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SOCIAL BUSINESS SUMMIT 2013: No ordinary love story
[Date Created: September 30, 2013]

by Thomas Graham


REGISTER FOR THE SOCIAL BUSINESS SUMMIT HERE.

(This article, published in the Philippine Star last August 18, is part of a series on the Social Business Summit. Visit www.philstar.com for the online version).


>> Read the 1st article in the series: "Social Business Summit: Through the Gates of Heaven"
>> Read the 2nd article in the series: "Social Business Summit 2013: Global Change-makers are Coming"

>> Read the 3rd article in the series: "Social Business Summit 2013: Made in Payatas, sold in London"

>> Read the 4th article in the series: "Social Business Summit 2013: 'Sosyal' or Social Entrepreneur?"

>> Read the 6th article in the series: "Social Business Summit 2013: All Roads Lead to Bulacan"

>> Read the 7th article in the series: "Social Business Summit 2013: More fun and fulfillment in Phl"

>> Read the 8th article in the series: "Social Business Summit 2013: From eco-warrior to eco-entrepreneur"



It has all the hallmarks of a typical “east meets west” love story: a successful British businessman visits the Philippines on a short trip, falls in love and showers the object of his affection with gifts and kind words.


This time, however, there is a twist, since Dylan Wilk found love not in an Internet chat room or on the beautiful beaches of Boracay, but in a Gawad Kalinga village. “The more I interacted with the people who were part of GK, the more I fell in love with Filipinos. The most heroic people I had met in my life were there – ordinary people who were sacrificing so much just to care for others.”



Having already left the business world at the age of 25 in search of a more meaningful career, Dylan encountered a cause – GK – which inspired him to give away all his wealth. However, his philanthropy could not last forever – Dylan’s money was running out while the challenge to end poverty would remain as overwhelming, and as urgent, as ever.



Going beyond charity


Having already fallen in love with the Philippines, Dylan then fell for a Filipina, Anna Meloto, and the couple married in 2004. In many ways, Dylan and Anna were coming from opposite extremes. Anna, the daughter of Gawad Kalinga founder Tony Meloto, had watched her father tirelessly help build the Gawad Kalinga movement. She remained committed to the cause, but also felt the time was right to set up a business and provide a sustainable future for their prospective family. Dylan, however, remained unconvinced: “When I left the business world, I never wanted to go back. The obsession with profit didn’t bring out the best in me.”


Having decided to spend a year in the US, Anna and her sister Camille came across their business idea: “We noticed that natural health and beauty products were available to ordinary Americans at normal prices, while in the Philippines only the elite could afford them. However, looking at the ingredients, we realized that a lot of them could be grown in our country,” Anna recalls. “Camille and I really wanted to start an enterprise, but we didn’t want to do it without Dylan’s business experience.”


Camille and Anna’s ideas got a reluctant Dylan thinking: instead of philanthropy, what if the power of business could be galvanized to help eradicate poverty? What if the raw materials could be grown in GK communities, therefore providing them with a source of income?


Dylan founded Human Nature with Anna Meloto-Wilk and Camille Meloto

Anna founded Human Nature with husband Dylan and sister Camille - See more at: http://gk1world.com/anna-meloto-wilk-commencement-speech-for-esa#sthash.UxMWRxqZ.dpuf


Camille, Dylan and Anna moved back to the Philippines and established Human Nature. Starting out in a cramped room with “zero marketing budget,” Human Nature has since emerged as one of the fastest growing beauty and cosmetic brands in the Philippines under its slogan: pro-Philippines, pro-poor, pro-environment. All of the products are made with natural ingredients which are sourced – wherever and whenever possible – in the Philippines.


I visited one of the communities in Davao where sunflower and passion fruit are grown for Human Nature products and there I met the GK village leader Jaime, a man who has been farming for over 20 years: “Before, it was very difficult because we were dependent on selling to a middle-man, who was in a position to entirely dictate the price to us.” If the price was too low, Jaime explained to me, the farmers in his community earned barely enough to survive. With little incentive to make the land productive and profitable, many farmers leave the countryside in search of jobs and opportunities in the city, exacerbating the country’s urban overcrowding.



Empowering farming communities


However, Human Nature goes beyond dealing directly with growers and giving an above-average price for the raw materials it sources. I visited another community outside Bacolod where the village has invested in a processing plant for lemongrass. By doing it on site, value is added to the product and the proceeds remain within the community.


