By James A. Loyola
Forced to work for the survival of his family after the death of their father, the 13-year-old John Gokongwei Jr. had always valued education.
A scholar of University of San Carlos as he was always at the top of his class from primary school to high school, Gokongwei had also been learning from the school of life as he worked so his siblings can continue studying in the best schools that he could afford at that time.
After reaping the rewards of his hard work and having started his business empire, Gokongwei went back to school and earned his MBA from De La Salle University.
Having an intimate knowledge of how education can make a difference because of his own struggles against many challenges, Gokongwei has found a yearning to help build institutions for learning as well as give the underprivileged a boost in life through scholarships.
Gokongwei recounted that, 60 years ago in Cebu, “when I was 30 years old, I was asked to help a Jesuit high school there put up a new building. At the time, I contributed 30,000 pesos. That amount might not seem like a lot, but today, it would be worth maybe 50 times more.”
And then, when he went to Harvard University to study for 14 weeks Gokongwei said “there, I met a lot of American executives, vice presidents, and chairmen of the board. They talked a lot about foundations like the Rockefeller Foundation and the Carnegie Foundation. I recalled that, back in the Philippines, there wasn’t a lot of foundation work being done.
Thus, in 1992, Gokongwei and his brothers Johnson, Henry, and James donated significant portions of their shares of stock in their flagship JG Summit Holdings, Inc. to establish the Gokongwei Brothers Foundation (GBF). The foundation aims to have a lasting impact on education in the Philippines.
“From the beginning, I knew that education would be the foundation’s primary advocacy. Why? Because it is my belief that education is the only way to save this country. We need quality education to compete in this world,” he noted.
In particular, Gokongwei said GBF is committed to support education in science and engineering because “that’s the only way to help our country industrialize.”
GBF’s approach to its mission is two-pronged: it collaborates with leading education institutions to build the quality of instruction while granting scholarships to worthy and underprivileged students.
In honor of GBF’s endowments, Ateneo University and De La Salle University renamed their departments the Ateneo de Manila John Gokongwei School of Management (2002) and the De La Salle University Gokongwei College of Engineering (2011), respectively. These endowments consist of significant allocations for student scholarships and faculty research.
The DLSU endowment has also led to the establishment of the John Gokongwei, Jr. Innovation Center (DLSU-JGIC) at the DLSU Science and Technology Center in Biñan, Laguna. Inaugurated in 2018, DLSU-JGIC partnered with a global gaming giant to offer undergraduate degrees in interactive entertainment, among many other new courses in this center.
The Gokongwei family has also donated funds to other academic institutions such as Immaculate Conception Academy, Xavier School, the University of San Carlos, Sacred Heart School-Ateneo de Cebu, and the University of Asia and the Pacific.
Meanwhile, scholarship programs help fulfill GBF’s desire to give deserving young people a better future through purposeful, practical, and transformative education.
One of the foundation’s pioneer programs, the China Scholarship, sent young professionals to top universities in Beijing and Shanghai, China, to help future leaders better understand the country’s fast-growing economy and rigorous business culture so they can bring back the knowledge gained to serve the Philippines. Seventy-four students graduated from the program for the years 2007 and 2009.
Since 2006, GBF has offered scholarship programs producing 337 graduates as of September 2017. At present, GBF offers seven scholarship programs for college, technical-vocational, and high school students.
Gokongwei’s heir and now the Chief Executive of JG Summit Lance Gokongwei noted that, “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.”
He vowed that “we will continue to give Filipinos educational access they may not have had on their own.”
However, while the main focus will still be on education, “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 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.
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.