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Connecting 'good growth' to genuine poverty reduction
[Date Created: October 14, 2014]

by Lean Alfred Santos

* This article was published in last October 7, 2014. It is reposted here with permission from the author. Devex is a social enterprise and media platform for the global development community. More than 500,000 aid workers and development professionals and 1,000 donors, companies, and NGOs are Devex members. Founded at Harvard Kennedy School in 2000, Devex has 100 staff in four offices around the world.

Gawad Kalinga Founder Tony Meloto delivers a speech during the 2014 Social Business Summit.
The event brought together social entrepreneurs, development professionals,
government officials and members of the civil society, among others.

As the global aid community finds itself at a crossroads with the Millennium Development Goals set to expire by the end of 2015 and a new development framework in the works, the focus remains on “good growth” and poverty reduction.

The question is — how can we make this growth “genuinely” inclusive?

While there’s no easy answer to that conundrum, one way forward many development practitioners agree can work is to support social enterprises to not only empower the poor by making them economic stakeholders as consumers, but also active partners in development as (mini) social entrepreneurs themselves.

Philippine Senator Bam Aquino, for one, believes that social businesses — putting poverty reduction at the heart of the business imperative — can act as a “bridge” to connect different development stakeholders to create an investment-conducive environment for this new breed of enterprises to thrive.


“Social enterprise is a bridge. It connects communities (farming, poor, remotes ones) with markets, local government, national agencies and civil society organizations,” he explained during local nonprofit Gawad Kalinga’s second Social Business Summit attended by Devex last week. “We need to connect the stakeholders to bridge development and ensure inclusive growth.”

Aquino added that focusing on the people and their improvement as productive members of society through entrepreneurship training and capacity building gives a better return of investment than just regarding them as passive recipients of aid money, highlighting GK’s mandate that “the poor are not lazy, they are just disconnected.”

“What was needed? We need to organize them, give them capacity building and connections to develop,” the senator noted. “[This is how] we connect communities to work together so this development that we always talk about can be achieved without leaving anyone behind.”

Gawad Kalinga, one of the Philippines’ biggest development organizations, has evolved from a group that builds houses for and with the poor to a global network of volunteers, experts and development practitioners committed to eradicate poverty by empowering the poor by bringing back their dignity and sense of purpose — that the only people who can help them get out of poverty is themselves.

One of the group’s biggest achievements to date has been building its Enchanted Farm project north of Manila, aptly called the “Silicon Valley of social businesses” by Tony Meloto, GK’s charismatic and iconic founder, who underscored that social enterprises face one challenge above all: sustainability.

“We need the social enterprises to be sustainable: something that will last and stay,” Meloto, adding that a change in mindset needs to happen because sustainability is not only about profit, but about people being at the center of growth and development. “We can only end poverty together. [The] social entrepreneur is the missing brother in development. Social enterprises is not a one-night stand, it needs commitment.”

Being a social entrepreneur

While being a social entrepreneur is not — and will not — be a walk in the park, becoming one, according to a well-known local social entrepreneur, only requires three things: vision, commitment and compassion.

Dylan Wilk, vice chairman of social enterprise Gandang Kalikasan, which is making waves selling sustainable cosmetics and hygiene products in the Philippines through its wellness venture Human Nature, shared that having a vision for what you want to do as a social business is crucial because it will serve as the guiding light moving forward.


“Have your vision and live up to it. Always have the community’s development as the center of your business. Profit comes second,” Wilk said. “It's not an easy thing to do, but you have to have that commitment and goal and you have to stick with it.”

Commitment is also crucial, mainly in the belief that poor people can improve the business operations and themselves.

Finally, Wilk said that, above all, being a social entrepreneur means that compassion is present, because the people are at the center of the whole business operations and development pursuit.

“If you're a social enterprise, you don't exist for the sole purpose that your employee can [and should] serve you. You are there for them, for their development and progress,” he said, citing his own firm’s no-firing policy. “People make mistakes, but there's good in them. You have to find that good as a social entrepreneur and help them build on that good.”

Wilk concluded: “Don't extinguish the passion in your people [to change and contribute] to your enterprise and to the bigger development scheme, you have to set the fire bigger.”

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