Time to start a social enterprise

Last week, Go Negosyo held a lunch meeting with key players in the social entrepreneurship field. As we pursue our advocacy to build an entrepreneurial nation, we get exposed also to the social dimension of some enterprises.

Jim Ayala, Rico Gonzales, Bam Aquino, Joey Concepcion, Vivienne Tan, Mary Joy Abaquin, Pinky Poe, Illac Diaz, Ana Tan, Jen Domingo, Mon Lopez

Jim Ayala, Rico Gonzales, Bam Aquino, Joey Concepcion, Vivienne Tan, Mary Joy Abaquin, Pinky Poe, Illac Diaz, Ana Tan, Jen Domingo, Mon Lopez


There are a lot of enterprises that are engaged in helping solve a community or social problem. These are the enterprises that are still profitable or at least self-sustainable to continue with their programs. It can be a community-based bag-making or basket-weaving or food-processing project, or a hotel facility for transient OFWs or a pizza outlet that employs only out-of-school youth in the area. It can be a profitable venture that utilizes waste materials as raw materials, thus helping solve environmental problems. Such socially-oriented activities are integral to the business model of the enterprise. This is therefore different from a straightforward charity work or CSR (corporate social responsibility) where in such activities are adopted to help a particular community or cause, which is noble in objectives, but such cause is not an integrated part of the business of the corporation.

The social dimension of entrepreneurship seems to be a growing force. No one can argue that it becomes truly “rewarding” to find an enterprising activity that integrates the social objectives with profit objectives.

Bam Aquino, Jim Ayala and Joey Concepcion

Bam Aquino, Jim Ayala and Joey Concepcion

In the lunch meeting, we had the opportunity to discuss and explore our ideas with advocates and social entrepreneurs. We had Pinky Po of GKonomics who talked passionately about a simple but powerful idea of having communities as weavers for bags, using the inside panel of aluminum foil packs. The bags come in great designs, patterned after the expensive branded bags you will find in the malls. Similarly, Vivienne Tan of the Entrepreneurs School of Asia started a focused institution that educates aspiring entrepreneurs. On the other hand, Mary Joy Abaquin has her Multiple Intelligence International School, which is getting to be known as a very good school that draws out the best in every child to find his or her strength (intelligence) and use that as basis of an enterprising activity. Other known social entrepreneurs also joined us like Bam Aquino of Microventures, who is also part of Hapinoy and Rags2Riches; Illac Diaz of My Shelter Foundation – who is a social entrepreneur awardee; and Rina Bautista of Knowledge Channel Foundation. Also present were enabler groups like Ana Tan and Jen Domingo of the British Council, which is active in promoting social entrepreneurship in the world; Rico Gonzales of the Ateneo Center for Social Entrepreneurship, and Jim Ayala of Hystra Hybrid Strategies Consulting.

It was our first meeting, wherein we discussed how more social entrepreneurs and enterprises can be developed in the Philippines. There was first a long discussion on the definition of ‘social entrepreneurship’, pretty much revolving around the concept I mentioned earlier. But of course, this group intelligently came to a common ground that we should not get bogged down on strictly defining it. The idea is to create awareness on the basic concept and social objectives and nurture its growth in the country. Our objective is to build support groups and enablers and mentors that can help propagate the wonders of having triple bottom-lines in our enterprise.

Following the basic social entrepreneurship concepts, Go Negosyo or the Philippine Center for Entrepreneurship Foundation is considered a social enterprise as it inspires, educates and mentors microentrepreneurs and underprivileged sectors like women and out-of-school youth. Our foundation seeks the support of corporate partners that believe in our cause and other partners who would “buy into” our programs and sponsor seminars for a group of beneficiaries. Similar social enterprises considered as enablers can also be found in UK, US and other countries.

When I attended the Presidential Entrepreneurship Summit of Obama last April, quite a number of the participants were social entrepreneurs. There were La Ruche of France, Ashoka of Egypt, Endeavor of US, Akanksha of India, and quite a number from Indonesia and different countries all over the world.

Bam Aquino converses with mothers of a community beneficiary

Bam Aquino converses with mothers of a community beneficiary

During the meeting, I also mentioned that Go Negosyo wants to promote social entrepreneurship in the Philippines. We would like to work with more enablers like Ateneo, British Council and other organizations like Gawad Kalinga. We also admire the work of Bam and Illac who have been social entrepreneurship pioneers for quite some time.

While there were some differences in opinion about considering micro finance institutions (MFI) as social enterprises, I told the group that we consider MFIs as social enterprises. I would say they are one of the pioneers. Over the years, they have grown to be a significant and well- organized force. They have also been around for many years. They have succeeded as social enterprises through micro financing because the demand of lower financing is there. They are the alternative to the 5/6 and pawnshops. MFIs go through the process of training and value formation of all their borrowers.

Pinky Poe speaks from the heart in sharing the mission of GKonomics and Gawad Kalinga

Pinky Poe speaks from the heart in sharing the mission of GKonomics and Gawad Kalinga

We also admire the work of those who were not able to attend the meeting like Gov. LRay Villafuerte who is in effect a social entrepreneur in government. His Camsur Water Sports Complex that is known worldwide for wakeboarding and extreme water sports has enabled Camsur to generate hundreds of millions in tourism revenues.

Mrs. Cynthia Villar is also known for her livelihood and social enterprises, benefiting the unemployed in the communities. She explained to us how her typical project would achieve several objectives. For instance, her water lily-based handicrafts would be able to provide livelihood to a community she is helping, while at the same time helping solve the unwanted accumulation of water lilies in the river in Las Pinas.

Anna Meloto-Wilk and Camille Meloto with Human Nature products

Anna Meloto-Wilk and Camille Meloto with Human Nature products

Dylan Wilk is also a very good example of a social entrepreneur. He is working with his wife, Anna Meloto-Wilk and Camille Meloto, two daughters of Gawad Kalinga founder Tony Meloto. Gandang Kalikasan, through its brand Human Nature, is the fastest-growing social enterprise in the Philippines. They produce natural and organic personal care products which are 100% made in the Philippines and free from harmful chemicals.

From our first meeting, we are now moving forward in identifying existing social entrepreneurs and enablers in the country. This will lead to future gatherings and forums that will help towards the development of social entrepreneurship in the Philippines.

Every social enterprise, in the end, should generate income to sustain itself and be able to hire good people to grow their enterprise. This is why MFIs that started way back then have grown into big institutions — they are profitable and they continue to help more people. There are also still a lot of opportunities in the agriculture sector similar to what Dylan is doing and in the retail sector similar to what Chit Juan is doing through ECHOstore. Chit established ECHOstore together with Reena Francisco and Jeannie Javelosa. They represent products from small marginalized cultural communities, creative industries, women groups and foundations. The products in their retail store represent their ideals of health, fair trade and care for the environment.

Can you imagine if every successful entrepreneur today will be able to start their own social enterprise? Imagine the kind of impact it will have on Filipinos who are striving to beat poverty. As we help them win over poverty, they will increase consumer spending even more. Social enterprises are not meant to give dole outs, but to empower Filipinos to be enterprising citizens of the Philippines.


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