Makati, Philippines – August 5, 2020 Ayala Corporation Chairman & CEO Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala believes that the private and public sectors should continue working together with “Speed, Scale, and Stamina” to help the country overcome the COVID-19 pandemic. He shared his views yesterday in a private online session with the Makati Business Club, entitled “Leading in Extraordinary Times”.
The Ayala Group has been cooperating with other private sector groups and government since the onset of the pandemic to respond to the needs of the Filipino people with urgency, while scaling its initiatives through strategic partnerships. It is also recalibrating its many businesses to endure this global crisis and thrive in the “New Normal”.
“We need [Speed, Scale, and Stamina] because the enemy we face, similarly, has all of these attributes. The pandemic has been unprecedented in speed and scale; and shows little signs of surrendering. In fact, I propose that we supercharge our response — to be faster, broader, and more enduring; to push the virus back, defeat it and reset to a better normal,” Zobel said. “We cannot remain paralyzed by fear; but must remain vigilant in caution. Thus, we should adapt our organizations to assure our stakeholders that they will be protected in a world where COVID-19 continues to exist.”
Responding to urgent needs with Speed
Back in March, shortly before the enforcement of the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ), the Ayala Group’s immediate priority was to give peace of mind to its employees, stakeholders, and ecosystem of business partners, and extended community. Zobel wanted to ensure that everyone across the group felt secure both financially and physically.
On March 17, 2020, Zobel and Ayala Corporation President & COO Fernando Zobel de Ayala released a joint statement announcing an emergency response package worth P2.4 billion to help the group’s employees and extended workforce cope with the disruptions brought about by the pandemic. This amount has since increased given the numerous company- and employee-driven initiatives conducted across the group.
The group also adopted a structured work-from-home arrangement to keep majority of its 56,000 employees safe. This remote work setup helped employees adapt faster to digitization with online tools and learning platforms provided by the group to keep them productive and engaged.
Scaling COVID initiatives through partnerships
One of the more positive outcomes from this pandemic, Zobel observed, is the unprecedented level of collaboration within the private sector, and between the private sector and government, to execute relief activities with a much wider reach.
One example of a successful collaboration among private entities is Project Ugnayan, a food relief program for the most vulnerable urban poor communities, whose livelihoods were greatly impacted by the pandemic. To help address the needs of millions of these Filipinos in a timely and extended manner, the Ayala group partnered with 270 private companies to quickly raise PHP 1.7 billion. This consortium, through the Philippine Disaster Resilience Foundation and Caritas Manila, distributed PHP 1,000 vouchers to 1.7 million families, or more than 7 million individuals in the Greater Manila Area. With additional contributions from ABS-CBN’s Pantawid ng Pag-Ibig, ADB and the government’s Bayan Bayanihan, and Jollibee’s FoodAID Program, food aid reached 2.8 million families, or over 14 million individuals. This helped government buy time while it mobilized resources to execute its own relief initiatives.
Cooperation between the private sector and government has also tightened during this pandemic. The Ayala Group, together with other private companies, has been collaborating closely with government to ramp up crucial testing and treatment capacity. The group participated in Task Force T3, an initiative by the IATF’s National Task Force and the Department of Health, to increase the country’s national testing capacity by 13 times from just 4,500 on April 24 to 60,000 on July 12. Ayala then joined Aboitiz, ABS-CBN, JG Summit, Metrobank Foundation, the Razon Group through Bloomberry Cultural Foundation, and the Yuchengco Group, to build seven Biosafety Level 2 laboratories to boost COVID-19 testing throughout the country.
Furthermore, Ayala, along with Aboitiz, Vista Land, the SM Group, the Razon Group, Filinvest, and the group of Mr. Manny Pangilinan, partnered with government to expand quarantine facilities to alleviate overwhelmed hospitals and exhausted healthcare workers. Over the course of a few weeks, the companies converted arenas and convention centers into dedicated COVID-19 treatment facilities. Companies under the Ayala Group also came together for Project Heal, an initiative to convert QualiMed Hospital in Sta. Rosa, Laguna into a COVID-19 referral facility. The group built a COVID testing laboratory, and expanded the hospital’s wards, ICU facilities, and manpower.
Building Stamina beyond the pandemic
The Ayala Group, like all companies today, is working to find a balance between protecting lives and restoring livelihoods. Despite these new challenges, the group also recognizes a new opportunity to reshape industries through digital technologies.
As more and more Filipinos adapt to online shopping while they confine themselves to their homes, Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI) observed that 81% of transactions are now done via online channels, up from 71% before the quarantine. Transactions via the BPI app also grew by 118%, while platform enrollments increased by 125%. Similarly, GCash’s total users doubled during the quarantine period while its transaction volume doubled in June, compared to pre-quarantine levels.
Ayala Malls is likewise adapting to the increasingly digital consumer behavior. To facilitate online shopping, Ayala Malls started DriveBuy, a curbside pickup system where customers can quickly and safely claim their online purchases without having to enter the premises. Ayala Malls continues to reconfigure its spaces to meet growing digital demands.
With consumer behavior quickly shifting online, healthcare, too, is beginning to migrate to the digital space. The recent heightened interest in telemedicine gave way to AC Health and Globe’s 917 Ventures’ HealthNow, a digital teleconsultation platform that, in its web-based pilot phase, matched 11,000 consultation requests with its pool of volunteer doctors. Due to this success, HealthNow will be relaunched this month as an all-in-one mobile health app that can help netizens consult a doctor through video, buy medicine for delivery, and book clinic and lab appointments.
Zobel further highlighted the two critical areas to which private sector companies could contribute to put the country back on the path of progress. First, he noted how an improved digital internet infrastructure could support the delivery of essential services and keep people connected. In this light, Globe Telecom continues to work with stakeholders to overcome persistent challenges that make this improvement difficult, while rolling out significant CAPEX to realize its plans.
Next, Zobel noted the importance of supporting Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs), which make up 99.5% of the country’s registered businesses, and provide 63% of employment and 35% of the national GDP. The Ayala Group recognizes that its network of some 250,000 MSMEs are an indispensable part of the its success, and belongs to a larger group of MSMEs that make up the backbone of the national economy. To protect this network during this uncertain time, the group launched the Ayala Enterprise Circle as a platform to provide its partner MSMEs with training modules, networking opportunities, and support services that would help them cope with the unprecedented challenges they now face.
Though much remains to be done to help the country overcome this crisis, Zobel looks at these aforementioned initiatives as examples of progress that can be achieved through cooperation. He hopes that this renewed spirit of partnership between the private and public sectors will be maintained even after the pandemic is defeated.
“As we continue to deal with the pandemic and its economic aftermath, it is my hope that within the business community and between the private sector and government, we would be able to build this strong sense of unity and commonality of purpose to solve our most critical problems. I believe that it is only when we pool our collective intelligence, resources, and commitment will we be able to overcome the challenge of COVID-19, with Speed, Scale, and Stamina,” Zobel concluded.