Giving back, Ayala style

By Tina Arceo-Dumlao

Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:23:00 06/14/2009


Filed Under: Corporate social responsibility, Corporate Profiles, Economy and Business and Finance

MANILA, Philippines – It is no accident that the Ayala group of companies is today’s oldest, largest and most profitable conglomerate with leading market positions in real estate development, banking, telecommunications, water distribution, electronics manufacturing, business process outsourcing, and automotive dealership.

By looking well into the future and taking measured and yet nimble steps, the group was able to seize opportunities as they inevitably arose throughout its 175-year history, refusing to be slowed down by cataclysmic events such as two world wars and the peaks and valleys of the world and Philippine economies.

Thus, the group has come a long way from the small trading house called Ayala y Cia put up in 1834 by the first generation of intrepid Zobels, who came from Spain to seek their fortunes in the Philippines, into the diversified group it is today, with the reins firmly held by the eighth generation of Zobels.

And from the day Ayala y Cia was established, the group never lost sight of the principle that it owes its enviable success to the Filipinos who put their hard-earned money in its wide range of products and services.

This is why as the group expanded, its ways of giving back to the country and the people with whom its history is inextricably linked did, too.

At first, Ayala’s projects were philanthropic in nature, with money going into a number of worthy causes starting with the establishment by Doña Margarita Roxas de Ayala of the Colegio de la Immaculada Concepcion Concordia in 1856, an exclusive school for girls that exists to this day, which was followed in 1910 by the company’s funding of National Artist Fernando Amorsolo’s art education in Europe and the development of low-cost housing and cottage industries for the poor that were sorely needed in the aftermath of World War II.

Then in 1961, with the group now firmly entrenched in a number of industries vital to the Philippines’ economic growth such as banking and real estate, the group decided to put more order into its social development work and organized it under Filipinas Foundation, the precursor of Ayala Foundation, which directed philanthropic work.

Under Filipinas Foundation, the country’s first corporate foundation, the group provided land in 1969 for the site of the Asian Institute of Management, one of the leading higher education centers in the region and then in 1974 opened the Ayala Museum, with its treasure trove of archaeological finds and art collection, to the public.

More projects congruent with the Filipinas Foundation’s vision to help improve the lives of the less privileged followed in quick succession. Its work reached a turning point in 1986, following the Edsa revolution that saw the Philippines return to the democracy with the ascent to power of President Corazon C. Aquino.

It was also at that time when brothers Jaime Augusto and Fernando came home to the Philippines from studies abroad to see how they can contribute to national development, in the same way their father and their father’s father did before them.

Jaime Augusto, the current chairman and CEO of Ayala Corp., recalls the excitement in the company to do even more as the Philippines basked in the glory of toppling a dictatorship without dropping a single drop of blood on the city streets.

“The democratic restoration after Edsa created an impetus and an opportunity for a company like Ayala to reexamine its contribution to nation building. Our father, who was then CEO, wanted Fernando and I to lead in that corporate reexamination through the Ayala Foundation, which at the time, operated separately and independently from the companies within our group,” Zobel explains in an interview.

That reexamination led to the tighter integration between the work of the foundation – the name of which was changed from Filipinas Foundation to Ayala Foundation in 1990 –and that of the growing number of companies under the umbrella of Ayala Corp.

Thus, even before corporate social responsibility (CSR) became the buzzword that it is today, Ayala was already putting the concept in practice and unleashing its full potential. The staff of the foundation and no less than the chief executive officers of the different companies came together in one table to hammer out ways they can leverage on each other’s strength to help solve society’s ills.

That exercise marked the first step in integrating CSR in the strategic business model and the education became the top priority.

The Ayala group has always believed that improving the quality of education in the Philippines was the fundamental problem as well as fundamental solution to creating a brighter future for the country.

The ambitious programs born out of the sharper focus on education was the Center of Excellence in Public Elementary Education in 1998, which gave very bright children from lower income families access to top quality basic education; followed the next year by the Ayala Young Leaders Congress that sought to foster values-based leadership among the young, and Children’s Hour, which encouraged individuals and corporations to share an hour of their time to help raise the quality of life of Filipino children in need.

Then in 2004, the new Ayala Museum in its new home in Greenbelt 4 was dedicated to the Filipino people and continues on its mission to enhance Filipino pride in their history and heritage.

Members of the Ayala group such as the Bank of the Philippine Islands, Ayala Land Inc. and Globe Telecom immediately lent their support to these vital programs in education. However, these flagship projects remained mainly under the ambit of Ayala Foundation with the companies providing needed funds and expertise.

The Ayala group wanted to do even more and its response to the challenge was to launch in 2007 of the Ayala Social Initiatives (ASI).

ASI called on the individual companies as well as the group itself to pursue their own corporate social responsibility projects and align them with their core business. In this way, as they do good, they will do well, and not just for a few months or years, but over the long haul.

And to ensure maximum impact and avoid spreading themselves too thin, the group limited the areas of engagement to three: Education, entrepreneurship and environment, which it deemed the most pressing problems facing the country and, at the same, presented the brightest opportunities to make a difference.

Zobel stresses that the ASI is not just about regrouping CSR activities under three themes. The 3Es – education, entrepreneurship and environment – now form the triangle of the group’s intensive practice of CSR both at the group level and down to the individual companies and business units.

“Through education and entrepreneurship, we provide those in need with opportunities to become their own agents of change,” Zobel says, “By working for a sustainable environment, we provide a greater number of people with a physical and social ecosystem that continually upgrades their standard of living.”

Ayala Land Inc., which depends on a healthy environment for its long-term prospects, is taking the lead in environment protection and its Solid Waste Management program is its flagship project.

By getting the companies and individuals under its wide area of influence to reduce, reuse and recycle, it contributes to the solution to global warming and at the same time enhancing the value of its projects.

The Bank of the Philippine Islands and Globe Telecom Inc., on the other hand, have embarked on projects that promote entrepreneurship, a surefire way of rescuing the less privileged from the depths of poverty.

BPI set aside a P500-million fund for microfinance that small entrepreneurs can tap, while Globe has its program enabling microentrepreneurs to have another source of income by selling phone credits.

In education, where the stakes are higher, the group decided to go beyond its borders and seek partners who share its vision of a better and more prosperous Philippines for all. It is true after all, more hands make work light. And there is much to be done.

One landmark example of partnership is the Gearing up Internet Literacy and Access for Students (Gilas), which has an ambitious goal of connecting all public schools to the Internet. With Gilas, rivals such as Globe and Smart Telecom can leave competition behind and instead harness their strength to help bridge the digital divide.

Some 1,000 schools have already been connected to the wonders of the Internet through Gilas and another 1,000 are expected to be added by the end of 2008, thus enabling Gilas to reach a million high school students by the end of the year.

The group would not have been able to do the task alone – even with the resources and talent at its disposal – and it is letting up on the work of seeking more partners for more programs. The enormity of the tasks ahead demands no less.

Yet, despite the daunting challenges ahead, the Ayala group approaches its work with the enthusiasm and the energy that have been with it since the seeds of the conglomerate were planted 175 years ago.

It is confident that with its new approach and unwavering vision, it does not only see clearly the world it seeks, it is also on its way to make it a reality.

To know more about Ayala Land properties, feel free to call me at +63 917 580 2013, or email me at



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