POPE Francis’ response to the Filipino girl, who asking him why the poor have to remain poor, goes beyond mere empathy. He challenged the youth to think well, feel well, and do well.
Such harmony of head, heart and hand is the sense of connectivity that APEC must respond to. In the Bali Summit, connectivity was discussed in different terms. It focused on the institutional, physical, and people-to-people linkages. As a forum, a think tank on trade, investment, eco-tech and business facilitation concerns, and an action platform for government-to-government and public–private partnerships, APEC needs to connect these three.
Pope Francis speaks of the fundamentals for global interaction that connects thinking, feeling and doing well. Let us reflect on one of these views on respect for individuality vs. homogeneity—so critical to a diverse group as APEC:
“If we think of globalization as a universal billiard ball, the richness of each culture is lost. The true globalization, that which we must defend, is like a polyhedron in which everyone is integrated but each player maintains his particularities, which at the same time, enrich others…“The globalization that makes everything uniform is essentially imperialist and instrumentally liberal, but it is not human. In the end it is a way to enslave the nations… we must preserve the diversity in the harmonious unity of humanity.”
Past a quarter of century of APEC, did the Leaders narrow the gap between industrialized and developing economies? How far has APEC succeeded in reducing poverty, in terms of promoting SMEs, harnessing human resources, empowering women, maximizing the benefits of ICT, and more? How has APEC succeeded in trade and investment liberalization and facilitation, in terms of transparency and accountability, safety and security, tariff reduction, etc.?
Do these speak only of ideas or also of action that ultimately improve the lives of people in the richness of their diverse contemporary settings?
A close fellow traveller of the Pope is Luis Antonio G. Cardinal Tagle, Archbishop of Manila. Reiterating the Pope’s thinking, he gave fitting examples of how leaders can empathize with the poor during the 66th Management Association of the Philippines Inaugural Meeting. One that struck me the most was his question: “why do we have education programs that force poorly prepared kids to finish grade levels in one academic calendar?
Indeed these can be directed to institutions and programs that are designed for “social profit” by government and “bottomline profit” by private schools. Nobody quarrels with excellence in education – but are we to relegate the malnourished children whose IQs and EQs have been retarded by poor nutrition?
Innovative solutions include approaches focusing on changing inputs, processes, and outputs: tech-voc, dual tech including farm-based training, multiple intelligence; the Don Bosco or Montessori philosophies; the Bernido couple’s (Magsaysay laureates) dynamic learning in science, technology, engineering and mathematics using the natural resources around the school; Synergia Foundation’s methods, etc. Replication is direly needed all over APEC in ways fitting to local socio-cultural settings.
A most dramatic example of APEC’s ability to shape the global economy is its endorsement in 1996 of the Information Technology Agreement (ITA). This led to the liberalization of a broad global industry, without anyone able to anticipate the impact of new enterprises, more jobs, and revitalization of physical and geographic sectors.
In brinksmanship “negotiation”, the Philippines succeeded in the ITA endorsement the night before the November 1996 Summit. After a year of discussion, APEC endorsed it and ten members of APEC immediately conformed to the requirements, thus forming a critical mass as the original 17 WTO signatories for the ITA. Today, many people agree that the benefits of cellular phones exceed the costs to individuals and society, the Pope’s warnings included. Yet in 1996, when the Philippines first hosted an APEC Economic Leaders’ Summit, the challenge of doing, after the thinking, and perhaps the feeling, was not quite there.
If the Papal challenge were to be interpreted from this simple example, what would have been the questions raised by the ITA visionaries for regional economic integration as in APEC? For practically new goods and services, business leaders are without moorings if they do not reflect on the foundations of their very beings. Knowing oneself is exactly one critical aspect of leadership.
COOPERATION and COMPETITION
APEC 2015 must reflect on these concerns seriously. Innovation is feared to be creating more divides. On a grander scale, strategies of cooperation and competition are now reshaping directions as corporate leaders of the new century re-think profits, people and planet consciousness.
Examples of goods produced in partnership with Grameen started by Magsaysay (1984) and Nobel (2006) laureate Muhammad Yunus include: mosquito nets treated to prevent spread dengue; affordable yogurt fortified with micronutrients; purified arsenic-contaminated drinking water bottled at affordable prices; $1 Reebok shoes produced by a social business that partners Adidas and Grameen; IT-based infant-maternal healthcare service for the poor (Grameen Intel). Dozens such firms abound in many APEC member economies.
Is APEC 2015 going to work with social enterprises to directly address the needs of the poor, not in trickle-down fashion but in direct engagement of their problems?
Cooperation as in APEC’s last letter, and competition at the heart of the last century, need redefining today. Every year, Economic Leaders seem to be competing in terms of promises made, not in actual deliveries of results
Connecting the head to heart to hand is what Pope Francis’ challenge really amounts to. Translating grand ideas and vision, through values based on helping the marginalized, in action programs and projects that are consciously pursued through time.
Is the Philippines ready for the Papal challenge?
Federico (Poch) M. Macaranas, Ph.D., is the Asian Institute of Management ASEAN 2015 Project Co-Director. He served as Chairman of the APEC Senior Officials Meetings in 1996.