is the JFC (Joint Foreign Chambers) are ready to present their agenda to the Aquino Administration – it talks about the end: $75 billion in incremental investments in strategic industries (that will be globally competitive?), and given multiplier effect should yield over $100 billion in incremental GDP? Now we’re talking – i.e., that should put us at par with the Thailands of the world and they have a better poverty picture than we do?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Moving up the value chain

A World Bank study (and so is the Chairman of PLDT) is telling us to move up the value chain. That means – if we are to be competitive – we need to be predisposed to pursue new things or new product ideas? That may require a radical change in our mindset – for example, the assumption of materiales fuertes is a no-no? The Economist magazine had reported that while Europeans could generate more ideas than Americans, the latter were more successful in commercializing new product ideas.

This brings to mind two American icons, almost a century apart, who articulated their vision about new product ideas. Thomas A. Edison: ‘I want to see a Phonograph in every American home’; and Bill Gates: ‘We started with a vision of a computer on every desk and in every home.’

They were future-oriented – forward-looking, not backward-looking? The writer would relate this to his European friends and they would concede that until New Europe, Old Europe was basking in their glorious past?

We would rather pursue progress – even The Flintstones did, lived like their present-day peers? But in our psyche do we fear the downsides of consumerism? But that would we like outsmarting ourselves? It is not about consumerism, it is about digging out of the pits – to quote Dr Jesus P Estanislao? (And being driven out of Eden was our first lesson about progress?)

Product development means visualizing a scenario – for example: What is there (a need or a wish) in our contemporary lifestyle that could be served with a new product idea? Understanding the fundamentals of a product architecture and developing lateral-thinking skills obviously are a must.

Moving up the value chain goes beyond the sound bite? As the World Bank study says: "Moving up the value chain requires investment -- in infrastructure, machinery and equipment, education, skills, information technology, etc." (And it is refreshing a major local bank is dismissing inflation concerns that could come with increased investment flows. Is it because we want to outsmart ourselves – and seek perfection? The writer and his wife were in Vietnam last winter as they were devaluing their currency – they simply had to bite the bullet; progress is not pain-free but seeing less poverty than ours is incentive enough? Where is perfection – who can cast the first stone?)

The bottom line: investment, investment, investment? The good news is the Aquino Administration appears focused on investment. But are we – as a people? We can’t talk about our elevated expectations from the new administration if we are not prepared to make our own radical change?

For example, reports Business World, Sept. 29th: “Manila should understand that TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) participants would be required to undertake significant legal reforms that involves a strong intellectual property rights system and opening the services sector completely, with very few exceptions . . . specifically . . . financial services, telecommunications, computer services, and distribution . . . [there is need to] thresh out regulatory, competitiveness, and transparency issues. . . The benefits of free trade, such as higher trade flows and investments, won’t come if some sectors of the economy remained shut. You can liberalize tariffs but if you haven’t been liberalizing other elements of your trade regime, you are not going to reap the benefit . . .” (Of course, the ASEAN countries could accuse the US of protectionism – welcome to the real world? Bullies will always be bullies but that’s why we were taught to be smarter? And that’s what the writer’s Eastern European friends are learning, everyday – and that our own ‘taipans’ demonstrated over the years, bullied by people in uniform/authority?)

Until we embrace change we would be stuck pursuing low-value added, if not generic, call centers, semiconductors, garments, dried mangoes and the like? They’re not bad product ideas, but we need to move up the value chain – because global competitiveness is the nirvana; and that means tapping what the global economy has to offer – and developing product ideas that satisfy the needs of the contemporary lifestyle?

Saturday, October 9, 2010

No time for mañana

Thailand is back! They had messed up big time helped by the Thaksin red shirts going against the pro-royalty yellow shirts? But today the numbers are the numbers. They expect 2010 exports to be up 25%. That would mean at least 3 times our own 2010 exports projection of over $50 billion.

Not surprising given that their gross investments are at over 20% (of GDP) against our 14% which translate to an FDI (foreign direct investments) equity of $94 billion for them against our $23.

So what are we doing? This is no time for mañana? Are we focused on what really matters?

