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Advocating social good

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Washington Z. SyCip gestures during an interview with BusinessWorld in 2012. — BW FILE PHOTO

There are many things that people would not forget about the visionary tycoon Washington Z. SyCip. These could be his accomplishments as a Philippine business icon, his insights about economic growth, or his engagement in generous acts like uplifting the lives of Filipinos.

When Mr. SyCip retired in 1996 as the chairman and partner of SGV & Co., the largest professional services firm in the country, he did not stop nor slow down. He rather continued to champion microfinance as a viable source of credit for the poor, along with his other advocacies in basic education and rural health.

He believed that these areas must be given full attention to solve poverty. Microfinance, in particular, gives hope to the poor and provides a way to build development from the bottom.

Speaking at the joint membership meeting of the Makati Business Club and Management Association of the Philippines in 2009, Mr. SyCip said: “We cannot rely on government to single-handedly solve the problem of poverty. It has failed to do so all these years. The private sector must make a stand in addressing this serious social problem. We cannot continue to deny the existence of hopelessness and despair around us. Nor should we expect someone else to solve our failures.”

By giving value on what he was saying, Mr. SyCip worked extensively with Dr. Jaime Aristotle B. Alip of Center for Agriculture and Rural Development — Mutually Reinforcing Institutions (CARD MRI), a social development fund established in 1986 that evolved into an outstanding microfinance institution today.

CARD MRI is composed of 14 development institutions with a common goal of eradicating poverty in the Philippines and upholding the lives of Filipinos through microfinance and social development services.

In an interview with BusinessWorld last June, Mr. SyCip shared an incident he experienced with the 8,000 students on loan in the affected areas of Typhoon Yolanda. He said that even though the borrowers had lost their homes, they all paid and they pay better than many businessmen. “I learned in life, I experienced it… the poor are more honest than the rich,” he said.

In a think piece titled “The Financial Power of the Poor” that Mr. SyCip wrote for BusinessWorld in 2012, he said that microfinance has been gaining ground in the Philippines as a viable source of credit for the poor and it has greatly increased over the years. He strongly believed that the real secret behind the success of microfinance institutions is the credit discipline instilled in its clients.

“Generally, they speak positively about the capacity of the poor to save and repay their debts when they are given access to credit. The figures also suggest that microfinance institutions (MFIs) — rural and thrift banks, nongovernment organizations or NGOs, and cooperatives — can be profitable institutions,” Mr. SyCip said.

Aside from his critical role to the growth of the country’s microfinance industry, Mr. SyCip became instrumental in establishing institutions that have great value to national life like the Asian Institute of Management (AIM) and the Philippine Business for Social Progress (PBSP).

PBSP is the largest business-led nongovernmental organization at the forefront of strategic corporate citizenship and business sector leadership contributing to sustainable development and poverty reduction. It creates sustainable solutions to societal problems with its core programs in Health, Education, Environment, and Livelihood and Enterprise Development.

Mr. SyCip has been cited several times for his charitable, educational and social work. And even in his last years, he was still committed in doing these things not just for Filipinos from the lowest sector but for the nation as a whole. — Mark Louis F. Ferrolino

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