Bernardo M. Villegas
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A Visionary and a Dreamer (Part II)

           The goal of the CDI is to increase local capacity to manage urbanization and growth, improve the enabling environment for small enterprise development and strengthen the connectivity between urban and surrounding rural areas.  The most advanced of the three cities is Iloilo that is undergoing the most dramatic transformation from a sleepy entrepôt in the past to a rapidly growing agroindustrial region that some economists have forecasted could grow at 12 per cent or more in regional domestic product in the next ten to twenty years.  Think of the multiplier effects this would have on the still predominantly rural Western Visayas region, some of which districts are too dependent on the ailing sugar sector.

          Her very clear vision of urban-led growth has opened her eyes to other second-tier cities such as Puerto Princesa, Calapan, General Santos City and Tagbilaran, among others.   The strategy is to strengthen these second-tier cities’ economic competitiveness and resilience through a carefully coordinated and integrated set of interventions.  As the CDI did in the initial three cities, Batangas, Iloilo and Cagayan de Oro, these other cities and more will be assisted in efforts to improve overall business climates, particularly for starting a business, and establish Investment Promotion Offices to attract more investments. Thanks to her multidisciplinary training and experience, Gloria Steele was able to inspire those working with and for her to expand CDI’s focus beyond its initial emphasis on the economic climate and business environment to a “whole of mission” approach that encompasses urban planning, health, education, environmental resilience and other services essential to engaging the urban and rural poor, developing their human capital and ensuring equitable, sustainable growth.

          Her vision goes much beyond eradicating poverty.  She is one step ahead of those who are trying to ensure that the Philippines will not fall into the middle-income trap that has victimized dozens of emerging markets in the last two decades.  She did not even have to wait for the diagnosis of international agencies like the Asian Development Bank about how to escape the middle income trap.  With her very sharp instincts, she intuited that one way of escaping this trap is to invest heavily in research and development and quality higher education.  In an interview with Francesca Ortigas, she outlined her strategy to transform the Philippines into a highly industrialized economy, just like South Korea.  She emphasized the need to focus on improving the quality of higher education, highlighting science and technology:  “A lot of highly trained people have left so we need to double up in developing human capacity, especially in areas that will enable the Philippines to grow—trained scientists, engineers, IT people—the Philippines need more of these people to help catapult the country to higher, much faster levels of economic growth.”  To implement this strategy, she made sure that USAID would put a significant portion of its education budget into higher education programs “so that we can turn out better trained scientists and engineers—the innovators—and so that our faculty members are able to provide better education for all students.  What’s more, USAID will support linkages between universities and industry to make sure that the academe turn out graduates with better job opportunities in the Philippines.  Doing this will not only accelerate economic growth but also provide local employment.”

            It is tempting to say that the Philippines will be losing an intellectual giant and a very innovative leader when Gloria Steele leaves her present post.  That would, however, underestimate her greatest contributions to the Filipino dream of poverty eradication and the attainment of a First World status.   During the half decade that she worked tirelessly to attain her vision and reach her dreams, she has been true to the qualities of an authentic leader.  She has focused on people development, strategic thinking and institution building.  Because she used all her talents on these key responsibilities of a leader, she is leaving behind the qualified people, the appropriate strategy and the strong institutions that will ensure that all her dreams for the Philippines will come true.  For comments, my email address is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia