By Bjorn Biel M. Beltran, Special Features and Content Assistant Editor

The world is at a turning point. More than ever, leaders and visionaries must reimagine their roles in society and the future they seek to create.

Should they choose to carry on as they are, they risk being made obsolete in a rapidly-changing world as consumers, startups, and even governments adopt new technologies and practices geared towards an entirely new set of values.

Enabled by industry-spanning digitalization, sustainability has moved from being an ambiguous vision into an actionable target, backed by no less than the United Nations. How the Philippines is faring in this global transformation is the theme of this year’s BusinessWorld Economic Forum, titled “The Digital Future: Accelerating Business and Sustainability,” held at the Grand Ballroom of Grand Hyatt Manila in Bonifacio Global City, Taguig City on May 25.

The potential is there for the Philippines to utilize technologies to not only further drive business, but make Filipino lives better.


“Over the past decade, two key transformations have dominated these sorts of discussions in the business community, namely, digitalization and sustainability,” Miguel G. Belmonte, president and chief executive officer (CEO) of BusinessWorld, said in his opening remarks.

“The COVID-19 pandemic, which thankfully is now behind us, has served as a catalyst for many such conversations. It accelerated the adoption of new and emerging technology for many businesses, ours included, and have pushed consumers into thinking about broader concepts of sustainability,” he added.

Mr. Belmonte noted that the way organizations function is being significantly influenced by the relentless pace of digital technologies such as automation, artificial intelligence (AI), data analytics, blockchain, and the Internet of Things. Compounding the disruption is the accompanying effect of the pandemic on consumer consciousness.

“More people and businesses have discovered the benefits of going digital, whether it was the convenience, the efficiency, or the potential revenues the digital economy could bring,” he said.

“Meanwhile, people have also become more aware of socioeconomic challenges, like climate change, food and energy security, and labor issues in the face of technology; and they have as well been making demands for more sustainability from corporations across the world.”

“Digitalization and sustainability are now concepts that none of us can afford to ignore, as many now see them as the drivers of progress for both businesses and communities in the years to come,” he added.

Let us reflect on how we can upskill and upgrade our countrymen to adapt to the inevitable changes brought about by technology.


Ivan John E. Uy, secretary of the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT), emphasized these changes in his keynote address on “Enabling Digital Transformation for an Inclusive, Sustainable Future,” noting that the rapid evolution of technology is “constantly shaping things” and “making our world much smaller.”

“Technology is game-changing, and digital tools and platforms has enabled us to conduct business at unprecedented rate,” he said.

“Technology is here to stay, no matter what,” he continued, adding that as technology keeps evolving, organizations would have to embrace and include ICT in their operations and planning, or they will risk getting left behind by their competitors.

“Supercomputers are now taking companies by storm as well as artificial intelligence. It can predict trends such as buyers’ behaviors and even run mock situations to foresee how consumers will react to different scenarios so that they can plan and prepare ahead of time.”

Mr. Uy cites government data that found that in 2021, the Philippine digital economy generated $17 billion in revenue and is projected to be worth more than $25 billion by 2025.

The aggressive expansion of Internet access across the country, coupled with the increase of tech-savvy and young, bankable population in the Philippines, he said, will drive increased demand for fintech, digital payments and other mobile payment platforms; but these will also create some difficult challenges, particularly regarding the potential displacement of a large part of the workforce.

To prevent such issues from taking root, Mr. Uy brought up the concept of “jidoka” in manufacturing, which can be described as “automation with a human touch.”

“We can likewise adopt this way of doing business where we enable technology to be an instrument in increasing our productivity and efficiency, while still maintaining the human side of doing things by empowering our workers with the help of technology today,” he said.

“Let us reflect on how we can upskill and upgrade our countrymen to adapt to the inevitable changes brought about by technology. ICT should serve as a tool to make our everyday lives easier. After all, humans should take control of technology and not the other way around.”

The good news is that the Philippines is on the right track. The government has prioritized digitalization and financial inclusion in its policy agenda.

RICCARDO PULITI, Regional Vice-President, Asia and the Pacific, INTERNATIONAL FINANCE CORP.

In his keynote speech on “Digital Technology as a Catalyst for Greater Financial Inclusion,” Riccardo Puliti, regional vice-president for Asia and the Pacific at the International Finance Corp. (IFC), echoes the same sentiment.

“Digital connectivity is no longer a luxury, but a necessity; and this address beaming to you from miles away demonstrates how much [this] is possible. The pandemic underscored how digital connectivity is becoming essential for access to good quality education, healthcare, daily work, and essential public services,” he said.

“The question is: As we move into the future, are we bringing everyone with us?”

The digital divide, or the gap between those who have access to the digital tools and the Internet, and those who do not, continues to pose a risk to the Philippines’ growth, Mr. Puliti said, pointing out that although the Philippines has high Internet usage, years of underinvestment means the Philippines lacks among regional peers in mobile broadband penetration, affordability, and service quality.

