Are we on the right track for the future?

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It was a much anticipated gathering. Close to 700 delegates converged in Manila to hear some of the world’s leading lights share their thoughts on what the future will likely bring. Who wouldn’t want to be part of that?

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The two-day Asian Forum on Enterprise for Society (AFES) conference explored the question:

If we can re-imagine, shape, and inspire the future together, what will it look like?The AFES, previously known as the Asian Forum on Corporate Social Responsibility, is the longest-running premier platform for dialogue on CSR thought leadership and best practice.  It was co-convened by the Asian Institute of Management (AIM) and the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation (RMAF) in connection with AIM’s 50th Anniversary and RMAF’s 60th Anniversary.

In her keynote address, Vice President Leni G. Robredo urged the various sectors present to focus their respective technology agendas in ensuring that economic growth become truly inclusive.She said the digital innovation-led growth worldwide should focus on the interests of people, not merely on enhancing inanimate machines.

She noted that despite the global economic expansion and rapid growth of digital technology, complex problems such as hunger, poverty, inequality, violence, terrorism, and war, among many others persist.“Machines are ready for the next stage, but it seems humans are not. If I were to reimagine the future so full of exciting innovations, I propose this: That we must think of humans, especially those who are poor and marginalized in every decision that we make — big or small,” said Robredo.

Many of the speakers dwelt on the “the exponential transformation of technology” that will create a brave new world of innovations and artificial intelligence that will radically change the world. Sharing the concern of Vice President Robredo, five Ramon Magsaysay Awardees who were invited as speakers offered a cautious perspective, pursuing the tack that innovations have to serve the concerns of the impoverished so their lives can be improved.

The Awardees, in their own words:


The only way the poor can get out of poverty is through technologies that are not sexy.

HARISH HANDE, 2011 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee from India

“More than 1 billion people are without energy because energy is not democratized today and it’s not a level playing field. We believe social enterprise and sustainable energy breaks those myths… where the poor become owners, the poor become innovators, the poor become entrepreneurs.”

Harish Hande, 2011 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee 

“The beauty of sustainable energy is for us to look at efficiency, democratization… look at the appliances, what is needed…can I have a better efficiently designed house?If you start teaching that in schools – how do you look at efficiency and design from the viewpoint of consumptive methodology, asking the students to rely less on Excel sheets but on empathy to look at solutions.I am not an activist because for me the best form of protest is providing solutions. That’s why I tell to the youngsters, new solutions are the best form of protest.”

Hande says that the only way that the poorare going to get out of poverty is through income generation and a focus on technologies in things that they need in their daily lives such as sewing machines, carpentry tools, all kinds of machineries. “These are all are highly energy inefficient and we have not innovated on any of these machines. These are not sexy enough to put on your resumes, we would rather work on an app. There’s a huge potential to look at mass scale engineering… technology that the poor will use, are using. Nobody has looked at a blower for a blacksmith for centuries, nobody is working on the lathe machine, so please, don’t escape by going to the United States. Be in the country and start innovating on technology that will help the bottom actually rise.”

Will improvements in healthcare be more inclusive or less inclusive?

CHUNG TO, 2007 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee from China

“Can healthcare be both good and inclusive? I believe so, but the problem is even if it is good and inclusive, can it be affordable? Affordable to the government and affordable to the people, I think that it can be inclusive and better for relatively less money. Let me give you an example, when China started to provide the treatment for HIV patients… many of them in poor areas, they are not properly educated about the importance of inherenceso they don’t take the drugs regularly… a lot of people still become sick or develop drug resistance.”

Chung T , 2007 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee

Chung To’s solution was to have someone tasked to watch a person taking the drugs on time. “II seems pretty primitive but it is also very effective. We mobilize the neighbors, many of them also living with HIV…we assign 5 to 10 patients to each of them… making sure they are really taking medicine when it’s time.” The watchers get incentives.“By spending a little bit more, program performance can significantly increase.”

