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The next phase of Gawad Kalinga’s advocacy

Last week, I was invited to attend the 3rd Global Social Business Summit at Gawad Kalinga’s (GK) Enchanted Farm in Angat, Bulacan. I had not heard of this summit before, neither have I heard of GK’s Enchanted Farm. I was told, however, that PNoy was delivering the opening remarks while government and industry heavyweights like Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima, Bikram Chaudhury of Credit Suisse and Tony Del Rosario of Coca-Cola would be speaking. The event must be a big deal, I thought. I accepted the invitation not knowing what to expect.

After PNoy delivered his speech, I lingered for a while to get a feel of what the affair was all about. As first impressions go, I was surprised at the number of delegates in attendance not only from the Philippines but from around Asia and Europe. What made it more impressive was that all had made the 60 kilometer trek through the narrow roads of inner Bulacan. The audience, most of whom were young, fledgling entrepreneurs, came to learn about the best practices in social entrepreneurship.

The movement for social entrepreneurship began in the ’60s but only entered the mainstream in the late ’80s. For those unaware, social entrepreneurs are businessmen who apply the principles of business for the dual purpose of profit and finding solutions to social problems. While conventional entrepreneurs measure business by profit alone, social entrepreneurs consider the social impact of their ventures to the community in which they operate. A famous example of a social entrepreneur is Muhammed Yanus, a Bangladeshi economist who founded Grameen Bank. The bank was established 33 years ago for the sole purpose of providing loans to the poorest of the poor to help them become self-sufficient. In the Philippines, our famed social entrepreneur is Illac Diaz whose Liter of Light organization illuminates communities living without electricity.

The three-day summit was chockfull of learning tracks delivered by luminaries in both the business and social work sectors. Among the more interesting topics were Corporate Social Responsibility and Responsible Investments, Infusing Compassion and Competence and Growing Beyond Micro businesses, among others.

TONY MELOTO’S MISSIONS

In 2003, Tony Meloto had a vision to provide decent shelter for the poor and disenfranchised. From a single community in Caloocan, the organization has built 2,500 GK Villages to date, benefitting more than 60,000 families. GK Villages have expanded beyond our shores to Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Cambodia, and others. Its business model has been adapted by numerous non-government organizations in North America, Europe and Australia.

At the summit, I got a chance to speak to Tony and GK advocate, Boy Montelibano, who briefed me on the next phase of GK ‘s mission. The mission, they stressed, begins with the recognition that poverty is enemy. Poverty brings out the worst in man, forcing him to switch to survival mode where decency, morality and sense of community is overcome by the need to put food on the table. Poverty also abases dignity. When one is in a state of abject lack, one loses his self-esteem. He disengages from his community and becomes incapacitated from participating in productive endeavors.

Taking people out of poverty and restoring their humanity is the next phase of Gawad Kalinga’s advocacy. GK intends to achieve this by empowering the impoverished and teaching them how to become self-sufficient entrepreneurs. Education, in this sense, becomes the means to the end. This is the driving purpose of GK’s Enchanted Farm.

The 34-hectare farm was built in 2011 and is located in Angat, Bulacan. At the heart of the facility is Asia’s first learning institution for Social Entrepreneurship called the School of Experiential & Entrepreneurial Development (SEED). SEED’s mission is to breed the next generation of social entrepreneurs among children of farmers, tricycle drivers, construction workers and indigenous tribes.

SEED’s curriculum was designed by Hautes Etudes Commerciales and ESSEC, (the French equivalent of Harvard and Yale) in partnership with TESDA. Students go through a two-year course on social entrepreneurship where they are taught the rudiments of accounting, finance, economics, business management and ethics. After that, they major in a field of specialty, be it in agriculture, hospitality, manufacturing, and the like. They become eligible for a Bachelor’s degree after two more years of apprenticeship.

When a child is empowered with education, poverty no longer has a grip on him nor his family, asserts Tony. The ripple effect of creating a new generation of social entrepreneurs is enormous. Done right, we can realize a massive reduction of impoverished families while creating a new class of households with dispensable income. All this will redound favorably for the economy and the country.

To date, SEED has 87 students, all of whom are sponsored by private individuals and corporations. They are instructed by a team of 25 full-time teachers and mentors from France, Ireland, the US and around Asia. It is akin to an international school on a faculty stand point. It only takes P150,000 to sponsor a child for one year and this includes the cost of tuition, lodging and even food. The goal is to expand the student body to 300 within the next two years. Donors, of course, are welcome.

Tony introduced me to two students, both sons of farmers. We engaged in conversation about the economy and current events. I was impressed at their sure footedness and fluency. In terms of grammar, accent and mien, these kids could very well be mistaken as products of La Salle or Ateneo. Moments later, Tony chimed in and spoke to one of the kids in French. He replied in the language with perfect grammar.

The children at SEED are instructed in both French and English. Mastery of a second language, according to Tony, gives them an advantaged when benchmarked against the more established schools in the country. French was chosen not only because it is the international language of diplomacy, but more so because it gives an element of “class”. Stature, in its many forms, is important, especially for the disadvantaged. It breeds self-confidence which, in turn, fosters dignity.

SEED is also the only college in Asia that has integrated real businesses prototypes in its campus where students can be mentored on a practical basis. Within its grounds are actual business operations relating to duck, chicken and pig-raising, dairy production, mushroom and herb farming, stuffed toy-making, silk-weaving , food-processing, a beverage brewery and a cosmetic-manufacturing facility.

Some of SEEDS products have already become commercial successes. Among them are Plush and Play stuffed toys which are now available in Toy Kingdom; Human Nature Cosmetics, available in Rustan’s and Beauty Bar; and Bayani Brew Iced Teas, available in Bo’s Café and Family Mart Stores. Not only do these ventures generate a stream of profits, they also help a multitude of families in the process. Such is the spirit of social entrepreneurship.

GK’s Enchanted Farm is proof-of-concept that a self-sustaining community can rise from abject poverty if the “haves” take the time empower the “have-nots”. Plans are afoot to replicate Enchanted Farms in 24 other communities in the the country.

The farm welcomes visitors for day tours. Families can enjoy the facilities of the farm (restaurants, spa, etc.) while being oriented on the value of social entrepreneurship. They can even spend the day helping out in any of the small businesses that are based in the farm, for hand-on experience. It is GK’s way of spreading the good word about social entrepreneurship. For details, log on to: www.gk1world.com/visit-enchanted-farm.

I attended the Summit hoping to get a good business story to share in this corner. Instead, I got a lesson in humanity. I learned how the good deeds of one person has the power to tremendously benefit thousands.  I learned that it pays to dream, it pays to be a maverick, it pays to not to live the cliché but pursue the good and noble.

Andrew is an economist, political analyst and businessman. He is a 20-year veteran in the hospitality and tourism industry. For comments and reactions, e-mail andrew_rs6@yahoo.com. More of his business updates are available via his Facebook page (Andrew J. Masigan). Follow Andrew on Twitter @aj_masigan.