Thursday, November 15, 2012

Why “pwede na ‘yan” won’t cut it

America’s leadership in several areas has eroded much more rapidly than most Americans think. They (the authors of Innovation Economics: The Race for Global Advantage, Robert Atkinson and Stephen Ezell) are right to argue that classical economists are often blind to the fact that innovation is the product of ecosystems rather than individual companies and that ecosystems are fragile,” How not to be left behind – Why America cannot see that it is losing traction; The Economist, 13th Oct 2012.

If it could be argued that Americans (and classical economists) could be blinded, what about PHL? Of course we are proud that our resiliency was once again proven through the Great Recession. But is that to crow about? In today’s globalized world we remain inward-looking. In an age where innovation is valued and rewarded because it drives progress, we continue to reward hierarchy and the lopsided economy it yields. But we’re well-informed and proudly prescribe cures which could indeed be state-of-the-art. Yet we ourselves are missing something? We have yet to visualize the ecosystem that will create the climate conducive to transforming our efforts into a virtuous cycle? [Forward thinkers have realized the contributions of da Vinci, Einstein, Edison, and Jobs, among others, in the discipline and art of visualization, and made them confident as they pursued innovation.]

We are still touting the over 6% GDP we registered in the most recent reading but that is the outcome of stepped up spending by the government following the criticisms from last year that “daang matuwid” was choking the economy. And that GDP number does not represent bringing us to a virtuous cycle. We’ve recognized that basic infrastructure, for instance, is an imperative if we are to create that ecosystem. But while we read about new PPP initiatives to be sent out for bids, we have yet to make a dent on PHL’s very basic infrastructure needs. But because of “pwede na ‘yan” we’ve patted ourselves in the back, especially as we’ve addressed and are moving forward in the competitiveness rankings.

Those efforts are laudable, but if we are to move closer to creating the ecosystem that nurtures competitiveness, we have to start looking outward. Our enterprises, including banking services and property development, remain parochial targeting OFWs wherever they are in the world. Ergo: we have yet to look beyond our local market and our own people being especially proud that we are satisfying their needs – that as marketers we are constantly fine-tuning our target market and that we are successful businesses because we are focused on the market that is our strength.

But what is the reality in today's globalized world? That parochial bias is already accounted for by the $20 billon in OFW remittances absorbed by our economy each year which while incremental is at best a manifestation of incremental thinking – and as President Ramos says, “the pie is too small.” We are not creating a virtuous cycle that comes with moving up the learning curve in innovation, for example. How can we then prescribe cures though state-of-the-art when the platform of our economy remains backward: infrastructure-wise, strategic industry-wise and investment, technology and innovation-wise, for instance.

How do we create that ecosystem that will elevate us to that desired state of a competitive economy – and move from incremental to quantum-leap thinking? Otherwise we simply fall back on our old paradigm: OFW remittances and the same half-a-dozen entities that control our economy? And which is why it’s called spinning wheels – i.e., we would remain stationary (e.g., poverty levels) and fall behind the rest of the world as well – even Vietnam, Cambodia and who else?

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