Are companies giving enough?

Manuel V. Pangilinan, chairman of the Philippine Business for Social Progress, says companies can do more for the poor.

By Anthony O. Alcantara

Every time I receive my payslip, my eyeballs drop from their sockets  whenever I see that entry called “withholding tax.” I don’t know if the eyeballs of the owners of big companies also pop out when they see their payslips, but the question is, “Should companies give more?”

If you ask Manuel V. Pangilinan, an accomplished Filipino businessman and chairman of the Philippine Business for Social Progress (PBSP), they should.

PBSP, founded 40 years ago when the poverty rate was 50 percent, is an organization supported by member-companies who donate money and expertise to help solve poverty and its related problems.

Since 1970, it has implemented over 6,500 projects in health, education, livelihood and the environment, managed P5.2 billion in grants and donations, and helped 6.4 million Filipinos to have better lives.

But poverty remains. Our economy is still in a cryogenic state, and many are demanding that President Noynoy Aquino do something to make it gallop like a horse.

“Poverty today has grown so large, and has become more complex compared to what it was 40 years ago,” said Pangilinan in his speech during PBSP’s 40th Annual Membership Meeting and Foundation Day Celebration recently.

Forty years ago, with a population of only 37 million, there were about 18 million living below the poverty line. Today our population is approximately 94 million, and with a poverty incidence of 33 percent, it means we have about 31 million impoverished Filipinos.

Despite all the technological, political and economic advances we had since 1970, the number of poor people has increased.

For Pangilinan, effective poverty amelioration will need two things: innovative solutions and more grants and donations.

Innovative solutions, he said, involve such things as sustainable livelihood programs and microcredit, a concept popularized by Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunnus.

Pangilinan also said donations and grants must also “increase to a quantum that will make a difference.” A quantum may be infinitesimally small, but Pangilinan is right in saying that more donations are needed.

PBSP’s grants and donations in the last five years amounted to P1.8 billion. Pangilinan wants to increase that amount to between P4 billion to P5 billion.

So why should members of the PBSP increase their donations? And why should companies join PBSP?

Well, just as people have different motivations in losing weight, companies have different motivations and inspirations for striving to be good corporate citizens.

Some give more to help promote a good corporate image. Some give more to help market its products and services. They call it enlightened self-interest. Some give more because they believe that doing so helps more people to prosper. More prosperous people means more will buy their products.

“We come together to honor a single powerful idea,” said Pangilinan. “The idea that business can do more than do business, that we can change lives, and transform society into something more than a marketplace.”

“We’re tied together in life, in this nation–that a person becomes human not as individual, but in community, that the despair of one touches us all.”

I guess people will always question companies’ motivation for being good corporate citizens. But that shouldn’t prevent them from doing social work.

The world’s richest man today, Mexican Carlos Slim, doesn’t believe in corporate social responsibility. He believes that the jobs he generates and the services he provides through his companies are enough.

But the two other richest men in the world, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, two men who have occupied the top slot in the world’s richest list for far longer, think differently. They’ve already committed to donate most of their wealth to charity when they die. And many are following their example, not in the extent of their donations, but in the spirit of giving.

To give or to give more? That’s a question that companies could consider today.

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(If you want to learn more about how businesses, whether big corporations or small and medium enterprises, can help eradicate poverty, visit www.pbsp.org.ph)

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