Governance, what’s in a word?

Sometime in April 2017, I was invited to give a 15 minute talk about good governance to a group of Chinese Christians in Hong Kong.

I started my talk with a story of my experience attending a luncheon meeting of fellows hosted by the Institute of Corporate Directors (ICD), a Non-Governmental Organization that advocates good corporate governance principles and practices among publicly listed corporations. The invited speaker was our good cardinal and archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle.  He was asked by the organizers to talk about the topic “Bringing God Back in the Boardroom”.  In the cardinal’s opening statement he amused his listeners (mostly members of the board of directors) saying “when I thought about the topic assigned to me, I began to wonder and thought to myself, why the topic, Bringing God Back in the Boardroom?  Did God leave the boardroom or you (members of the board) did not let Him join you in your board meetings?  I really thought that it was a very brilliant introduction that caught his audience’s attention.  It was so brilliant that I thought he need not expound it and he could have just asked the participants their thoughts about his introductory comments and a lively discussion would have ensued.

But true to his calling as a priest, even as a cardinal, he then went on to share his thoughts about God’s way of reigning and ruling.  He gave the example on the story of Jesus washing the disciples feet demonstrating to his disciples that in order to govern, one must be the servant of all.

In my book this was the most unforgettable talk about governance that I have ever heard and a very good story to tell all over again.

So when I spoke before a group of CPAs on the topic, Basics of Good Governance, I told them my ICD experience of the good cardinal’s brilliant story.  As expected, I got their attention. 

I argued in my talk  that good governance is “God’s governance”.  The word “governance” is translated in Filipino as “Pamamahala or Pamamathala”. Its root word is, “Bathala”, meaning God.  So governance in the Philippine vernacular is God’s way of governing or God’s reign or rule.  This assumes that when you know who God is and His way of ruling His kingdom, you will do the same as governor or steward of the resources He has entrusted to you.  Sad to say though that our experience from  those who lead us in the government is a far cry from this way of ruling and reigning.

This is what I believe about governance.  As executive director and founding incorporator of Christian Council for Transparency and Accountability, Inc. (CCTA), I see our organization as a group of professional ministers and faithful administrators who are passionate about Governance, Obedience and Discipleship.  We are passionate about GOD or the acronym, G – O – D. 

G – for Governance (reign and rule of God).

O – for Obedience (obeying everything Jesus taught His disciples and all of His followers).

D – for Discipleship (the what and the how of developing a Christ-like character which is a wholehearted response to Jesus’ invitation,  “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:19, NIV)

I have been blessed to meet many successful Chinese businessmen who are faithfully serving God, either by supporting those who are doing God’s work in Christ-centered organizations or volunteering to serve as trustees of such organizations. 

One of the founding members of CCTA is Center for Community Transformation group of ministries.  It is the largest Christian indigenous organization in the Philippines that serves the poorest of the poor in the Philippines.  Its chairman is Mr. Bertram Lim, a successful Chinese businessman.  The other members of the board are also successful Chinese businessmen involved in real estate, garments, optical supply, generics drugs, etc.  These successful businessmen generously support the ministry with their time and resources.  They are successful businessmen and good governors!

One of the fastest growing mega-churches in the Philippines is Christ Commission Fellowship (CCF).  Its founder and senior pastor is Peter Tan Chi. He is also a successful businessman before he founded and became a full time pastor of CCF.

I am now helping a young Christian Chinese businessman and CEO of a growing IT company in the Philippines as an independent director for his company.  He succeeded his father as chairman of a successful group of companies, where his IT company is affiliated with.  He wants to improve the  governance practices of the various companies he now leads.

Another very successful Chinese businessman/entrepreneur is Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba.  I am not sure whether Jack Ma is a Christian or not but I know that he is one of the most popular and successful businessmen/entrepreneurs in our time.

Isn’t it intriguing why these Chinese businessmen became successful?  Is it merely good luck or fortune or there is something that they know about business that many other businessmen may not be aware of?

I began to “connect the dots” and found a clue in the word business that may be the answer to these questions that really intrigued me.  In his book,  Doing God’s Business, subtitled, Meaning and Motivation in the Marketplace,  author R. Paul Stevens, who is a marketplace theologian and founder of the Institute for Marketplace Transformation (IMT) where I recently earned my fellowship, he argued that God called men (and women) to different kinds of businesses to improve and embellish human life.  To prove this point he wrote that the Chinese word for businessis  “xiang yi”. It is composed of two pictograms that meant, separately, “xiang – to create/birth” and “yi – meaning”.  So business is a way of creating meaning for human beings so that they will eventually flourish through the good work that they do in the marketplace.

I believe that God brings meaning to our lives.  When we put God at the center of our lives and our businesses, He will honor our faithfulness and we will become successful. 

As a follower of Jesus, I subscribe to the definition of success as obedience to the teachings of Jesus Christ.

The Lord Jesus said in John 8:31 – 32 – “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (NIV).  When you hold to Jesus’ teaching, you will know the truth that sets free, then you will be on the road to true success in whatever you do.

So what’s in the word, governance?

This is what I believe about governance, why I believe it and why I prescribe to others what I believe.

  • It is about God’s reign and rule (or as we say in Filipino, “pamamahala ayon kay Bathala”)
  • It is about doing God’s business, God’s way
  • When there is good governance in organizations, it results in outcomes that glorifies God and the people there and those they serve flourish
  • Good corporate governance is about doing what is right, doing it God’s way and doing it well
  • Good governance is God’s will that is being done here on earth as it is in heaven
  • Good governance is seeking first His kingdom and His righteousness more than the “all these things” in the world

A corollary question may be asked about the word success as success in what?  And my answer to this question is success in finding joy in whatever you think, say and do.  When you find the true joy in life that can only be found through an intimate relationship with Jesus, you are truly successful!

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