So, where to now? (A response)

Posted on October 31, 2008

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I thank my good friend Jamie Bautista for writing this reply and making me think, again.

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The answer is the trend that Bill Gates and Prof. Tommy Lopez are promoting CSR and businesses should take: REAL social entrepreneurship

This is when one sees a program by a corporation or organization and they ask, “Is it CSR or is for profit?” or “Is it CSR or is it a cost cutting/efficiency measure?” and the answer is, “It doesn’t matter.”  CSR should be tightly connected to a company’s bottom line, so if the CSR doesn’t work, the company actually feels the loss in their main business. If the CSR does well, the company increases profits.  It shouldn’t be the way it is now with most corporations where a budget is set aside for CSR and they don’t care about it anymore because it doesn’t affect the main business.  If CSR is part of the main business, then companies will actually put more resources into it because it will help their profits too.

A good example would be my classmate Issa Yeung, whose business in our Masters in Entrepreneurship program is an organization called the “Got Heart Foundation” (www.gotheartfoundation.org).  What they do is they work with marginalized communities and connect them with companies in their supply chain.  For example, if a food company needs to source a particular raw material, Got Heart will find a good source of that material from a community, giving livelihood and helping the company have a CSR (with branding pa) and lower cost of goods.  And to develop that, they charge P80,000 a MONTH.  They have several other programs too, all in revolutionizing CSR.

Or there are microfinance companies like my classmate Raj Uttamchandani’s Esquire International, that also has a foundation, but their main business is giving small loans (usually less than 10,000) to people to start small businesses and provide them with tools that ensure they are able to make the business fly (naturally so they can be paid back).  It helps people who can’t get bank loans to start their dreams. And yet they make millions doing this while helping others be entrepreneurs.  The same can be said for my other classmate Tom Tan, who is the president of FERN-C. They have over 600,000 people in his organization all learning to be entrepreneurs (with most of them doing very well), and he has sales of over a BILLION pesos a year.

For myself, Private Iris (now on its 3rd issue! www.privateiris.com) is not only raising the bar artistically for comics, but by being popular, it lets kids (who are naturally inclined to just consume) save money without knowing it (P100 of the cover price of every copy they buy goes into the account of the reader when they register) and teaches them financial literacy and logical thinking too (something many Filipinos lack).  But doing this comic earns a lot in printing for my press, gets my art studio a retainer fee of P65,000 a month for the marketing collaterals, plus a fee for myself for writing and creating it.
This is why I believe that real change is going to come from the entrepreneurs (which includes people who create NGOs).  Entrepreneurs are the ones who have the ability and know-how to create systems that allow “making a difference” and “making profit” to be one and the same.  You just can’t do that with government because it’s too established, complex and it’s democratic (which is just one leadership style out of at least five that entrepreneurs use for different situations, and democratic style only works when your people have reached a certain level of maturity and capability).  Employees don’t have the power to do much change to systems like a company (until they reach a certain level).  Freelancers do not create jobs and thus their work doesn’t affect as many lives as directly or as dramatically and the systems they set up are mainly for themselves.  Entrepreneurs, or people who think like them, are the ones who realize that the key is in creating systems (mostly HR systems) that allow for trickle down, that make the environment a part of the budgeting, that creates a culture of hard work, passion and honesty.  Entrepreneurs with a social conscience are creative enough to find a way to integrate helping society and making a living.

Is it always a choice to make a difference or to prostitute oneself? No, it isn’t always. It doesn’t always have to follow Maslo where one has to satisfy basic needs before self-actualization. It just takes a lot of creativity to think outside the rules of industry and society, a lot of logic and intelligence to create systems that will accomplish the goals, and a whole lot of hard work and discipline to make these plans and systems push through and to monitor them constantly. It also takes some luck (often a lot of luck) to find opportunities to execute these in terms or resources or partners.  But don’t think of these two goals as separate.  For instance, when working for an organization or NGO, demand a good salary and fix the systems, budget and strategies of the org so it can afford to pay that salary (as salaries are part of operating expenses while the money contributed to the cause should come from profits or as it’s called in the NGO world, “operational excess”).  If the org can’t give it’s people salaries while doing its mission, it’s not self-sustaining and something has to be changed structurally (e.g. Got Heart’s employees all have a salary, including Issa herself as the CEO.  She just doesn’t get dividends like a normal shareholder as that all goes to the beneficiaries of her foundation). If the NGO cannot sustain its employees and just depends on their passion to keep them there, don’t join that NGO.  It will actually burn you out.  It’s a lot like a relationship.  You can love someone unconditionally, but if that love is not returned, you will burn out.  Real love is where people sustain each other and can trust each other to be kept sustained emotionally.  It works that way whether it’s between two people or one person and an organization.

The difference between the world of self-sustenance and making a difference is actually artificial.  It’s like a “head vs. heart” decision which feels like two forces tugging at each other. But in reality (biologically), all those emotions all come from the head and they’re just not fully sorted out and thus feel like they come from different places.  But when you stop, think and figure out what it is you’re really feeling, you see that all your thoughts and decisions can be focused on what you really want to do.

It is hard to do, but it is definitely possible.  I have met people who have shown me that it’s possible. I work hard at the things I do because I believe it’s possible.
So don’t lose hope. :-)

Jamie
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