OF TREES AND FOREST
I was fortunate to have been given the opportunity to serve in both government and the private sector. After starting out as an entrepreneur early in life, I ventured into politics in 1992. I built and led my own business from the ground up. I was also able to assume leadership roles in the legislative department as Speaker of the House of Representatives and as President of the Senate. These unique experiences of leading both a private enterprise and a branch of government has strengthened my belief in one important lesson—the mindset of an entrepreneur is essential to succeeding in both worlds.
When I ran for President in 2010, I ran on an anti-poverty platform based on what I called as the “entrepreneurial revolution”. I argued then that if we want real change we have to change our mindset from that of an employee to that of an entrepreneur. For some reason, we have become a nation of employees. Almost every Filipino wants to be an employee, and if they can’t find work here, they go abroad. But I knew that we cannot create wealth that way. I advocated for the creation of a strong entrepreneurial class. It is this same mindset—thinking like an entrepreneur—that will allow us to survive and thrive amidst the COVID-19 crisis we are experiencing.
Which aspects of the entrepreneurial mindset will help us get through this pandemic and the looming economic turmoil it has spawned? First, entrepreneurs are survivors. When you start out as an entrepreneur you know the risks involved and you plan for it. Entrepreneurs eat crises for breakfast. We are used to facing obstacles after obstacles—from the red tape in acquiring permits to a financial crisis that threatened to wipe out everything you worked hard for. This is important as we navigate through this current crisis. We need a steady hand to steer us in the right direction and a calm voice to tell us that we are going to get through it.
Second, entrepreneurs are adept at adapting. This is something that I already knew but became clearer in my mind when I entered government. The bureaucracy, for all its good intentions, is typically slow in responding to fast moving changes. A bureaucratic mindset will find it difficult to change as the circumstances change.
Look at how businesses coped with the pandemic and the lockdown. Many migrated to the online world to continue providing customers with goods and services. Entrepreneurs were able to transform their businesses to adapt to the changing landscape within days! We saw restaurants offering different types of food deliveries, we saw groceries setting up e-commerce platforms in a jiffy, we saw home-based entrepreneurs churning out goods from baked sushi to whatever is the current craze on social media, and we saw entrepreneurs doing these amazing things without government. Add to these their creativity as we have seen entrepreneurs come up with stylish and innovative face masks, face shields, and PPE suits.
Third, an entrepreneurial mindset will build durable initiatives and not just “flash-in-the-pan” gimmicks. Successful entrepreneurs create sustainable enterprises that can adapt, survive, and thrive in crises. This is how the entrepreneurial mindset can help us in building back better after this pandemic. We need to be able to rebuild our economy by creating a stronger economy. This is what happened during the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997 which practically wiped out the hard earned money of many entrepreneurs. We were able to bounce back strongly from the lessons learned during that crisis. These lessons led to reforms that has been the backbone of the tremendous economic growth being experienced by Asia before the onset of the pandemic. It is that same mindset that will allow us to survive this one.
Finally, this pandemic has focused the limelight on the heroism of our frontliners specifically health care professionals who put their lives on the line in order to save lives. They rightfully deserve our deepest appreciation and support. But I also think that entrepreneurs are the unsung heroes of this crisis. By adapting and innovating amidst the crisis, they continue to provide essential services to our people and at the same time help the economy stay afloat. In my next column, I will outline how the entrepreneurial mindset can lead us to recovery in the post-COVID world.