Making a difference at Barangay Encanto in Bulacan

LEFT PHOTO: PINOY Publisher/Editor Mariano “Anong” Santos speaks Jan. 15 in behalf of the Filipino American delegation before the assembly of the GK Social Business Summit at the Enchanted Farm in Angat, Bulacan. (Photo by Francis M. De Guzman) RIGHT PHOTO: The 2-story/ 10-bed “ Chicago dormitory” donated by the group of companies of Mariano and Merlinda Santos was inaugurated in time for the 2016 GK Business Summit. The structure was made mostly of Philippine indigenous materials. (Photo by Francis de Guzman)

LEFT PHOTO: The entrance door to the dormitory gives a welcoming view of the open reception/lobby. A similar dormitory was previously constructed across which brought the number to two. Tony Meloto made it known that more donation means more housing for future social entrepreneur-students. (Francis de Guzman) 

above RIGHT PIC: Gawad Kalinga founder, Antonio Meloto (2nd fr, L), took time from a hectic program of activities to pose with Anong Santos (Left) and local GK volunteers including Francis Matthew de Guzman (right), an Atenean/veteran of GK community project build-up. He graciously acted as the special guide for this writer for the summit.

Foreign delegates in a photo opportunity with PH President Benigno S. Aquino who delivered the keynote address highlighting the pioneering work of GK in its mission to wipe out poverty. Agriculture Secretary Alcala and Finance Secretary Purisma joined the president in his Summit trip. (Francis M. De Guzman)

The furnishing includes living room and bedroom furniture that were crafted from bamboo and Philippine hardwood. Exterior walls allow maximum in-flow of fresh air and view of the scenic farm.

By Mariano "Anong" Santos

It’s clear now—it is not only about building houses for the poor. Gawad Kalinga (GK) is about empowering the poor to liberate them out of poverty. That GK has built more than 250,000 houses all over the Philippines is not something to sneeze about.

But with an estimated 32 million poor Filipinos still around, how does one meet the daunting task of eliminating poverty?

I attended the GK Social Business Summit Jan. 15 in Angat, Bulacan to witness the dedication of the dormitory that my wife and I had donated at the Enchanted Farm. To my surprise, I got more than I had bargained for.

To understand what I mean, I’m sharing with you the following story of a delegate that attended the same event.

The best investment you can make to create a
sustainable future

By Rob Aspin

We all have pivotal moments in our lives, where a new direction or realization is offered to us. Last Jan. 15-17 has been such a moment for me.

On those three days, I attended Gawad Kalinga’s ( GK) Social Business Summit at its Enchanted Farm , Barangay Encanto, Angat, Bulacan. Gawad Kalinga Community Development Foundation, Inc. is a movement that aims to end poverty for five million families by restoring the dignity of the poor.

The Enchanted Farm (EF) is not an amusement park, it’s a damn sight better. Out of a waste piece of land, the GK team have been able to create a beautiful oasis where poor villagers can thrive, working with some of the most innovative and good-hearted entrepreneurs I could ever have come to meet.
It is a relatively new platform established by GK to raise social entrepreneurs to help the local farmers and create wealth in the countryside. What Tony Meloto and his team have done is simply stunning.

The 30-acre EF is some 50 km North of Manila surrounding what is a relatively poor village.

EF is now home to a convention center, a place of worship, a spa, basic and up-market lodging facilities, a large catering facility, a first of its kind Farm Village University (FVU) and various enterprises run by the entrepreneurs who live with the villagers when they are starting out. The villagers form a strong GK community.

A Model for the world

These entrepreneurs and the numerous interns that join them from various universities around the world are all there to build their businesses, whilst at the same time help the community. It’s not about giving money to the poor, which many believe simply perpetuates the cycle, but rather about bringing them out of poverty through hard work (sweat equity), a viable vocation and a change of mindset that gives them pride, purpose, empowerment and ownership.
Having seen it first hand, I truly believe it’s a model that can be leveraged in many parts of the world. In simple terms, the entrepreneurs establish small grassroots businesses that will employ the local villages. Employees from the community will often become stakeholders and salaries are higher than national minimums, to engender the sense of ownership. Neither party is patronizing - it’s about working together for a common goal.

Entrepreneurs are expected to become profitable so that they will employ more people; utilize more of the abundant but idle land; and start paying a return to GK which is in turn can be used for further development in the farm.

