In 2015, the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) was ranked by the World Bank as the poorest region in Mindanao with a 53.7 percent poverty incidence rate. In its 2018 poverty assessment report titled “Making Growth Work for the Poor,” the World Bank revealed that 50 percent of the population in ARMM are living in impoverished conditions.
It pointed to the vicious cycle of conflict and poverty in the area which resulted in the worsening of human capital indicators. Death, injuries, illnesses, lack of access to education and health services, malnutrition and lack of employment continue to affect every household in the ARMM, according to the World Bank.
LAYING THE GROUNDWORK
Realizing the role that business can play as a catalyst in the development of the region and in improving people’s lives, Philippine Business for Social Progress (PBSP) embarked on a series of initiatives towards this purpose. First, it convened with the World Bank the Bangsamoro Business Forum on May 18, 2015. The forum aimed to explore the huge potential of Mindanao for investors, learn from best practices of existing businesses in the region, and discuss the creation of an enabling environment for them.
Four months after, PBSP and the World Bank brought representatives from the business sector to meet with MILF Chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim for a “Stakeholders’ Forum for Peace” at the MILF headquarters in Camp Darapanan, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao. They discussed the business sector’s high interest in investing in the Bangsamoro region and the various ways on how to do good and be more inclusive while addressing concerns on security, adapting to diverse cultures, and working with communities’ limited capacity and experience.
These initiatives and the best practices of pioneering companies which have been operating for years in the Bangsamoro provinces have inspired PBSP, the ARMM government and the Australian Embassy to come up with the Brokering Business Investments in the Bangsamoro to Achieve Inclusive Development and Growth (BRIDGe) Project, in partnership with the Hineleban Foundation Inc. (HFI) and in cooperation with the Regional Board of Investments (RBOI)-ARMM. The project aims to boost mutual confidence among private companies and local communities for increased investments in the region.
“The BRIDGe project is designed to facilitate economic progress, working with communities, supporting local enterprise and development. When we look at the Bangsamoro region, we see poverty indicators that are quite serious compared to the rest of the Philippines. We have to look at why the region is left behind and help create opportunities to bring it forward,” said Clare Duffield, Political and Public Affairs Counselor of the Australian Embassy.
CREATING AN ENABLING ENVIRONMENT
PBSP, under the BRIDGe project, launched the Business Sustainability Framework in the Bangsamoro (BSFB) to serve as a useful guide for potential investors on the process and standards in setting up successful and sustainable businesses in the area.
The BSFB placed community engagement as an integral part of the business plan and implementation. Investing in community engagement entails the key elements of community empowerment, economic development, food security, ecosystems conservation and protection, and governance and leadership.
“When anyone enters communities in conflict, you need to begin with building trust. You build trust by engaging yourself with the communities. You begin to understand what are their values, what are their thoughts, and everything you do has to be aligned with them,” said John Perrine, Founder and CEO of UGP Ltd., Inc. and Chairman of the Hineleban Foundation Inc.
The BSFB outlines recommendations on how to initiate new businesses in the Bangsamoro region, emphasizing that aside from adhering to compliance standards and risk management, investors must promote value creation aimed at an equitable sharing of the benefits of growth and investments within the community.
The process is made easier through the CLICK Investment Package which outlines the five steps in doing business in the ARMM. These are Consultation with Government (RBOI/ DTI), Local Leaders and Champions Engagement, Inclusive Business Development, Community Consultations and Acceptance and FeedbacK.
“The BSFB reveals the secrets of success by investors who made it in the ARMM. It also redefines how companies should behave and play an important role in socio-economic development. The heart of the Framework is the willingness and readiness of investors and the communities to engage in a transformational business partnership that will result to an inclusive, equitable and sustainable development in the Bangsamoro,” said RBOI-ARMM Chairman and Managing Head Atty. Ishak V. Mastura.
Around 70 participants from various companies, organizations and the government attended the launch held last Sept. 28, 2018 at the Makati Diamond Residences in Makati City. Companies in the Bangsamoro shared how they were able to successfully put up businesses in the region.
Through the BRIDGe Project and the BSFB Framework, PBSP hopes that more communities in ARMM will be empowered and encouraged to become active partners of investors.
“With the passage of the Bangsamoro Organic Law, there is more reason to hope that major development initiatives will take place. But the transition period all the way to the institutionalization of the reforms will need all the help that various sectors, public and private, could muster. We hope the BSFB will contribute to these reforms and help bring in the much-needed investments for a bigger, progressive and more inclusive Bangsamoro region that we all envision,” said PBSP Chairman Manuel V Pangilinan.