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I often speak of headwinds when referring to the conditions facing the economy. This is because the word connects with me on two levels: in business and in sailing.
In sailing, headwinds blow directly in front of the boat and slows down its progress. In business, this is a metaphor for conditions that prevent growth or slow down momentum.
Of course, sailing against the wind might sound difficult, but it is not impossible. In fact, headwinds are better than not having any wind at all. There are techniques that make it possible to use the headwind and move forward. While it sounds counterintuitive (and a lot of work), you can zigzag back and forth to make progress in the desired direction. This is how you use the wind to your advantage.
Ever since the war in Russia and the Ukraine started, there followed supply chain disruptions. The flow of primary commodities like wheat and gas was suddenly thrown off, resulting in an upward spiral in the cost of goods. The timing could not have been worse. The world was just coming out of the pandemic and was eager to get back to normal. In the Philippines, we were able to successfully navigate through the pandemic. Despite the occasional spike in COVID cases, the general trend seems to be a plateauing of cases nationwide.
Fortunately, we have pro-active measures that, working together, can serve to make these negatives propel us forward.
And then we have the recent ratification of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. With RCEP, there is little choice but for the Philippines to step up its game and compete on a regional level. Anyone who’s ever competed in sports knows that going from local to national to regional will require more resources and intensive training for the team. You can’t bring your old game to a new arena.
One of the things I’ve learned from being president and CEO of RFM all these years is that you have to compete on price and quality. That’s something I have always adhered to in running one of the country’s largest food manufacturing companies. Consumers will vote with their wallets. On the other side of the equation, competing in the marketplace in price branding and innovation benefits the consumers. This is what the marketplace is supposed to do.
With RCEP, what we want to see is that, hopefully, Filipino consumers will be able to buy food at the lowest possible prices. At the same time, however, we have to ensure that our micro farmers are protected and adequately prepared. As we throw our hat into the RCEP ring, Philippine products need to become competitive in price and in quality.
This is what we are trying to push with Kapatid Angat Lahat sa Agri Program (KALAP), where we try and integrate small farmers into the value chain of big companies in order for them to benefit from shared technologies and access to markets and mentoring.
In my meetings with the big-brother companies in agriculture, it’s obvious that much needs to be done to raise the productivity and quality of our agricultural products. There are areas that badly need improvement in productivity, and these cover key agricultural crops like rice, corn and sugar. Fortunately, there are tools being used by the big-brother companies that can benefit the farmers, such as weather forecasting and soil analysis.
On a regional level, I am glad that our ASEAN Mentorship for Entrepreneurs Network (AMEN) is well underway in exchanging entrepreneurship knowledge in the region. AMEN is based on our very own Kapatid Mentor Micro Entrepreneurs program which, in a nutshell, can be compared to an MBA program for MSMEs. Giving access to region-wide mentorship for our MSMEs will help each become more competitive.
AMEN is our legacy project when I became chairman of the ASEAN Business Advisory Council (ASEAN BAC) in 2017. This year’s chair of the ASEAN BAC, M. Arsjad Rasjid PM of Indonesia, saw AMEN’s synergy with their own legacy projects and we can see how these can be applied to create what will be a truly integrated regional market, with each country piggybacking on the strengths of another.
This is public-private partnership at work, and taking it to the next level by implementing it across the region. The Philippines has shown that it is good at public-private partnerships, thanks to the government’s willingness to involve the private sector in seeking solutions to the nation’s problems.
When faced with a negative situation, it is better to take a different approach and find a way to use the situation to your advantage, ultimately reaching your goal despite the obstacles. To harness the headwinds means to use the energy of what would otherwise impede your progress, to making it something that will move you forward. It requires skill and experience and a pro-active, positive mindset that yes, we can do this.