Forecasting the future
LONDON EYE - Stephen Lillie (The Philippine Star) - March 28, 2013 - 12:00am

I’ve written before about the Chevening Scholarship scheme and its aim of identifying future leaders in the Philippines. My Embassy team has recently been interviewing potential scholars. A number of important and interesting trends have been revealed.

The first trend is in the quality of applications received. The task of deciding the “winners” was incredibly hard. There were more excellent candidates than available scholarships. The second was the diversity of subjects that people wanted to study and work on. Another is the range of universities where the students wanted to study. Many had identified some of the UK’s most famous institutions, such as Cambridge, Oxford, the London School of Economics and University College London. But many had found excellent and targeted courses in universities across the UK: energy in Aberdeen, climate change in Sussex, development in Warwick.

The potential scholars also came with a vision of why each topic was important to them and could help development in the Philippines. They were people who had already achieved a lot and who were determined to make a difference. There was also a sense of confidence in the future. 

But the most important theme was how many candidates talked about the role of government and public service. As a government servant myself, I’m naturally biased about the value of public service and the great things that governments can do. I like to think that — if I wanted to — I could change careers and earn more money.  But I don’t, because I love my job and am incredibly proud of the institution that I serve. I am directed by democratically elected Ministers. But I am a politically neutral public servant.

Free markets and private enterprise are the bedrock of British thinking and the global prosperity the world increasingly enjoys. But there is a symbiotic relationship with government and public service. Of course government can also hinder prosperity and be a drain on efficiency.

Inconsistent governance has been a problem identified in the Philippines. I meet many talented and dedicated public servants. But, as widely acknowledged, there are not yet enough and the institutions are struggling to meet the growing and justified needs of the public on a consistent basis.

Our candidates were not naïve. They knew they could earn more outside government. Some had even been spurred on by personal experience of corruption and poor service. They understood that government reform in the Philippines is a work in progress rather than the finished product, with much still to do. But they felt that they would be proud to work for the government and that they could and would be able to make a difference.

Of course many dedicated and talented people have opted to work in government in the past. But the numbers of people we spoke to and the consistency of their views made me hopeful that the Philippines might be approaching a tipping point in terms of being able to train and motivate the quantity and quality of young people who can deliver effective governance and drive forward development.  

Our discussions with potential Chevening Scholars has allowed us to have a glimpse of the future the Philippines could have. That future can be bright. 

(Stephen Lillie is the British Ambassador to the Philippines.)


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