PSFI: 35 years of empowering communities
“As they say, don’t give a man a fish; teach him how to fish. That was the main thrust,” said Cesar Buenaventura, as he took us through the beginnings of the organisation he founded 35 years ago – Pilipinas Shell Foundation, Inc. (PSFI).
The idea sprung up from the establishment of the Philippine Business for Social Progress (PBSP) in 1970, the largest business-sector-led social development organisation in the Philippines committed to poverty reduction.
Buenaventura, the first Filipino CEO and Chairman of Shell companies in the Philippines was part of PBSP for 10 years. At one point, he thought, “Maybe we should put up our own foundation.” That marked the beginning – the beginning of Shell’s commitment to empower communities and fuel progress for the Filipino.
The early years
As a believer of long-term sustainability, Buenaventura felt the need to impart knowledge primarily to the out-of-school youth. He thought they truly were willing to work, but did not have the means to learn and develop the skills necessary to help them progress in life. Hence, Sanayan sa Kakayahang Industriyal, the pioneer programme of PSFI, was born. The programme was a fitting response to the widespread unemployment problem and growing demand for middle-level craftsmen here and overseas back in the ‘80s.
“Once they finished their technical-vocational training, we took it upon ourselves to look for places for them to work. We got them into Shell, Philippine Airlines, Toyota, and other partner institutions,” Buenaventura shared.
From industrial technology, PSFI ventured into agriculture through Sanayan sa Kakayahang Agrikultura. Launched in 1985, the programme, in partnership with agricultural state colleges and universities, was designed to improve farm productivity and management of lowland/upland farms through agricultural skills training.
With the decline of the sugar plantation industry, PSFI also saw the need to help Negros farmers through the introduction of cash crops. “We also supported the rebel returnee programme of the government by encouraging rebels to go back to farming,” Buenaventura recalled.
The development of programmes
As the years passed, PSFI expanded its reach by offering technical-vocational scholarships to forecourt attendants (through Gas Mo, Bukas Ko) and dependents of public transport drivers (through Unlad sa Pasada).
Remarking on the performance of the scholars, Buenaventura thought they were fairly successful: “We found jobs for them and they eventually rose through the ranks. Some of them even became managers.” And because Shell believes in holistic development, they also underwent values formation sessions through the Leadership Enhancement and Attitude Development Workshop.
As PSFI continued its mission of enabling the disadvantaged to become productive and responsible members of society, it went on to improve more lives in the surrounding neighbourhood where Shell’s depots and installations are located. This extended PSFI’s mission from the individual level to the community.
When Shell Philippines Exploration B.V. started the Malampaya Deep Water Gas-to-Power Project northwest of Palawan in the ‘90s, PSFI found out malaria was endemic in the province; this drove the foundation to get into health through the Kilusan Ligtas Malaria programme, now known as Movement Against Malaria. As Buenaventura recalled, “It was a small pilot project fully funded by the Malampaya joint venture partners and the foundation. It involved working with the local government and the local health office. It became so successful that it came into the attention of The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, which then brought us to the big leagues.”
MAM has been a successful programme that we should be very proud of. It has expanded its coverage from 5 to 40 endemic provinces by 2010 and due to favourable results, decreased to 13 by 2015. Moreover, the sustained private-public partnership in malaria control resulted in an 87% reduction in the total number of cases and 96% reduction in deaths due to malaria in the country in 2016 compared to the 2003 baseline. The programme also contributed to the Philippines achieving the Millennium Development Goal 2015 target for malaria as early as 2008.
“Now, our target is to be a malaria-free country by 2030; it’s ambitious, but hopefully, we’ll be able to achieve it,” said Buenaventura.
Q: What was your main goal in starting the foundation?
Buenaventura: It was something that was needed in the Philippines. There were lots of people out of jobs and many lack skills; these people were untapped resources and I felt helping them help themselves. The important thing is, you just don’t pick anybody out of the street. You have to choose the people who are trainable and willing to work.
Q: What can you say about the foundation today and its current programmes?
Buenaventura: We continue to do the skills training, but we’ve also seen the need to do something about health. We’ve done quite a bit on the malaria programme; now we’re looking at HIV and TB. I guess a healthy Philippines is really something we would like to aspire for because health is a very important part of the makeup of any human being. Unfortunately, basic health care in this country is lacking. Hence, it has become our mission to help those who need it most.
Q: How do you feel about the impact of PSFI?
Buenaventura: I think we did whatever little contribution to help uplift the lives of people. It gives you a certain amount of satisfaction when you see people who are gainfully employed.
The resources of this country have not kept pace with the growing population. In fact, this is one of the factors we considered in going through our health programmes. I think we’ve done our bit in educating people that you just can’t produce babies. I really feel bad when I see malnourished, stunted children. As you know, children need basic nutrients between the age of 2-5. If you miss that, you then grow people who are not capable of helping themselves. I think that’s an area we need to focus on. Apart from that, family planning should really be pushed. That’s an area I’d like us to get into.
Q: Any message to the people making up the foundation?
Buenaventura: I think we’ve been very fortunate because we have a team of dedicated and devoted workers who place the well-being of all our beneficiaries at heart. These people deserve to be congratulated and recognized. After all, they’re the ones who make a difference.
The commitment to sustainable development
With 35 years of sustaining its initiatives in enabling the disadvantaged to become productive and responsible members of Philippine society and in helping strengthen community systems, PSFI has been contributing to the country’s sustainable development, at all times, upholding the Shell core values of honesty, integrity, and respect for people.
Since its establishment on August 19, 1982, PSFI has been managing social development programmes ranging from education and skills development; health, sanitation, and safety; livelihood and enterprise development; environmental stewardship; access to energy; and leadership enhancement and attitude development.
Through its various programmes all over the Philippines, PSFI has also contributed in achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals adopted by world leaders in September 2015.
To date, PSFI has touched more than 12 million lives. However, its mission is far from over. There are more needs to address, more partnerships to forge, and more lives to improve.
By Rachael Nathanielsz
Article published on PSFI news magazine October 2017 issue