Social entrepreneurship through coffee and water

Who is a social entrepreneur? Books and sources would suggest that a social entrepreneur is someone who identifies a social problem and uses entrepreneurial skills and concepts to bring about change and provide solutions.

Many people think that when one is a social entrepreneur, there is no money to be made. However, a good social entrepreneur needs to make money for him to sustain his business model, to be able to continue helping others.

In fact, the Philippine Center for Entrepreneurship – Go Negosyo is, in a way, performing social entrepreneurship. Our main goal is to train and mentor would-be entrepreneurs. Our television show, books and Negosems supports and sustains the organization’s efforts. All revenues are plowed back to help more people. The efforts of the founders are met as the organization continues to be self-sufficient. Of course, the organization must be led by dynamic entrepreneurs to sustain the business model.

There are many Go Negosyo advocates who are social entrepreneurs. Illac Diaz is known for the My Shelter Foundation. Another social entrepreneur is Chit Juan. She runs and manages ECHO (Environment & Community Hope Organization) Store with Reena Francisco and Jeannie Javelosa.

More and more have been aware of the need to help others, and in the process help themselves improve their own life with a viable business model. These are the stories of two women entrepreneurs who are both pursuing great causes through their ventures.

Gemma Bulos is a Filipina born and raised in America. She used to work as a singer-songwriter in New York and enjoyed her life singing in clubs, going to parties and meeting celebrities. It was a different life she lived back then.

Gemma Bulos

Everything changed when the Sept. 11 tragedy struck the US. Gemma was supposed to be at the world trade center that day, but I guess it was not her destiny. Seeing the outcome of the disaster, it hit her like a wake-up call.

Gemma then gave up everything. She sold everything she owned and left her apartment. She left the old life she lived. Step by step, she changed her life.

Gemma travelled and started a global peace movement through music. This movement led her to write a song called We Rise, using water as a metaphor for unity in action.

For Gemma, water is the one thing that is universal. “Water does not know any boundaries,” she shares. “It is something that makes the poorest and the richest man equal.” For her, it’s true what they say – it takes a single drop of water to start a wave. Then, she established A Single Drop for Safe Water (ASDSW) in the Philippines in 2006.

ASDSW is a non-profit organization that provides services such as trainings in building systems and simple water technologies to empower communities to address their own freshwater problems. For example, they assist people in creating BioSand Filters – a household water treatment which removes disease causing organisms. The organization also helps localities build their own community water system that will provide a continuous supply of water.

“Water is a basic need. Once this basic need is addressed, it can open many opportunities for people,” Gemma passionately relays.

As the Founder and Executive Director of ASDSW, Gemma leads them in their goal to mentor communities to be sustainable in maintaining their fresh water systems. The technology they offer has always been affordable, accepted by local communities and easy to use. Through their education campaign, they hope to train communities to be self-reliant. Someday, they hope that even the people in each community will serve as mentors to others. As of today, ASDSW has already helped start over 40 projects all over the country, which provide clean and safe water to Filipinos who need it.

According to Gemma, the secret of their organization’s success in what they do is their trust in the community. “We are coaches,” she said. “We are just offering pieces of information to fill the gaps of what they already know.” Gemma looks forward to the day when everyone in the Philippines is able to enjoy clean and safe drinking water.

Gemma was also recognized as the 2009 Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year Social Entrepreneur. For her, entrepreneurship should not be categorized as “Social”. Instead, everyone – every entrepreneur – should be Social Entrepreneurs.

Another entrepreneur recognized by Ernst and Young is Mary Grace Arboleda-Young, President of Cordillera Coffee Company Inc.

Mary Grace, on the other hand, was born and raised in Kalinga province, where coffee grew in people’s backyards and they never ran out of it. She grew up to the aroma of freshly brewed coffee from the Cordilleras. But, she also grew up seeing coffee vendors and farmers who are forced to sell their produce at a very low price and who are getting ripped off by middlemen.

Mary Grace Arboleda-Young

After finishing school, she settled down in London with Englishman Frank Young. They started a family and stayed there for nine years. But, as the couple wanted to have more children, they came back to the Philippines.

Grace still observed that coffee from her region was so under-promoted. She knew that coffee from the Cordillera is one of the best in the world, but even Filipinos were still ignorant of this fact.

With the strong passion for Cordillera coffee, with the intention of helping local farmers gain a fair price for their coffee, and with the desire to support a growing family; Grace put up the Cordillera Coffee in 2003. They only serve Arabica coffee from the Cordillera region and highland coffee such as Benguet and Sagada coffee. Grace armed her company with the mission to establish fair trade with native coffee farmers and to protect them from exploitation. She also stands proud of the unique concept of her coffee shops – the 100% coffee from the mountains, a cozy ambiance that showcases arts and crafts that are reflections of the Cordillera ethnicities, and mouthwatering organic food.

Two years after the establishment of Cordillera Coffee, Grace and her husband Frank decided to put up a non-government organization with the mission to assist and empower coffee farming communities in all provinces in the Cordilleras. Coffee AID (Assistance for Indigenous Development) was born. They provide a support system for farmers, which may be in the form of support for the education of their children or livelihood development projects for the farmers and their families. At present, Coffee AID has more than 150 members and a growing number of volunteers.

Grace is now planning to open more Cordillera Coffee shops, especially in Metro Manila. She would also like to look into the possibility of opening her café for franchise and developing other markets for her coffee. They also aim to expand Coffee Aid in order to promote more awareness and extend help to more coffee farmers.

“It is not just about the coffee,” says Grace. “It is also about the sustainability and education of the farmers and the organization. It is also about helping the ecosystem through our farmers.”

These are two inspiring and admirable stories. It shows that there is nothing wrong with being profitable. In fact, any business or foundation that does not have a good working model will not last. In helping people, one has to be able to help himself to be able to help others. These two women have turned water and coffee as means of improving their own life, as well as the lives of many others. They are definitely earning a lot of spiritual blessings for the work they are doing for others.

The wealth created from being a social entrepreneur is rewarding both in their life now and in their next life in Gods kingdom. Congratulations to Gemma and Mary Grace.

Get to meet Gemma, Grace and many other women entrepreneurs in our Women Entrepreneurship Summit on March 8 at the World Trade Center, Pasay City. There will be a whole day of informative and fun activities and programs. Admission is free.


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