“More than half of the households lack reliable Internet access. The gap is particularly acute when you compare geographic areas and socioeconomic levels,” he said.

“The good news is that the Philippines is on the right track. The government has prioritized digitalization and financial inclusion in its policy agenda. It has freed up e-government projects such as the national ID, and is automating other services.”

Mr. Puliti mentioned that there is great potential for socioeconomic benefits for Filipinos as digital payments become more widely encouraged and even mandatory for payments to government.

“A strong digital infrastructure also helps achieve climate goals and underpins a climate-resilient economy. You cannot build smart, sustainable cities and smart energy grids without it,” he said. “Digital technologies could reduce carbon emissions by 20% by 2050 in the three highest emitting sectors, energy, materials and mobility.”

It is for this reason, Mr. Puliti continued, that the IFC is investing in the key elements of the country’s digital connectivity ecosystem, such as mobile network operators, broadband networks, independent tower companies and data center platforms.

The regional vice-president noted that the IFC’s approach is focused on making sure its investments contribute to green economic growth and to the equitable access to digital services.

“The Philippines has a highly educated and tech-savvy young workforce, a key advantage at a time when many other countries have a labor crunch; and with the World Bank projecting growth of 5.6% this year, one of the fastest rates in the region, you have the wind at your back,” Mr. Puliti highlighted.

“IFC will remain a steadfast partner to the Philippines; and with the reforms you are implementing, the country is on track to achieve its vision of being free of poverty by 2040. A digital and sustainable future is within reach,” he said.

Towards the digital future

Building on the first two discussions, the BusinessWorld Economic Forum led with the first panel of experts to talk on the theme, “Harnessing Digital Technology to Improve World-Class Brands, Marketing and Consumer Experiences.”

Panel Discussion 1 (from L-R): McDonald’s Philippines Managing Director Margot Torres, 917Ventures Managing Director Vince Yamat, BusinessWorld columnist Donald Patrick Lim (moderator), Bain & Company Partner Yukiko Tsukamoto, and UnionBank Senior Executive Vice-President Ana Maria A. Delgado — Photo by Earl State R. Lagundino

Sharing their insights were Yukiko Tsukamoto, partner at Bain & Company; Ana Maria A. Delgado, senior executive vice-president, chief customer experience officer, and chief digital channels officer at Union Bank of the Philippines (UnionBank); Margot Torres, managing director of McDonald’s Philippines; and Vince Yamat, managing director of 917Ventures.

Panel Discussion 2 (from L-R): BusinessWorld Editor Victor V. Saulon (moderator), Angkas Founder Angeline Tham, Grab Philippines Head of Mobility EJ dela Vega, and Bases Conversion and Development Authority President and CEO Aileen Anunciacion R. Zosa — Photo by Earl State R. Lagundino

Other panel discussions throughout the day-long conference tackled similar topics and themes. The second one, on “Redefining Transport and Mobility in a Digital World,” gathered Aileen Anunciacion R. Zosa, president and CEO of the Bases Conversion and Development Authority; EJ dela Vega, head of mobility at Grab Philippines; and Angeline Tham, founder of Angkas, to reimagine the future of the Philippines’ urban landscape and how digital technology can influence transportation and infrastructure.

Panel Discussion 3 (from L-R): BDO Unibank SVP & Chief Compliance Officer Federico P. Tancongco, Binance Philippines General Manager Kenneth Stern, Sun Life Philippines Chief Operations & Digital Enterprise Officer Gaurav Mishra, and Bank of the Philippine Islands CFO & Chief Sustainability Officer Eric Roberto M. Luchangco — Photo by Ernie Peñaredondo/The Philippine STAR

To talk about the financial sector and “Building & Expanding a Sustainable Digital Finance Ecosystem,” Eric Roberto M. Luchangco, chief finance officer and chief sustainability officer of Bank of The Philippine Islands; Gaurav Mishra, chief operations & digital enterprise officer at Sun Life Philippines; Federico P. Tancongco, senior vice-president & chief compliance officer at BDO Unibank; and Kenneth Stern General, manager at Binance Philippines, shared their thoughts.

Panel Discussion 4 (from L-R): One News Anchor Regina Lay (moderator); Metro Pacific Agro Ventures, Inc. President & CEO Juan Victor Hernandez; International Rice Research Institute Deputy Director-General for Strategy, Engagement, & Impact Joanna Kane-Potaka; and Department of Agriculture Undersecretary Mercedita A. Sombilla — Photo by Ernie Peñaredondo/The Philippine STAR

Sustainability was also the defining point of the Forum’s final two panels. The one on “Delivering Food Security and Sustainability” addressed a serious issue looming in the country’s horizon. Mercedita A. Sombilla, undersecretary at the Department of Agriculture, led the discussion with Joanna Kane-Potaka, deputy director general for strategy, engagement and impact at the International Rice Research Institute; and Juan Victor Hernandez, president & CEO at Metro Pacific Logistics Company, Inc. and Metro Pacific Agro Ventures, Inc.

