Saturday, 29 September 2007

Ten Letters (4)

LET'S get straight to the point.

As a country, we have never been that good in sustaining anything that is potentially of value. So many opportunities have been presented before us, and many more have been there for the taking. And yet, all we have managed to do is squander most of them away.

Today, the BPO industry and the export of healthcare (particularly nursing) workers to foreign markets are proving to be lifesavers for our economy, both without which we would be in even direr straits than we are at the moment.

It is perhaps a difficult thing to accept — that we as a country are either doing things that other countries find to be of little value (the whole essence of Business Process Out-sourcing), or find less rewarding to pursue (such as being a nurse in a developed economy).

But desperate times call for desperate measures, and although I am hardly labeling those in either sector as desperate, what I am really saying is that given where we are, we have really very little choice in which activities we do or do not wish to pursue. We have to, as a country, take on all comers, as they say.

The first thing to do is to admit that we have little choice in the matter, as this sets us in the right frame of mind to do whatever it is we need to do to be good in both, for as long as we can.

The second thing to realize is that we need to keep working away in being good at these things, because in an increasingly global eco-nomy, alternatives always abound, and we can be easily be substituted with very little notice.

And of course, the third fact we need to digest is that we cannot just rely on these two sectors to lead us into economic prosperity — many more answers will have to be found to the question of economic development, if we are to get anywhere.

These three “reality checks” serve as useful guides in formulating a whole host of policies, influencing such areas as education, tourism, finance, and economic development.

The first pillar is perhaps self-evident. Apart from the two sectors, we have very little to go by as a country anymore.

Bankrupted by years of inept leadership, and today still ruled by a bickering, selfish and morally corrupt political elite, nursing and BPO are opportunities that our Tagalog friends would call “kapit sa patalim.” I prefer this description to “last-ditch,” which somehow doesn’t quite describe the desperation as starkly. But you get the picture.

The second pillar is the one that needs a lot of work put into it, by everyone concerned. Two Cs determine whether we continue to be favored over other countries — cost and competence.

The first is particularly key to BPO, because by de-finition, business processes that are being outsourced, are those which are not considered by the outsourcer as being “core” to their business. For example, call centers for banks are considered necessary, but not key to their survival and success. Therefore they are willing to farm out the task to the lowest bidder.

Having said that cost is the pre-eminent consideration, competence is considered as standard — if you have it you get the business (providing you are the lowest bidder) but if you don’t have it, then you lose the business (even if you are the lowest bidder).

Published in the Sun Star Daily, Saturday, September 29, 2007 (

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