After building one of the country’s foremost conglomerates, this business leader and one of Asia’s top altruists is setting his sights on affordable education and housing for the poor
By Tina Arceo-Dumlao
Most chief executive officers in the Philippines consider making money the end all and be all of their existence. But there are those who are getting converted to the idea that they should be more involved in the many social ills plaguing the country, which is still struggling to become one of the fastest-growing economies in the region.
Fortunately, there are also leaders of Philippine companies who can do both – run a successful, profitable enterprise while contributing to the improvement in the lives of fellow Filipinos.
Ramon R. Del Rosario Jr., chief executive officer of the 52-year-old Phinma group of companies, is one of those leaders.
Under Del Rosario’s direction, the Phinma group shifted to a new portfolio of businesses – from cement manufacturing to education and affordable housing, among others, and has been earning a tidy profit along the way.
The education business through the Phinma Education Network strives to provide high quality education – defined as education that leads to sustainable jobs – at an affordable cost to the C and D markets, those who need education the most to pull themselves out of poverty.
Del Rosario said the aim is build a network of five universities all over the country, outside Metro Manila, with a population of 100,000 students. These universities will provide no frills education, where teachers focus solely on teaching, rather than research or publishing, and emphasizing courses that lead to jobs – accounting, engineering, nursing, hotel and restaurant management, even criminology.
“Our tuition is only about P12,000 a semester and we allow installment payments throughout the course of the semester. We now have two universities with a combined enrollment of 11,000, which we hope to ultimately increase to about five universities with a total population of 100,000. Mind you, these are run, not as charities, but as businesses, and their managers are expected to generate a rate of return, principally through a growth in enrollment,” Del Rosario said in a recent speech at the Asian Institute of Management.
On the housing side, through Phinma Properties, the focus is on affordable housing in Metro Manila – primarily condominium units in well planned and pleasant communities at a range of P700,000 to below P1 million, at a monthly amortization of as low as P7,000 a month.
“Over the past three years, we have built and sold some 5,000 homes, making us a leader in this niche. In both education and housing, we strive to offer the best value for money in the market. And we serve the needs of society through viable, profitably business enterprises,” Del Rosario said in an interview.
For Del Rosario, the success of these endeavors proves that it is possible to marry business interests with social advocacy and thus integrate corporate social responsibility work into the core of the business.
It is his fervent hope that more Philippine companies would be able to do the same, saying that the private sector – considering the resources and talent at its disposal – has the moral obligation to lend its hand to uplift society.
Sure, there is that school of thought led prominently by Milton Friedman that says that the business of business is business, that the private sector is already doing its role in society by putting up enterprises, creating jobs, making available good products, and providing goods and services that the market wants.
But Del Rosario belongs to that other school of thought that says that corporations must go beyond these fundamental roles of business, and one reason is that it holds so much of the nation’s resources. “Particularly in poor countries like the Philippines, it is not difficult to see that the government is unable to provide many of the basic needs of its people, because of a lack of resources and capabilities, often made worse by widespread incompetence, inefficiency, and corruption,” Del Rosario said.
“The belief that has emerged is that corporations can and should devote some of their resources and management expertise toward addressing some of society’s critical needs. Thus was born the concept of corporate social responsibility, whose practice has gained adherence, particularly over the last few decades,” he added.
The 64-year-old Del Rosario has become one of the leading champions of CSR in the Philippines and has certainly put more than his fair time and resources. Aside from leading Phinma, the former Finance secretary is also trustee and treasurer of the Philippine Business for Social Progress, founder of the Philippine Business for Education, an active member of the Makati Business Club and the Management Association of the Philippines, and one of the leaders of the De La Salle University system, of which he is a product.
Recently, Del Rosario has launched a campaign to raise $25 million for Pinoy Micro-Enterprise Social Investment Fund, which will help microfinance institutions extend small loans to poor customers.
For his efforts, Forbes Magazine named Del Rosario as one of the 48 top altruists in Asia. Named with him from the Philippines are John Gokongwei Jr., Oscar Lopez, and Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala.
There may only be a handful of CEOs so recognized for their work to contribute to greater society but Del Rosario is optimistic that more will join the fold. There is simply no other choice.
“I am optimistic that socially responsible behavior among corporations will be increasingly demanded by the corporations’ own stakeholders – their employees, customers and communities they affect,” he said.
”My hope is that socially responsible behavior will be increasingly the norm by which leading Philippine corporations will operate, and that lesser corporations will take their lead and similarly fall in line,” he concludes.