Innovation for good: From malls to school halls

Just a few short years after the first SM mall opened its doors, its founder Mr. Henry Sy Sr’s vision extended beyond one establishment. The chain of malls would come later. When SM City North EDSA opened in 1985, the vision was clear: people’s access to products is important but Filipinos’ access to quality education is priceless.

In 1991, Mr. Sy turned his vision into a reality through a milestone partnership between SM Foundation, Inc. and IBM Philippines. This collaboration led to the establishment of Asia Pacific College (APC), embodying the timeless adage: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

“Right from the start, the vision was very clear—it was inclusivity, said APC President Dr. Teresita ‘Tata’ Medado.” “Quality education should be available to all and this was APC’s way of helping the youth to be competitive IT professionals for the industry.”

The SM group emphasized this commitment to inclusivity when the company insisted that APC operate as a non-profit and non-stock institution.

It was the ‘90s, and the boom of the information technology (IT) sector was in full swing. Countless theorizing and key innovators have alluded to interconnectivity beyond anyone’s imagination. Encapsulated in APC’s core values of industry, integrity and innovation, it became the College’s mission to educate students to become world-class with a strong IT-based foundation.

Today, APC continues its legacy of providing quality education, earning a perfect QS 5-star rating in four categories: inclusivity through a wide array of scholarships; online learning via Hyflex (Hybrid-Flexible), which emphasizes empathy, equity, and engagement; flexible teaching methods; and, employability with 92.8% of graduates securing key positions in the industry. QS Stars is a world university rating system which was developed to give educational institutions an opportunity to showcase their strengths.

The institution has upheld its legacy of inclusivity, supporting 9,300 scholars: 7,000 from public schools, 1,000 from the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and Philippine National Police (PNP), and over 1,300 from SM Foundation. Overall, APC provides scholarship support to 80% of its students, with PHP 9 million awarded in 2023 and a total of PHP 700 million in scholarships over the last 18 years.

What started with only a handful of around 15 students, today, APC has over 7,221 graduates.

Beyond SM’s scholarship program through its corporate foundation, its advocacy to promote quality education through APC also allows any accepted public-school student to pay only half of the posted tuition fee.

APC’s world-class students

Among these graduates is Mr. Rey Buyco, a former SM Scholar and cum laude graduate back in 2017. Mr. Buyco recalled that his journey, albeit tough, did not deter him to give up on achieving his dream.

Looking back, Mr. Buyco shared how his mother and he had to sleep on a cardboard box along the streets of Manila when their home burned down (due to an accident near the firecracker store they used to own).

He also remembers when Mr. Sy used to attend APC’s general assembly.

“It was very inspiring for him to do that,” he added. “It goes to show that SM really wants to help us and ignited our passion to continue our studies.”

Mr. Buyco is currently based in London, England as a senior qualified auditor for Ernst & Young.

APC’s excellence and impact to the IT industry marked another milestone with one of its alumni Mr. Rom Gapuz, whose path to success was also supported by SM and APC. A couple of months ago, Mr. Gapuz achieved the feat of becoming the first Filipino to earn all 15 Amazon Web Services (AWS) certifications including 3 already retired ones.

Mr. Gapuz and Mr. Buyco are only two of the many successful graduates of APC. In fact, from the graduating classes from 2020-2022, the employability rate of APC’s students is at 92.8% within 24 months from graduation.

“We are immensely proud of Rom and Rey,” said Dr. Medado. “Their journeys echo our core values of industry, integrity and innovation. Successes like these, with the likes of Rey and Rom, serve as inspirations not only to our students but also to us, their teachers.”

Championing education

With over 20 million enrollees this past school year 2023-2024, and classroom deficits reaching the thousands, the SM group continued its support to the educational facilities and capabilities of the country to address these challenges.

SM Foundation and SM Prime Holdings, Inc., together with the Department of Education (DepEd), partnered and have built 108 school buildings to date. With over 366 classrooms within these walls, the SM group has been able to serve 18,300 public school learners in single shift classes.

These initiatives helped close the gap between students and access to quality education, one school building at a time. As of end of 2023, the program was able to improve the average classroom-student ratio to 1:49 in schools where SM has built new buildings.

“APC was created 30-plus years ago to empower students with accessible, affordable, and quality education. Our mission stays the same today as we help more students in realizing their dreams,” Dr. Medado added.

Motivated by APC’s positive impacts on the education sector, Mr. Henry Sy Sr. was driven to further build on this advocacy of SM in championing education.