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    The Role of Universities in Promoting Social Innovation and Social Responsibility

    Message at the Hanyang University’s Social Innovation Forum Lecture

    Seoul, Korea

    Good morning, everyone.

    It is such a privilege to be here today at Hanyang University – Seoul Campus. The university is one of the most prestigious and top research universities, not only in South Korea, but in all of Asia.

    What an exciting time to be alive! The world is changing at break-neck speed over the past two decades. From Cyworld to Facebook to Twitter to Kakao Talk to Instagram[1], the Age of Technology is radically redefining mankind and changing the way we live, love, and connect with each other.

    Now, we are approaching the Fourth Industrial Revolution, where the things we considered science fiction are becoming our new realities: self-driven cars, virtual reality cameras, drone aircrafts, artificial embryos, surgical robots, and artificial intelligence. We have heard of hamburger-cooking robots that can serve 360 burgers an hour—[laughter]—and music that is implanted in the brain so that even the deaf can hear, chairs designed as bionic trousers that you can wear and just lean back on.

    I am certain you are no stranger to these advancements. From high-tech sensors to 5G technology to robotic airport guides, South Korea has a well-earned reputation for being one of the most innovative and technologically advanced countries in the world.

    Everyone is scrambling to adapt to these disruptions. There are exciting developments in the world of finance, transportation, urban planning, healthcare, and the academe, among others. Here in South Korea, fintech, e-commerce, and online-to-offline services are at the forefront of all of these changes.

    Automation is changing the future of work as we speak, and businesses will have to develop new solutions if they are to survive. According to Mckinsey & Company, over the next 10 to 15 years, artificial intelligence will replace up to 800 million jobs by 2030[2]—that’s a drastic reshaping of the workforce. Universities like Hanyang will be critical in preparing today’s youth for this brave, new world.

    At the cusp of these huge developments, I believe we are all both excited and afraid. But all these amazing changes are also giving us an opportunity to hope that our countries can fully achieve progress.

    Poverty and Inequality

    I understand that there are reasons to be concerned. With all the intelligence of the human mind and the wealth that mankind has generated, we still have not solved rising hunger, poverty, and inequality. Large swathes of poor populations across the globe are tired and frustrated with promises of prosperity and change, giving birth to crime, turmoil, unrest, and populism.

    In the Philippines alone, 21.9 million Filipinos still live below poverty line—that is 21.6 percent of the entire population.[3] Most of those living below the poverty line are in the rural areas.[4] Access to education remains elusive to millions of Filipino youth. According to the 2016 survey by the Philippine Statistics Authority, we have 3.8 million out-of-school youth. That means one in every 10 Filipino youth have dropped out.[5] Most of them are unable to go to school, not only because they do not want to study, but because they simply do not have the means to travel to school every day.

    Poverty is a big and complex issue that has been the bane of our country, if not the world. It is not a single phenomenon brought about by loosely connected causes. Instead, it stands at the center of a tight web of interrelated factors. So if we are going to address poverty, we need to grasp it and act on it based on a holistic and responsive approach, one that recognizes the complexity of the problem. That means we need a new strategy and a far-reaching vision that must protect the welfare of the generations that will come after us.

    Collaboration as Key to Fight Poverty and Inequality

    In my view, collective action, effective partnerships, and community engagement are the most effective means to fight poverty and inequality. In the Philippines, we have a term for it, and that is “bayanihan.“ It refers to a group or a community coming together and helping one another to achieve a common, greater goal.

    This is the driving force behind our anti-poverty program called Angat Buhay, meaning “Uplifting Lives.” We bring together different organizations, foundations, NGOs, the private sector, and the academe to work together and bring about the change we all desire in the poor communities we have adopted.

    We have started to work with the academe through Angat Buhay in Schools. We partner with various universities, not just in Manila but across the entire archipelago, to deliver basic services to their adopted communities. Through these initiatives, students and teachers are given the opportunity to work with private organizations in finding better ways to solve issues at the local level.

    For instance, one of our partners, the Jesus V. Del Rosario Foundation, has agreed to provide a seed grant to Xavier University—a big university in the southern part of the country—to develop solar-powered machines that will help salt farmers increase their production capacity in a year. Xavier University College of Agriculture is also working with us in our projects for agro-enterprise development.

    We are also partnering with the academe through our Angat [Kabuhayan] projects, our office’s response in revitalizing the jobs and livelihood sector. By nurturing untapped Filipino skill and talent, we hope to create more opportunities, especially for our very young people. We have found that it is not exactly true that there are no jobs available. We just need to create better and stronger linkages between the academe and the corporate sector to eradicate the jobs-and-skills-mismatch that currently assails our labor sector. Right now, we are currently engaging key sectors like agribusiness and tourism. Specifically, there are three different kinds of inclusive business models in agribusiness that we are trying to develop further and replicate, with the help of the UP School of Economics in the Philippines, and Rotterdam University and Erasmus University in the Netherlands.

    The Role of Universities in Social Innovation and Social Responsibility

    In our experience, the involvement of universities is paramount in promoting social innovation and social responsibility among young people. As we engaged with universities over the past two years, we discovered several things:

    First, that universities have the ability and the resources to come up with evidence-based research on effective and sustainable practices in various communities, exploring what works and what doesn‘t. One of the Philippine universities that proactively does this is the De La Salle University. The De La Salle University partners with local and international institutions in implementing governance research and training. Its Institute of Governance has designed and conducted policy studies in the following areas: local governance, decentralization, development, budget monitoring, environmental governance and sustainability, e-governance, etc. The Social Development Research Center, by using baseline data and metrics, has helped put up schools, generate income, organize communities, and promote better service provisions in various aspects of health, governance and social services.[6] They use tools like a community-based monitoring system to provide data so policies can truly be responsive.

    As experts and leaders in the development sector, we all need to develop a common results framework, with shared metrics, so we can measure the impact of our collaboration.

    Second, universities have the ability to institutionalize change and to ensure sustainability. One of our partner-universities, the Universidad de Sta. Isabel in Naga City, is a good example in its sustainable approach in service-learning. It has adopted three communities in Camarines Sur as part of its community development and outreach program, requiring students to participate and help those who have less in life. That way, even after students graduate from the university, the help given to the three communities is sustained. It is not a one-time, big-time thing to show others it is doing something really good for the community.

    If we want to see real change happening in our communities, our approach should always be results-driven, not donor-driven, not activity-driven. Our metrics should not be confined to the amount of scholarships we have given, the classrooms we have built, or the number of outreach activities we have done. It should be the impact to the quality of life in the community, the sustainability of the impact, and the number of lives transformed because of our intervention. The question we need to always ask ourselves is: “Is the community far better than when we first found it?“

    Third, universities are spaces and laboratories where we can nurture and shape the impactful ideas of young people who have the heart to serve the last, the least, and the lost. The Ateneo de Manila University in the Philippines has a long tradition of social action and formation of students. Facilitating social change and the development of socially responsible young people have led the institution to expose its students to the realities of poverty as part of their formation in college. From first grade in primary school[7] to their last year in college, students are required to participate in immersions in advocacy-driven projects, relief drives, and sustainable community projects. What is exceptional about these is that the program is discipline-based and tailored-fit for different ages and the kinds of courses the students are taking. For instance, as part of their Social Entrepreneurship class, Management students were challenged to either partner with an identified social enterprise, or to start from scratch and come up with their own social enterprise.

    One of the outstanding products of this program is Reese Fernandez-Ruiz, the founder and owner of a very successful enterprise called Rags2Riches. When Reese was in college, she had a teaching stint in Payatas, one of Manila’s poorest neighborhoods. Reese saw something that changed her life forever: a seven-story tower of garbage, women and children swarming over it in search of usable materials to sell. Many of the women were making and selling rugs woven from fabric scraps that they find at the dump, but the middlemen who bring their products to the market were taking most of the profits. Reese found her cause in the squalor of Payatas‘ notorious garbage dump. Now, Reese has trained more than 900 artisans, mostly mothers from informal settler communities in Metro Manila, and has also partnered with top Filipino designers to create designs for its products. Rags2Riches is now a thriving enterprise, working with factories that provide them with materials that would otherwise go to waste.

    Young entrepreneurs Daniel Lumain, Alexander Fong, and EJ Mariano are also from Ateneo. They decided to put up AKABA, a social enterprise that creates unique and stylish bags that feature handwoven fabrics by small weaving communities of mostly indigenous tribes across the country. The whole project was only intended to fulfil the final requirement for their course, but now, AKABA’s partnership with weaving communities has created a significant impact in the lives of local artisans, and their bags are already being sold not only locally, but in the United States, Canada, Italy, and Australia. AKABA is now one of our partners in providing sustainable livelihood for women weavers in the southern part of the Philippines, and we plan to expand our partnership with them in all our other adopted communities.

    Through social entrepreneurship projects, the Ateneo de [Naga] University is forging partnerships with members of local communities to establish businesses in the long run. Just recently, four Korean senior students from Hanyang University opened a Korean food kiosk inside the Ateneo de Manila—Ateneo de Naga—University campus named “Kaina,“ which means “let’s eat”—it’s the local dialect for “let’s eat”—or it may also refer to poor, single mothers they are helping, because mothers are called “ina” in the Philippines. Seung—I hope I am pronouncing this correctly—Seung Hun Han, one of the students behind the kiosk, shared that the project started in July of 2017, during the Social Venture Youth Exchange. The students aim to provide Korean food at the cafeteria, as well as reach the goal of sustainability by empowering Filipino mothers in the community. Incidentally, this is in the city where I come from, so I promise the group that when I go home at the end of this week, I will visit them. [applause] And I will report to you how they’re doing. But I was told yesterday that they are already in the process of trying to plan for their expansion, so we are very excited about it.

    As you can see, the academe has evolved from being an institution that provides learning within the four walls of the classroom to a laboratory of innovative ideas and solutions that empower people, especially those at the fringes of society. By intentionally linking courses with community experiences, the academe can more powerfully shape the personal, professional, and civic development of their students. We need to start their awakening about the realities of the world while within the school system, not when they start working, because let’s face it: 20 to 30 years from now, they will be the ones who will make history for the community.

    Throughout time, we have seen the power and the unique ability of our young people to move the world in ways we, adults, could not do. As digital natives, they find ways to do things better, faster, and with more heart.

    I know many of our young people today have big plans for the future. Some of them may perhaps become engineers, scientists, entrepreneurs, lawyers, teachers, doctors, CEOs of their own companies, or who knows, even run for public office to lead the country. Equally big, though, is the plan to be very involved parents to their own children. And hopefully, when that time comes, our young people will always keep the welfare of others at the heart of all they do.

    Once again, thank you very much to Hanyang University for inviting me over, and for all the socially innovative projects that you have been doing and involving not just the Philippines but in many other countries. Yesterday, we were at the APYE 2018 and it’s being participated by, if I am not mistaken, 16 other countries. And it’s really a community of, you know, socially involved very young people, individuals, who have the ability to change the world.

    So thank you very much, Hanyang University. Kansam… Kamsahamnida! [applause]

    Posted in Speeches on Aug 14, 2018