Monday, 27 February 2006

38 years

THIS year marks the 38th year of the founding of the Asian Institute of Management (AIM), the Philippine-based school of management in the Asia Pacific. Throughout this time, AIM has produced leaders and visionaries in Asia who have made an indelible mark on their own societies, transforming them into global economic giants.

The institute has clearly cemented its reputation as being among the world’s elite. To date, it is one of the very few in Asia and in the rest of the world to belong to the elite company of top American and European business schools.

There is today not a major organization in the Asia Pacific region without an alumnus from AIM in a responsible management position.

And yet, throughout this time AIM may have had the least impact on where we would assume its presence would be felt the most, here in the land of its birth — the Philippines. Having said that, I would not attribute the failings of our economy singularly to the institute. In fact, what is probably fair to say is that without its major positive contributions to Philippine society, the latter would probably be in a much worse shape than it is at the moment.

But from the success of AIM to the failure of the Philippines — all in the same span of 38 years — where have we, as a country, gone wrong? Sure we can write off 18 of those years as a total waste, having spent all of them under the curse of a draconian dictatorship, but what of the other 20 that were under the liberties of free speech, free press and human rights for all? How have we managed to squander our chances under them as well?

Today, whenever I travel around the region, it is difficult not to feel just a little tinge of jealousy in seeing the progress our Asian neighbors have made ahead of ourselves. One of my direct reports is an Indonesian national who graduated from AIM some 10 years after me. The very first thing he asked me when we got to talking about our common experience was — what is happening to the Philippines?

Behind that one line of a question is a host of others that need asking — to our leaders in government, to the captains of our industry and to us as a people. Where have we been all this time when Malaysian rice fields were being transformed into the multimedia corridor that is now Cyber Jaya.

When Thailand was busy rebuilding its economy after its ignominious fall in 1997, where were our attentions turned? What are our educators doing turning out medical and health workers for export to foreign lands when our own people cannot even get decent medical attention?

The past 38 years -—while they have been kind to the fortunes of one of our esteemed institutions — have been cruel to our economy and our people. We can only learn from this past and use it to shape a hopefully better future.

Failing that, and 38 years from now, we would still be talking about what could have been.

Published in Sun Star Daily, Monday, February 27, 2006 (

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