Furthermore, a community in Bicol has recently pooled their savings to purchase an extra four hectares of land in order to expand their citronella production, thereby producing more oil which they can sell on to Human Nature (or, potentially, anyone else). This was a major step forward, Dylan tells me, as they took this initiative without Human Nature asking them to do so: “The community has gone from a beneficiary mentality to taking control themselves, expanding their capacity to produce without our help.”



Dylan Wilk at the sunflower plantation in GK Pueblo Antonio, Catigan, Davao;

Citronella farmers of Kanapawan, Camarines Norte share a laugh while taking a break from the harvest

(Photos c/o Human Nature)


Of course, there is no use in a community purchasing land if they lack the experience or expertise to manage this land effectively: “In addition to specific agricultural training, we are teaching farmers to conduct simple record keeping and financial projections, to make sure they can maximize the profits they generate,” Anna tells me.


Another aspect of Human Nature’s advocacy for social business is their commitment to recruiting nearly half of their staff from impoverished communities, thereby offering opportunities, training and an “ethical” wage (as opposed to a minimum wage) of at least P750 per day to staff who would otherwise languish on the margins of the mainstream economy. Implementing this policy brings challenges: “Some of our staff haven’t had the education we’ve had, and often they haven’t had good role models in their environment either, so you have to expect that they will mess up occasionally.” However, to motivate the less schooled to give their best, free from the constant fear of losing their job, Human Nature has introduced a no firing policy: “As a result, our staff have realized that we believe in them, and that we are not going to give up on them,” Dylan maintains.


The concept of a no firing policy may be met with incredulity or scepticism by Manila’s hardened business elite, and yet Dylan tells me this policy has had a beneficial effect on employee performance: “Our staff have improved consistently over time, and now are as capable as those that worked for me in our warehouse in the UK, in terms of accuracy/standards, etc.”



Toward a change in mindset


Is it not too idealistic to hope that we can revolutionize the way we do business? Dylan doesn’t believe so. He tells me the story of Titus Salt, a 19th century British factory owner from Dylan’s hometown: “One day, he visited one of his factories and was appalled by the conditions there. They were so bad that some of the workers there had a life expectancy of just 18 years old.” Titus Salt went against the flow of the times and took action. “He improved conditions in his factory, and decided to build another town for his workers, building terraced houses, schools, and even public baths. This had never been done before, and presumably people thought he was crazy.” Sounds very much like GK's passion to build communities for the poor which inspired him to leave England and live in the Philippines.


This story only began to mean something to Dylan once he started working in the Philippines. “When workers are in need, here it is often only the employer who can help them. So in Human Nature we started to realize that the way business is done could have a profound impact on the country. Business has more money than government, and yet we often think that only government has the responsibility to make life better for our people."


The Human Nature flagship store in Commonwealth Ave. also showcases world-class Filipino products made by other social entrepreneurs

(Photos c/o Human Nature)

The Human Nature flagship store in Commonwealth Ave. also showcases world-class Filipino products made by other social entrepreneurs (Photos c/o Human Nature) - See more at: http://gk1world.com/anna-meloto-wilk-commencement-speech-for-esa#sthash.UxMWRxqZ.dpuf
The Human Nature flagship store in Commonwealth Ave. also showcases world-class Filipino products made by other social entrepreneurs (Photos c/o Human Nature) - See more at: http://gk1world.com/anna-meloto-wilk-commencement-speech-for-esa#sthash.UxMWRxqZ.dpuf


The greater objective of Human Nature is not to grow the company at all costs, but rather to demonstrate that a different approach to business really can prosper: “If we can convince lots of different business owners to make small changes, then it will have a far bigger impact than what we can achieve as an individual business.”


For Dylan and Anna, Human Nature is an example of a social enterprise, where people matter as much as profit, thriving in the world of business – where previously Dylan, in particular, had seen mostly greed and self-ambition.


Indeed, ten years after he first arrived in the Philippines, he continues to talk about his adopted country with all the enthusiasm of a love-struck teenager. So consumed is he by his passion to eradicate poverty, it is easy to forget that Dylan is also an experienced, highly successful entrepreneur.


But then again, this is no ordinary love story.



Dylan and Anna will be presenting at the Social Business Summit. Join them and other global change-makers at the Social Business Summit 2013 on Oct. 2-5 at the Enchanted Farm for a life-changing experience. For more information, visit the website www.socialbusinesssummit.net.


***


The author is a British journalist who came to the Philippines on a short-term assignment. He has since stayed 20 months in the country, volunteering for Gawad Kalinga and other causes. His experiences will be documented in a book: “The Genius of the Poor.”


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