OUTsight/ Walls or Bridges

Interview with Carmencita Abella, President of the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation.

Interview with Carmencita Abella, President of the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation.


Manila, 18 April 2018 — The machines are ready, but what about us humans? This question informed the debate this week at an influential conference in Manila.

The Future Re-imagined was organized by the Asian Institute of Management in collaboration with the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation on the happy occasion of their 50th and 60th anniversaries, respectively.

Billed as the 2018 Asian Forum on Enterprise for Society, the conference brought together innovators from business, civil society, the academe, and government in 30 countries. The speakers included emerging as well as seasoned leaders. Women speakers were still outnumbered by men, 26 to 10. Hopefully, that could be re-imagined next time.

In her keynote address, Leni G. Robredo, Vice-President of the Philippines, impressed upon the participants that, moving into the future, the human agenda should not be subsumed by the tech agenda. Noting the unprecedented transformations taking place in society, and how people are either excited or afraid of the advances in artificial intelligence, she pointed out that there is ample reason for concern because of the social divides that persist.

Anshu Gupta, a social entrepreneur from India, echoed those thoughts when he asked the participants to wake up to the ongoing crises in society, including the stark divides in education and the prevailing inequalities in access to basic services like water. 

For example, he said, after observing how the percentage of children wearing glasses in public schools in India is much lower than in private schools, Gupta wondered how further tech improvements in education would help children if many could not see well in the first place. 

Keynote address by Leni G. Robredo, Vice-President of the Philippines.

Keynote address by Leni G. Robredo, Vice-President of the Philippines.


In a similar vein, Vice-President Robredo pointed to the urgent need to expand work to bridge social divides, especially in education. Drawing on examples of educational support to the poorest regions in the country, she emphasized the need to create a better future by building bridges instead of walls, and to generate more collaboration, with new models of engagement.

Noting that the solutions to our challenges "lie not in big answers, but in small ones, put together in a collaborative way," she advocated making better use of platforms to support both individual and collective social transformation, for improvement in the human condition.

In the discussion that followed, speakers and the audience explored a range of opportunities to develop better business models for using artificial intelligence while facilitating the development of ageless human skills to make sense of our world and continue improving it.

What I took away from the conference was the need for leaders, at all levels and of all ages, to re-imagine the future in a more collaborative manner than we have done so far, and to make better use of the unprecedented technologies we have at our disposal today.

From my rounds of networking, I realized that many leaders in the audience had already heeded their personal calls to action and were modeling collaborative ways in enterprises for society—and with a higher proportion of women leaders too.

With emerging leaders at the conference.

With emerging leaders at the conference.


With so many local and global shapers in attendance, including millennials, opportunities abound to use platforms in smarter ways, to work together and build more bridges that lead to understanding, and to tear down more of the walls that keep people divided.

I reaffirmed my own commitment to take that road.