We’re preoccupied with the MDGs and the $434-million grand courtesy of Uncle Sam? And the uproar has encouraged cause-oriented groups to challenge the government – i.e., translate the photo-op into something tangible for the poor? But if we cover the shortfall in our investments as measured against Thailand, even a conservative multiplier [effect] would yield over $100 billion in incremental GDP – which would dramatically alter our poverty picture? Of course it will not happen overnight but it would put us on the right track?

Can we focus on what counts? We’re compassionate – so instinctively we want to subsidize the cost of basic necessities? But the subsidy route as we have seen in most every economic endeavor at home and abroad is unsustainable? (And why the OECD is taking countries to task, i.e., while their goal is to see social programs succeed they recognize that their vision would only be realized if economies are fundamentally sound.) Translation: it is elevated investments that will generate greater economic output or GDP for the Philippines? But we want to preserve the patrimony – yet at the rate we’re going, poverty would eat up whatever is left of our wellbeing? And we’re respectful of hierarchy and we can’t bite the hands that feed us – even investments must respect the hierarchy; and foreign investments are way down in the pecking order?

Where else are we looking instead of driving investments? We are debating issues that have a common denominator – i.e., how to ‘make-do’ instead of how to be in the driver’s seat? Making-do is a big distraction? But we’re compassionate – yet compassion is not our issue? We have plenty of that – what we lack is investment, which can make our compassion truly tangible?

We don’t want to be American copycats where the media is sophisticated and highfalutin – because we have a more fundamental challenge than they do? America is over the top and rightly so has to pay the price – they have moved the free-market system beyond the fundamentals of adding-value – i.e., those exotic financial products behind the collapse of the global financial system didn’t add value? They were for a specific purpose – to sustain profitability at the expense of value-creation, which ought to be the heart of the system? When a couple of Nobel Prize winners (i.e., the wizards behind the LTCM debacle; and then followed by subprime mortgage-derived products) develop mathematical models that defy the real world, there is no doubt the pressure to deliver is paramount? Or is there something more vested behind it – or did they honestly miss that the real world is not an ideal mathematical model? And likewise exotic products are not exempt from risk management, or simple prudence?

What is our fundamental challenge? We have to move beyond a developing economy, i.e., via investments – that’s what we ought to talk about if we are to move forward, make a dent and sustain the war against poverty? Thankfully, the Aquino Administration is doing it?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Our power crisis

We have to move past ‘kuro-kuro’ and fix the power crisis, especially in Mindanao? The operative word is crisis, which hopefully still means something in our psyche? Should we try to be more focused? What about responsibility – should we point to the next person to take personal responsibility?

Indeed every now and again people must give themselves a pat in the back for the good things around them – it is healthy! Yet they need to balance that and develop instinctive problem-solving? Simply put, when there is a problem or a potential problem, to roll up their sleeves and fix it? For example, the Indians may not like what they are hearing but some participants to the Commonwealth Games are simply asking: are there problems or potential problems in your preparations for the games? Have you addressed them? They could be defensive, like we were with the Luneta hostage-taking crisis; but the participants are asking a fair question?

We’re not alone in this predicament. Spain wanted to please everybody and pursued a policy of subsidized power; only to learn the obvious, it is unsustainable. The writer’s many years in Eastern Europe have been a constant challenge to share with Eastern Europeans that there is such a thing as a problem-solving culture. It is nice to be spontaneous and happy, but there is the morning after?

And so one of the one-liners they’ve learned to remind them of this challenge is: Keep it simple, stupid!

The writer never tires in sharing with them that the one major difference between a developed nation and an underdeveloped one is infrastructure. But infrastructure is both hard and soft, like hardware and software. It is not all about erecting structures, it starts in the mind?

When one wakes up in the morning and is faced with the same inefficiencies as yesterday and many yesterdays prior, they can’t hide behind resiliency? It is not an asset; it is complacency, thus a liability? Love of country and concern for the poor are not empty rhetoric – they are action-driven? And it takes instinctive problem-solving to get one to roll up their sleeves?

Every president has said, ‘I am the power czar’? But how much have they rolled up their sleeves to demonstrate it? Focus . . . . focus . . . focus! That means the communications team is out there everyday telling media how the power czar is flexing his or her muscle? When there is transparency there is a built-in mechanism to get things done? We’re sophisticated and can intellectualize transparency, but transparency is not up there but down in the gut? Hierarchy and orgullo undermine transparency, if they’re not blinding? And good intentions are not good enough – which was the issue Rizal had with the church? (It appears the Vatican is signaling a move toward transparency: talking to media about the sex abuse scandal. The Vatican Bank is another topic they can address?) Absent transparency, abuses are bound to occur – follow what I preach not what I practice? And it explains why we can’t come close to slaying corruption? And in any economic endeavor hierarchy and orgullo undermine progress; while transparency brings the brightest ideas and the best efforts to percolate? And absent transparency, mediocrity is commonplace, if it does not rule?

