Why is the Gokongwei Brothers Foundation, with its focus on education, so important to your family?
GBF is fundamental to our family belief and family identity. We have all benefitted so much from the education we’ve received, and we want to make sure that we’re able to pay it forward by focusing on education. We want GBF to be the foremost proponent of education in the Philippines, particularly for science and engineering courses.
Due to various circumstances, including the Second World War and the earlier death of his father, my father John Gokongwei, Jr., was not able to complete his university education. My father is basically a high school graduate. But because of his innate curiosity and love for learning, he’s self-taught. He read a lot of books, magazines, and articles, which helped him become a successful entrepreneur. As he became more successful, he was able to pursue a master’s degree. He found a lot of value in that. He was also helping his brothers go to the best schools that he could afford at that time. He saw the difference that education made in his life and that of his siblings, and he wanted to share that opportunity with as many Filipinos as he could.
How do you think education can impact the lives of the underprivileged in particular?
We can’t assure equality of outcomes for most of the citizenry, but we try to level the playing field by giving equality of opportunities for one of the most critical determinants of future success: access to education. Hopefully, we’re able to help a few thousand Filipinos achieve a level of education that they may not have had without the help of GBF.
Why is STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) the focus of the scholarships?
Any investment in science and engineering creates great ripple effects for the rest of the Philippine economy. It’s always been a belief of my father that the Philippines needs to broaden its base beyond just providing services—to have real institutionalized capabilities in terms of manufacturing in order for us to have a broader-based economy that can compete more effectively throughout the world. We want to make investing in STEM the main focus of our foundation. I think it’s also clear from the data that the Philippines, relative to our neighbors, has a shortage of graduates from these fields.
The JG Summit Group is one of the few Philippine groups with a manufacturing focus. We have URC, which is one of the leading food companies throughout Southeast Asia and Oceania; the JG Summit Petrochemical group, which is the leading petrochemical business in the country; and, of course, Cebu Pacific, the leading carrier in the Philippines. All these three businesses are very reliant on strength in science and engineering.
The other critical issue is that new technologies are becoming manifest in every aspect of our lives, whether in business or on an educational or personal basis. Smartphones and other gadgets are becoming fundamental to everybody’s lives. If we can give anybody a leg up in terms of learning about these technologies or having a strong propensity to being open to new technologies, then we would have contributed in our own way.
How do you ensure that the level of excellence is maintained within the GBF?
First of all, by making sure the foundation is adequately funded and staffed by like-minded individuals who believe in the foundation’s commitment to uplifting Filipino lives through education. The foundation, through the generous donation of my father and his brothers, is actually the largest shareholder of JG Summit. It owns 30% of JG Summit, and the dividends from such are really to support its long-term advocacies such as GBF. The key, really, is to become a more effective partner of the Filipinos in building educational opportunities.
We’ve also been beefing up the leadership team. My sister Lisa is spending a lot more time on the foundation and she’s recruiting dedicated, very successful professionals to lead the foundation.
As my father has retired from the business, he’s spending a lot more time and attention on his philanthropic vision. Just as he was very focused on his work, he’s now very focused on his foundation. He wants the foundation to be as effective in changing the lives of Filipinos as his corporations may have changed the lives of Filipino Snack eaters, flyers, magazine readers, and the like. At the same time, he wants to be able to measure the success that GBF has had in a more quantifiable way.
What are the opportunities for growth for GBF in the next 5, 10, 25 years? What’s on the horizon?
Hopefully we will continue to give Filipinos educational access they may not have had on their own. Certainly there will be more opportunities for the foundation. It’s important to focus on and specialize in education, and the main focus, at least for the near future, will still be on education, where we’ve already had a large impact. But as the needs of the country are so pressing, GBF, together with its affiliates, our sister companies, has actually been helping in other ways, particularly in terms of disaster relief, environmental situations, and health issues, These are all important aspects as well.
We are building a new school, which will house our new technical training center, and we’re looking to further increasing the number of graduates we have. We’re also trying to deepen our alliances with other universities where our company facilities are located. Moving forward, you’ll see a much more prominent and active GBF.