In essence it’s the socialization of profits. GK thus wants the entrepreneurs to be profitable and sets specific goal posts to reach. In turn, GK offers land, connections/influence and a wide global network.

Compassionate entrepreneurs

Leading GK Advocates including Inquirer.Net columnist Jose “Boy” Montelibano (L), top local vitner Manny Osmena (4th fr. L), Tony Meloto, Dr. Zita B. Yorro, Dr. Boy Abay and Anong Santos (6th,7th,8th 9th fr. L) pose for a souvenir photo at the farm’s landmark/entrance fronting the bamboo auditorium donated by Hyundai Auto Corp. (Photo by Francis M. de Guzman)

I met a number of the entrepreneurs, which are some of the smartest, compassionate and bravest guys I have met in a long long time.

Dylan Wilk, who set up “Human Nature” which returns all profits to GK, runs a real world class organization that levers all the natural ingredients (e.g. malunggay, aloe vera and coconut oil)sourced in the Philippines. His workers receive double the official minimum wage and he has a ‘no-firing’ policy. His products has gain international acceptance.

Shanon created ”Bayani Brew” which specializes in healthy teas, brewed with herbs (e.g. tanglad , calamansi, camote tops) that have known medicinal uses and are some of the best I have tasted. With people waking up to how bad soft drinks are, in terms of sugar content, I truly expect this to be an absolute hit with consumers.

Fabien runs “Plush & Play” toys. He employees a large group of the village moms that produce some of the nicest soft toys I have seen a while, each very much made by hand. The fruit and veg toys are excellent as many kids in the developed cities don’t even know what some vegetables look like but, to be fair, I also struggle with some. He’s now got orders coming in from large corporates who want to offer something special and, as everything’s handmade, order size doesn't have to be huge.

Vip and Rodmark, who brew some of the best coffee I have tasted for a while, have developed, using century old technology, a system of freezing using basic tools such as an AC and a large tub of salty water. Throw something in and it freezes in literally a fraction of the time it takes a large commercial freezer.

No power supply? Chuck on a solar panel and, pow!, you have something that can provide freezing in the poorest of villages and the technology is basic enough to be maintained.

Chris who is now an expert on silk worms and Casava leaves. Casava is one of the traditional nutritious plants that has been overlooked as farmers have moved to planting staples like rice. There are terrific synergies with the silkworms and the rest of the farm - the silkworm’s droppings are used as fertilizer and the pupa as food for the ducks. Casava tuber is a prime source of staple food.

Remi, who is one of the interns, works with a team to produce the best burgers I have ever had. Their duck burger came third in a taste test and ducks are ideal for the Philippines as they can swim, are hardy so less dependent on antibiotics and taste great. They also produce local delicacies such as salty eggs.

Other enterprises include peanut butter, honey, cheese, ice cream, chocolate and, last but not least, MAD (Making a Difference) travel run by Thomas Campbell that organizes trips to the farm and other GK communities (http://madtravel.org).

Mosquito net as friend

All these entrepreneurs operate within 300m radius of each other and most of the ingredients are sourced from the farm or nearby, minimizing the imported content. They all support each other and the village and, while they endure some hardships - usually starting off sleeping in the villages with a mosquito net as their best friend and cold water showers to name a few, they are incredibly committed and having a lot of fun doing it.

I was fortunate enough to also meet some other amazing people. Prof Jack Sim really gives a shit about shit and single handedly has engendered awareness of the need for more public facilities to avoid those in poverty from taking a ‘dump’ on sidewalks, rail tracks which can lead to flies spreading diseases. Seeworldtoilet.org.

It may not be an issue in your neighborhood but travel through India and you will see the problem first hand. He was TIME magazine’s Hero of Environment in 2008 and his next mission is to bring all the various socially minded groups together on his ‘BoP Hub’, where leaders can join forces and share ideas to design businesses to end poverty. BoP stands for Base of Pyramid which is reflective of the 4 billion people globally who earn less than $8 a day.

Playing Good Samaritan

This all makes good business sense - even if you’re a pure capitalist by nature. Get the poorest four billion out of poverty and they will start to spend and buy your product. It’s pretty basic stuff but with 1% of the world’s population controlling 50+% of its wealth, the rich don’t seem to get it.

One clearly has to be careful though, as large corporate groups can play the ‘Good Samaritan’ and leverage their access to communities to introduce damaging products, such as for profit micro-financing based on unaffordable rates of interest.

