The Seed of Inspiration

An advocate at heart, Hans T. Sy, Chairman of the Executive Committee of SM Prime Holdings, has taken a stand on disaster resilience long before itbecame a global buzzword.

“It all started in 1988, when we had a fire in SM Makati. At that time, I was already heading our group’s construction team. That experience made me realize that people should not go through those kinds of things. We could have prevented it from happening.”

Fueled by his passion for the environment and designing buildings, he was determined to search for innovative solutions that were both cost effective and environmentally-friendly. In 1995, he brought up the need to change the Freon refrigerants for chillers and invest in new equipment upon discovering its harmful environmental effects.

“I realized then that the new equipment were also efficient and we were able to save on costs when the price of power went up significantly. From then on, I started using the 10% contingency costs in our projects for DRR (disaster risk reduction) initiatives.”

The Defining Moment

“I believe in an age-old adage:
An ounce of prevention is worth
a pound of cure.”

Hans T. Sy

While SM derives benefit from integrating DRR in its projects, many Filipino communities are left vulnerable as the country faces about 20 typhoons a year due to it being located along the Ring of Fire. In 2013, it experienced one of the most devastating typhoons, Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda), which left millions of families homeless with damages up to nearly a billion US dollars, even causing a dip in GDP from 7.7% to 6.5%. Hans was moved by the tragedy and was compelled to help the communities rise above the risks of climate change.

With SM Prime having a vision to build cities that are catalysts for a better quality of life, he then embarked on a campaign to raise awareness and find sustainable solutions to disaster risk reduction challenges. This came in 2015, when Hans was elected as a member of the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) Private Sector Advisory Board.

“I met Margaret Wahlstrom, the head of the UNISDR at a dinner and she was listening to my experiences in DRR. I told her that I’ve been involved in DRR since the 90’s. She then sent people to document the things we were doing. She couldn’t believe that we were active in DRR. She then formally invited me to be part of the private sector of the NISDR.”

In 2016, UNISDR launched ARISE, the Private Sector Alliance for Resilient Societies, where Hans served as the only Filipino member of the global board, with SM Prime Holdings serving as the Philippine secretariat.

“Through my role in ARISE, I tapped the United Nations to help me boost the group. When they offered the co-chairman role in the National Resilience Council (NRC) to me, there was only one answer – and that was yes.”

Making the Difference

His strategic and holistic approach to disaster risk reduction advanced the country’s road towards resiliency.

He made targeted investments in disaster resilient structures with the SM Mall of Asia Complex built at an elevation of 3 meters over the regular requirement to protect it against storm surges and flooding, SM Marikina which is built on stilts given the 100 year flood cycle of the area, SM Masinag and 20 other newer malls which are all built with rain water catchment basins to hold back flood water

“These investments provided positive impacts to our stakeholders. We averted major sales loss and remained open to serve the community and the public even during extreme calamities.”

Through ARISE Philippines and NRC, Hans continues to promote capacity building among the private sector. SM Prime built a state-of-the art SM Resilience Center which serves as a back-up operations center and data storage facility for SM’s small and medium enterprise partners.

“We have around 25,000 SMEs, both direct and indirect. While they drive our business, our viability also drives their profitability.”

Lastly, Hans drives private-public partnerships in the national, regional and global levels. He helps build the resilience of the local government units in partnership with the NRC. On a regional level, he works in partnership with Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Emergency Preparedness Capacity Building Center, UNDRR Bangkok and UNDRR – Global Education and Training Institute (GETI) for DRR programs. In the global arena, he continues to promote and support ARISE Work Theme commitments in disaster risk management strategies, education and training, and urban resilience.

“DRR is the responsibility of both the government and the private sector, and both should work together.”

“I’m simply doing my share to enrich the lives of the millions of people we touch every day. If I can get everyone to do the same, we’ll create greater impact towards a more resilient Philippines.”

While great milestones have been achieved, Hans carries on with his crusade of unwavering commitment towards resilience.

“I’m simply doing my share to enrich the lives of the millions of people we touch every day. If I can get everyone to do the same, we’ll create greater impact towards a more resilient Philippines.”