BPO is business processing outsourcing, a term that basically means “call centers” to most. With one million Filipinos, mostly young, employed in call centers, there is no doubt that the BPO industry has become a major economic pillar of the country.
I was fortunate enough to read an article from Rappler last week which gave a brief history of the BPO industry in the Philippines. The figures were not that many but they told a meaningful story. The growth has been phenomenal. That, in itself, gives us a more fundamental message that we as a people and our leaders, especially, would do well to understand.
It is our strengths that take the lead in bringing us towards our dreams. That is true in both the personal and collective dimension. In the collective, however, this truism in most visible.
If we do a short review of our written history, our collective strengths should become obvious. Of course, we should first have an interest or we will see little or nothing at all. Facts and figures have become commonplace, their volume so heavy that we cannot possibly appreciate them all. Our interest, however, makes us focus on those of great interest to us—whether it is about movie stars or politics or history. Unfortunately, history is nowhere as attractive as the lives of entertainers or the antics of politicians.
In history, however, because of the longer coverage in time, we can see patterns and not just tidbits here and there. Patterns provide meaningful information, if not greater truths. What can confuse us on the surface, triggered by any current issue or event, may be much better understood from within established patterns. Our societal leaders, if armed with the necessary interest, can easily source out these patterns from many historians or social scientists. It is a matter, may I repeat, of having the right interest on crucial fields affecting our people.
From the rice terraces to the balangay sea crafts, to the intricacy and artistry of our designs on cloth, gold or silver pieces, from our spiritual beliefs and practices, from our songs, dances and hospitality, from our at ease-ness with communication and languages, from our distinct capacity of service, to everything bayanihan, we are seeing what we are naturally attuned to. And where we are good at is where we will excel on a sustained basis.
Communication and languages come easy. There is only a need for the technical infrastructure to support this natural gift of Filipinos to make us the country to reckon with in anything related to these strengths. The BPO industry may have experienced its growth stage where the newness of everything gave it a naturally slow start, but look at it now. The phenomenal growth is NOT because of technical infrastructure but despite its shortcomings. It is because this particular demand of the advanced world simply played up to a Filipino strength.
The fertility of our soil is under-used, what with its capacity to grow most everything. The seeming exceptions seem to be the plantations (banana, pineapple, and sugar, for example) where corporate farming is their character. Small farmers, however, lag behind. It is not only a lack of financial and technical resources, it is also the shallow relationship they have with lands they do not own or control. In other words, farmers without permanent or long-term security of tenure on land they work on cannot develop love for that land, nor dream for their future with it.
The wealth of natural resources that are reached are also exploited to a point that the exploitation endangers the sustainability of the environment and the future of our country. Mining has brought great profits to those who ventured large capital on it, but hardly any progress for the people in general. There is hardly any value-added processing on what we mine to multiply the worth of raw materials, giving the greater benefit to only a very select few.
Manufacturing has grown after so many failed attempts, and only because “cheap” labor was a powerful motive for foreign investors. Companies, though, that have survived whatever labor problems there may have been in the beginning, and have treated Filipino workers with dignity and fairness, are already enjoying the talented response from their employees. Cheap labor may open the door, but business survives because Filipino employees step up to increasingly strict standards.
Hospitality and entertainment is a key sector, and a key cultural strength. There is little human development needed other than the more technical part because our culture has done most of the training. What others may have to dedicate their efforts to often comes intuitively to Filipinos, and need only refinement. In food, song and dance, Filipinos are like fish in the water. Coupled with the beauty that creation has blessed our motherland with, tourism is a natural and sustainable growth area.
The capacity to serve, honed first in the home where the family as a unit retain closeness and shares roles, is now obvious to many countries in the world. This capacity has spawned another phenomenon called overseas Filipino workers or OFWs. Whether they are the traditional seafarers manning global vessels, or professionals who migrated mostly to America, or domestic workers in Hong Kong, Singapore and Europe, or factory workers in the Middle East plus the nurses serving in their hospitals, ten million or more of then remitting more than $25 billion to their families, the underlying strength is our capacity for service. And, I’m sorry, not our diplomas in high school or college.
I wish that our leaders from the state, business, the Church and the academe can sit down in one united effort to see what the future holds for us, and what natural strengths we have that ought to be recognized and developed deliberately. We have enough, more than enough, in fact. We just have to recognize these, lean on them, refine them, and share them with a world ready to appreciate them.