I moved to the Philippines 12 years ago to start a business. The skilled labor and high level of English proficiency made it a natural choice among its neighbors in the region. The friendly people, beautiful islands, live bands, and incredible nightlife didn’t hurt either! As my business progressed from start-up to operations, I realized that I had so many questions about why employees behave the way that they do in an organization.
I decided to pursue doctoral studies so that I could learn how to answer questions that no one seemed to know the answers to. I had met graduates of De La Salle University in Chamber of Commerce meetings and industry events, many of whom stood out because of their sense of integrity and professional accomplishments. After listening to their experiences and hearing about the value that a Lasallian education created in their lives, I was persuaded to apply and commence the decade-long journey that I just completed two weeks ago.
Graduate students learn how to conduct research using rigorous methods in pursuit of answers to questions and solutions to problems. In doing so, we create new knowledge that addresses real workplace problems, points of contention in industry, and societal issues. Part of what makes a Lasallian graduate business education unique is the emphasis that is placed on conducting business in a way that is ethically sound, environmentally sustainable, and socially responsible. While companies need to create value for their shareholders to survive in the long run, I learned that it is possible to achieve this while simultaneously caring for our customers, employees, and the communities that we live in. Our drive to make a positive impact in the lives of these stakeholders is fueled by our sense of purpose.
One of the causes that I have taken to heart since moving to the Philippines is the growing number of new HIV positive diagnoses among young people. The Philippines currently has the fastest-growing epidemic in the Asia-Pacific region, with 36 Filipinos being newly diagnosed each day. Approximately 80% of those being diagnosed are between the ages of 15 and 34 — in the prime of their lives. During a time when they should be focusing on their education and careers, these individuals are faced with a stigmatized, lifelong condition that affects their health, interpersonal relationships, and work productivity. What hasn’t been understood until now are the consequences that being HIV positive has on a person’s career. How does the stigma associated with having HIV affect an employee’s job performance? Does it hinder their opportunity to be promoted and to find satisfaction in their work? These are examples of some of the questions that I set out to answer so that I could help employers better understand how to create safe and inclusive work environments for people living with HIV.
My research brought me half-way around the globe to meet with scholars, attend academic conferences, and collaborate with NGOs. I was amazed by the level of support, encouragement, and interest coming from business leaders, researchers, and philanthropists from around the world. It made me realize that when you are genuinely passionate about something, and your heart is invested in making a difference, your desire to help becomes contagious.
One important lesson that I would like to share about stigma is that while it is often silent and invisible, it hurts so many people deep down to their core. People all around us come from different walks of life and have different stories to tell. One of our most significant challenges and responsibilities as managers is the reality that we have the power to touch people’s lives in a way that can be very impactful. The time that I spent at De La Salle University helped me develop a deep appreciation of the positive impact that businesses can have on the lives of others. Being socially responsible need not come at a high financial cost. It requires heart, dedication, and a commitment to bringing out the best in people.
I encourage each of my fellow graduates to stand up for a coworker whom they know is being marginalized. Our differences bring unique perspectives to the workplace, and by embracing diversity, we enable our colleagues to be the best version of themselves. After all, what is money without humanity? I assure you that a simple act of kindness and compassion can touch a person’s life in more positive ways than one.
Dr. Anthony Decoste is President & CEO of Global Virtuoso, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Sustained Health Initiatives of the Philippines, and a volunteer HIV counselor. This article is an abbreviated version of the response that he delivered to the Graduate students during the College of Business Graduate Studies Recognition Rites on June 22.