Panel Discussion 5 (from L-R): Publisher Santiago J. Arnaiz (moderator); Aboitiz Group of Companies FVP-Chief Sustainability & Reputation Officer Ana Margarita Hontiveros-Malvar; Securities and Exchange Commission Commissioner Kelvin Lester K. Lee; Ayala Corp. Group Risk Management and Sustainability Unit Head Ma. Victoria A. Tan; PLDT and Smart FVP & Chief Sustainability Officer Melissa V. Vergel De Dios; and Robinsons Land Corp. Chief Financial, Risk, & Compliance Officer Kerwin Max S. Tan — Photo by Earl State R. Lagundino

“Achieving Corporate Sustainability through Technology Transformation” was the topic for the final panel with Kelvin Lester K. Lee, commissioner of the Securities and Exchange Commission; Melissa V. Vergel De Dios, first vice-president (FVP), chief sustainability officer, and head of investor relations at PLDT and Smart; Ma. Victoria A. Tan, head of group risk management and sustainability unit at Ayala Corp.; Kerwin Max S. Tan, chief financial, risk, and compliance officer at Robinsons Land Corp.; and Ana Margarita “Ginggay” Hontiveros-Malvar, FVP and chief sustainability and reputation officer at the Aboitiz Group of Companies.

Peter Maquera, CEO for Philippines of Microsoft Asia Pacific — Photo by Earl State R. Lagundino

To stimulate further conversation among the attendants, the Economic Forum also featured presentations from three experts to impart the latest digital trends and developments all over the world. The first presentation by Peter Maquera, CEO of Philippines Microsoft Asia Pacific, kick-started the discourse on “Digital Trends 2023: The Next Frontier in Digital.”

Stefan Matthews, co-founder & executive chairman of nChain

Meanwhile, the potential of emerging blockchain and Web3 technologies were explored by Stefan Matthews, co-founder and executive chairman of nChain, on his presentation on “Data Transformation: Understanding the Blockchain & Web 3.0.”

Kristine Go, general manager for nutrition at Unilever Southeast Asia — Photo by Ernie Peñaredondo/The Philippine STAR

The final presentation by Kristine Go, general manager of nutrition at Unilever Southeast Asia, expanded on the panel on food security by going into new ways technology is “Reinventing Food for Humanity.”

In his speech, Mr. Belmonte concluded by addressing the youth of the country and emphasizing how digital technology can help create a better future for all of them and the generations after.

“Who knows what the youngest and most enterprising among us can come up with when given new frontiers to explore, like Web3 and blockchain technology? More importantly, digital technology can play a role in revitalizing long-struggling industries such as agriculture and address critical concerns like food security, transportation, and logistics,” he said.

“The potential is there for the Philippines to utilize emerging technologies to not only further drive business, but make Filipino lives better.”

“Is that not the spirit of promoting sustainability for the country? By ensuring that our people continue to have opportunities to prosper in the present and in the future, in a way that is not harmful to the world we live in?” he added.

BusinessWorld Editor-in-Chief Wilfredo G. Reyes — Photo by Ernie Peñaredondo/The Philippine STAR

Meanwhile, synthesizing the event’s discussions in his closing remarks, BusinessWorld Editor-in-Chief Wilfredo G. Reyes pointed out that businesses should be clear with their direction and targets, as well as with how technologies can get them to those targets.

“When we push with digitalization and sustainability initiatives, the change of the mindset starts with the top. And in the end, it’s still about the customer,” he added.

One News Anchor Regina Lay, host of this year’s BusinessWorld Economic Forum — Photo by Ernie Peñaredondo/The Philippine STAR

BusinessWorld Economic Forum 2023 was presented by BusinessWorld Publishing Corp., with Gold sponsors Globe, GT Capital, Megaworld Corp., and Metro Pacific Investments Corp.; Silver sponsors Angkas, Ayala Corp., BDO, Federal Land, Inc., GCash, Grab, Meralco, Robinsons Land Corp., San Miguel Corp., and UnionBank; and Bronze sponsors Aboitiz Equity Ventures, Brittany Corp., FWD Insurance, Lazada, McDonald’s Philippines, nChain, PLDT Enterprise, the Quezon City government, Shang Properties, SGV, SM Investments Corp., Sun Life, Toyota Motor Philippines, Ovialand, Inc. and First Gen Corp.

The forum was also made possible with partner organizations Asia Society of the Philippines, the American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines, the British Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines, the Bank Marketing Association of the Philippines, the Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines, FinScore, the French Chamber of Commerce and Industry of the Philippines, the Institute of Electronics Engineers of the Philippines, J. Legaspi Computer Graphics, LF Lending Services Corp., the Management Association of the Philippines, Makati Business Club, the Philippine Association of National Advertisers, the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Philippine Franchise Association, and the Philippine Retailers Association; and media partners The Philippine Star and One News.