Power, water, rice (which to us means food; like bread is in the West) and airports/harbors/roads (i.e., transport system) are the basics. If we can’t focus and prioritize and provide these basic needs, how can we raise economic activity, elevate our GDP and address poverty?

It is nice to be spontaneous and happy, and to please everybody, but there is the morning after?

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Our focus on investment is very encouraging

Finally we all seem to be focused on investment. Over several decades we unwittingly embraced a ‘make-do’ attitude instead of being in the driver’s seat? A ‘small’ country can be in the driver’s seat like Singapore is more competitive than the US?

It is not a surprised because we started with import-substitution, a classic ‘make-do’ posture, for instance. (The Indians were in a similar world, and just like us they erected plenty of barriers to hold foreign investments at bay. China, on the other hand, upon embracing a market economy, aggressively tapped foreign investments – and became the 2nd largest economy.) And then for decades we took the same ‘make-do’ attitude with our OFWs – their remittances made us proud, raising our foreign exchange reserves and making the peso stable to strong; and fueled our consumption economy. But forgetting we were suffering from a classic Dutch disease – when a nation’s source of revenues is not founded on strong economic fundamentals like strong investment that drives industrialization, we would not develop the requisite competitive muscle? And our neighbors have it as we know now – i.e., we talk about what they’ve done against our inability to move ahead?

That reality is reflective of an adolescent nation? We expected the rest of the world, especially the big countries, to allow us to keep our ‘training wheels’. Not unexpected from a young country, nor a negative. The problem as we know is that kids allowed their training wheels longer than necessary don’t develop confidence and conviction – our industries did not develop global competitiveness, for example? The writer did not warm up to George W. Bush because every achievement they claimed was with the benefit of his training wheels, i.e., he was born in third base and didn’t hit a triple and demonstrated arrogance (e.g., ‘Mission Accomplished’), not conviction? They say his IQ is superior, but that’s suspect if we apply the ‘cost-benefit yardstick’ Cheney talked about to Iraq, for instance.

(The writer bumped into the Monsignor, a proud Benedictine (and May he rest in peace!), one Sunday many years ago after mass. And he had a word with the writer: “I understand your daughter is enrolling at an Ivy – they are very liberal; there are Jesuit schools in the area? She’s our best student and graduated at the top of her class, and so I am interested.” The writer’s response in part: ‘she’s a product of our parish school and the Benedictine all-girls school in Manila – where she developed her study habits. And between the schools, the church and the family, my sense is she’s equipped enough to face the real world’.)

Of course, we had to invoke love of country, forgetting that growing up – being confident to deal with countries, big and small – is a requisite for development, economic development . . . unless we want to perpetuate a cacique-like culture? Now, decades behind our neighbors, at least we’re focusing on investment? And it’s never too late? We owe our local investors a lot for their commitment and desire to help the country. CSR, promoting SMEs, investing in infrastructure are all remarkable initiatives. Yet the level of our investments lags and thus the state of our industrialization leaves much to be desired – it is the starting point, the root cause, of why we are uncompetitive? Thus it is encouraging that the business community is raising the need to get the airport in Manila up to international, competitive standards instead of being a white elephant (i.e., NAIA 3); the critical state of our power and water sources, among others.

Now that we’ve set our sights on pursuing an investment-driven economy, we ought to keep the focus? In the meantime, poverty will keep staring us in the eye. There is no shortcut to cutting poverty? Even the US is suffering from it despite the government’s social programs, the church (the Catholic Church is the largest charitable institution) and very generous private individuals – which we can’t duplicate? We just have to bite the bullet and be gritty: move forward, and learn from emerging economies that saw major reductions in poverty as their economies grew – which we can replicate?

Vested interests will always be around, but it’s about time we become one and move the country forward? Indeed a ‘small’ country can be in the driver’s seat . . . and doesn’t have to ‘make-do’?