The world’s largest soft drink manufacturer is developing various tools and ‘micro stores’ to help communities, which is commendable. Unfortunately though, they also sell a lot of obesity from such outlets. The sugar content of a standard soft drink is over 10% - multiple times what is good for our bodies. These companies will have to adapt/change, otherwise they risk being shunned in the future.

Needless to say, I found all the discussions during the summit on the farm super interesting and ‘fresh’. These are entrepreneurs I would love for my family and I to hang out with - to hear their, usually very humorous, stories of how they started off at the farm and how they overcame the various obstacles along the way.

The other unique feature of the farm is that at the more than 500 delegates were fed from local farm produce. When I arrived on the farm, I visited the pig pens which were full. On departing, I took another trip to find the last one being roasted on a spit for lunch. I would love to be a full vegetarian but to be honest the pork was better than anything I have tasted for a long while.

The ‘farm to fork’ process is better for all. The animals live far better lives with space and natural foods, have no suffering in transportation and are free from many of the diseases that impact ‘factory farmed’ animals. The meat is as fresh as one can get and has less antibiotics and other crap that gets pumped into factory-raised animals.

Another unique feature of the farm is how peaceful the place was. Even with 500+ delegates and the village folks, one was able to wander around with the feeling of being in the countryside. Not only that, it’s country side of a very welcoming people. Being on your own at midnight on a farm in the middle of nowhere and to feel totally at ease is increasingly a unique experience and there are unfortunately fewer and fewer parts of the developing world where one can do this.

SEED Scholars

Lastly, are the scholars. No fewer than 100 scholars are supported and taught at the EF. The program is known as SEED (School for Experiential and Entrepreneurial Development) where the scholars are taught by professionals, volunteers and the entrepreneurs. What I found interesting when talking to the latter was that these lessons indeed went both ways, with the students often knowing a solution to what they saw as a common problem which had the entrepreneur stuck. If those aren’t synergies, I don’t know what is.

This is a model that can be ideally replicated in many parts of the world.

Under Tony Meloto and his team’s leadership, hard work is absolutely core. It’s about commitment and I have seldom if ever come across a man so committed to what he is doing. He was able to greet everyone by name and always found the time to talk with you as he supervised all the proceedings on the farm.

He must be one of the most courageous, inspiring, hard-working and humble individuals I have met. He doesn't need to do what he does but he spends a huge amount of his time on the farm driving the teams to reach perfection – one of the principals in life he is an advocate of.

There are no half-measure. He’s also brutally frank and honest and could offend those with small minds - but this is often necessary to drive greater awareness and the people he engages with. He is now supported by a whole management team, but it’s his presence that you sense on the farm.

So what’s next?

Get involved and spread the word. I would like my wife to meet with the farmers and talk ‘organic’ and for my kids to meet the interns and entrepreneurs from whom they can learn a lot and hopefully do a bit of karaoke in the evenings.

My kids attend a school which is also developing its own social enterprise platform and this is where I hope I can act as a bridge between the various interest groups. Hopefully, they will all find their way onto Prof Jacks BoP hub.

With 1% of the population controlling over 50% of the worlds assets, the current system is not sustainable. Poverty and the massive skew in wealth eventually leads to conflict – an issue we are now witness to in the Middle East.

My recommendation? ` Chat with Tito Tony and get to understand his vision and then if you like what you see, spread the word. I for one want my kids to grow up in a safer, healthier and less corrupt world and organizations like GK can set the mission and create the template. Then it’s up to the rest of us to implement. We need to create a sustainable model that works for all, not just a few of us. By doing so, all of us can be better off.

Leaders from all over should also take a visit, in particular those from Zimbabwe and South Africa, to learn what effective land usage can mean. It’s not about taking, it’s about making - taking unproductive land and making it self-sustaining, wealth creating and beneficial for all.

Lastly, if you got this far, congrats - buy yourself some Human Nature - all the profits from which go back to supporting the GK efforts. No, I don’t work for them and they didn't ask me for the shout out, but aren't you sick and tired of forking out cash for stuff that’s filled with chemicals and made by pure for profit organizations, where any downturn is used as an excuse to fire people and profit is reserved for a select few. Also, their products are damn good.

If you want to hear Dylan’s story click on the link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bRP2V8JfuP8.

So if this makes any sense to you please share. Any change starts and ends with you.


Featured Sponsors

completely free