By Michael Angelo S. Murillo

Shell Active Chess: a road to youth development, nation-building

Posted on October 16, 2014

ONE company’s genuine desire to do its share in youth development and nation-building gave rise to the country’s longest-running grassroots-based chess tournament.

Juniors division champion Kevin Arquero (2nd left) and Kids division champion Dale Bernardo (2nd right) with their trophies in ceremonies held at the conclusion of the 22nd Shell National Youth Active Chess Championship grand finals at SM Megamall last Sunday.
Pilipinas Shell’s National Youth Active Chess Championship has been for 22 years engaging the minds of the Filipino youth through various tournaments in different parts of the country. It has produced tens of thousands of youngsters, who credit chess playing as an activity that has positively contributed to enriching their lives and who have gone on to become successful individuals not only in chess but in other endeavours and fields as well.

“This is actually part of our commitment to sustainable development. In that aspect we are sort of helping the overall growth and youth development in line with nation-building. It is part of our contribution [to society]. We have other programs for the youth but in sports this is our program,” Jackie Ampil, Social Investment manager of Pilipinas Shell, told BusinessWorld in an exclusive interview on the sidelines of the finals of Shell Active Chess last weekend at the Events Center of SM Megamall.

The whole chess program was started by company officials who believed that the Filipino youth has the capacity to muster excellence and competitiveness through a global mental sport.

“[We] started in 1992. At that time a group of executives attended a chess game in London. And they thought this (chess) was something that they could bring to the Philippines,” Ampil said.

“Sports in the Philippines is a popular thing. At that time basketball was popular but it was more of a physical sport. (Note: Shell for a time had a team playing in the Philippine Basketball Association.) But our executives in Shell thought chess is a different kind of sport.”

“Instead of the physical challenges it is more of a mental challenge. It helps the players with their analytical skills, in their thinking which they use in school. For math. For logic. So they thought let’s do this and see how it can further help develop the youth,” Ampil added.

From then on the chess program became part of Shell’s overall thrust of conducting its business. It is under the social investment program of the company.

“Social investment is part of the DNA of the company,” Ampil said.

“In layman’s terms it is CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility). For Shell, these are practical demonstrations of how we operate in our business. It is not only about business, profit and operations. There are social investments and programs that we develop because we believe that as the business grows, the community around us should also grow and develop...”

Under the social investment initiative, Ampil said, they have different “themes.”

“We have different themes for social investments... Most of our social investments are focused on the areas we are operating in. So we have livelihood programs, educational programs, environment and health, among others. But we also have social investments at the corporate level, which are more for nation-building. Chess is a national program. The Arts -- through the Shell National Students Arts Competition, which is now on its 47th year -- is a national program. It is more nationwide,” Ampil further said.

She said the company is very committed to its chess and arts programs.

“Chess and the arts we have specified budgets for them. We prepare for them every year,” the manager said.

She also said that the Shell National Youth Active Chess Championship is an endeavour done basically independently, with government support, in particular, made limited.

“For chess, the program is really independent... With the government we are sanctioned by the Philippine Chess Federation. We follow their standards. We follow their rules. We try to align with their activities also, so that we don’t run into conflict with their events. Because that means less tournaments for our players. We want them (players) to play in as many tournaments as possible.”

They do invite local officials, however, like town mayors and sports leaders, but more to give inspiration to their local players in events.

She was quick to point out, though, that having partners in any program is important.

“For a program to be successful you have to have partners because it is easier to make the program sustainable,” Ampil said.

She cited SM as a valuable partner, especially in providing venues for their tournaments not only in Metro Manila but in other places of the country as well. Unilever is another company which has lent a hand, especially in providing tokens for the loot bags for the participants.

As for the return to the company of the investment it has made in chess, Ampil said it has helped Shell as a brand, but not necessarily in terms of the consumers patronizing its products because of Active Chess.

“It helps more the brand of Shell. Not really the products. People now recognize that Shell has activities such as this that support the youth. When people see activities like this, they see Shell as a whole.”

But the biggest reward that the company is getting from the program, Ampil noted, is when they hear good stories of products of the Shell National Youth Active Chess Championship doing good in their respective fields.

Some of those who played in the tournaments throughout the years have moved on to become lawyers, engineers, accountants, doctors and information technology experts here and abroad.

Others have become solid chess players like International Grandmaster Oliver Dimakiling, who was at the Shell Active Chess finals last weekend. He told BusinessWorld that he credits the program for the player that he has become and what he has achieved, from his days with the La Salle team up to now as a professional chess player. He played in the tournament from 1992-99.

Another is Wesley Barbasa So, who is now a bona fide Chess Grandmaster. He is currently ranked no. 10 in the world.

“At the end of the day that is our goal. We contribute to the betterment of our beneficiaries. So all the stories are good. When you say social investments it is all good stories. And when they come back to us and tell us how Shell changed their lives. How the program changed their lives. That only validates and strengthens the belief that what we are doing at Shell makes a difference and is important. And is right. And I hope other corporations will have programs like this also. The more help out there, the better,” Ampil said.