”So to us the solution is not just healthcare but also when they receive better healthcare, when they live better,we should boost productivity to make them generate more income so that the cycle will be cycling upwards. We already have a lot of solutions and there will be more and more coming up but my main concern is—whether it will be more inclusive or less inclusive. In the future we have more treatment available for many people… butmany people may not be able to afford it.”

Schools should produce people who are happy.

MEECHAI VIRAVAIDYA, 1994 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee from Thailand

“Technology is one thing but I would like to concentrate more on the human being. I bought I school to produce people who are happy. If we gonna learn to respect other people we have to

train them to be honest, from a young kid onwards, and have themlearn how to share and help other people and respect other people – those are key issues I think that education ought to have or ought to supply.”

“In every school you must teach students how to do business because in mostAsian communities, 70% of those who finish education do not have employers, yet we don’t teach them how to be self-employed and at the same time how to stay at home. Education must try to prevent migration.”

“In many companies corporate responsibility is just one unit (in the company) and there is small motivation for people handling it. For it to work, there should be a total policy; everyone must be involved. Therefore we need ISR – individual social responsibility and then finally we must get down to junior CSR – children social responsibility.” KhunMeechai added that this is the only way corporate responsibility can be effective and meaningful.

Asked about what skills, competencies, or mindsets will enable learners to function as successful humans in this future that’s dominated by AI and all other technologies, KhunMeechai answered: Persevering, willing to learn, energetic, polite and looking for tomorrow. Always.”

If we innovate what will be the aftermath of that innovation?

ANSHU GUPTA, 2015 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee from India

“While we think artificial intelligence is a big solution… every day you have something new… how come we don’t even provide any solution for the water problem, for agriculture, for so many things which relate to the much larger population in the world? There is something fundamentally wrong… the providers of these new solutions do not understand that it’s not making that kind of impact.Unfortunately, we are still using our own lenses to see the problem and to find the solution. We’re not using the lenses of people for whom it matters and this is exactly the problem with technology.”

Anshu Gupta, 2015 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee

Mr. Gupta said he is not worried about technology causing the loss of jobs. “I am more worried about the value system, I am more worried about environment; I’m more worried about hundreds of things which are related to the technology battles… yes, technology is the solution but it is extremely important to think… that if we innovate what will be the aftermath of that innovation?”

He cited tetra packing technology as one example of a solution that results in “huge amount of environment loss.” He adds that “for the society, for human being, the social fabric, human relationships are also equally important. So when you say, mobile has connected people,one hundred percent I agree but then I also want to argue that mobile has also created millions of absolutely isolated human beings.”

“For the future, Gupta proposes that “our thinking process also need to change… whether it is with technology or non-technology, it doesn’t matter, that’s just one tool. (What is important is) the inherent thought process of all of us who have good intentions.”

Some disciplines could be replaced by technology but humans can always re-invent themselves.

LILIA DE LIMA, 2017 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee

“There’s a big technology or internet divide and this is the problem of the 21st century. I want to ask our young techies here, how can we reduce that technology divide in this world?”

Lilia de Lima, 2017 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee (center)

“Yes, in some instances, some disciplines could be replaced by technology but humans can always re-invent themselves – for example in the performing arts, creative arts. Technology cannot replace sensitive jobs that require tender loving care… machines and robots don’t have the spirit, they don’t have the soul and that’s what makes us different. They can never replace that so there’s no fear. We can use technology to our advantage and it can also create problems but let technology solve their own problems.”

Her one big idea for the future: “If 1% of the world’s richest can donate 1% of their wealth, it could wipe out the debts of most countries. It could wipe out or eradicate poverty. You can enjoy your wealth and share with humanity.”

A heady experience

Two days of lively, thought-provoking discussions. A full menu of diverse and meaningful ideas, insights and scenarios on what is in store for us in the coming years. And how science and technology can best serve humanity. You can imagine that it got the audience thinking well into the night, or even in the days to come.Next year’s edition of the Asian Conference on Enterprise for Society would be something to look forward to.   (M.H. Hizon)


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