BOOK REVIEW: FOR THE PEOPLE, WITH THE PEOPLE — Developing Social Enterprises in the Philippines

by Rose Churma

Last February 4, a Hawaii-based non-profit, the Hawaii-Philippines Business and Economic Council, hosted a talk-story on social entrepreneurship. One of the panelists was Al Valenciano of Balay ni Atong.  This center’s mission is to revive the inabel, the traditional textiles of the Ilocos by working closely with the weavers in efforts to sustain the weaving tradition. It struck a nerve with the audience—it showed the power of the collective. As the editor of this book notes in her preface, “…how bringing together business people, development workers and community leaders can create much more impact than simply doling out money.”  

This book is a compilation of stories of how ordinary people created extraordinary opportunities in empowering urban women, turning garbage into gold, and providing an income stream for the poor, or housing for the homeless. The publication examines Filipino social enterprise that have helped change the country, and eight of these enterprises are featured in this book.

The first enterprise featured is Kamay Krafts who focuses on empowering women. This cooperative believes that women are responsible and reliable and have the capacity to contribute to the income of their families. They also adhere to the philosophy of fair trade, which means that just compensation should be provided to all its workers even if it results in a more expensive product.

One of their products that sold internationally is fashionable bags made from discarded juice packets that they have scavenged from garbage dumps like the Payatas.  A similar enterprise is Rags2Riches, formed by a partnership of students, alumni and professors of Ateneo, De La Salle and the University of the Philippines with women of Payatas. It was a project to improve the livelihood of women and eliminate social injustice.

Rags2Riches, as its founders pointed out, is not a charitable organization but a business enterprise. The women made rugs from discarded scraps of clothing, but middlemen and lack of design sense had kept their income stream low to non-existent.

The breakthrough of Rags2Riches came with the involvement of the multi-awarded designer Rajo Laurel who rolled one of the rugs and said, “this is not a rug but a wine holder.” Instead of creating items that people step on or wipe their feet with the rugs metamorphosed into bags, laptop covers, yoga mats and other designer items. By designing it well and giving value to the aesthetic touch, the items can be priced well that increased income for the women.

The sari-sari store is a familiar icon in the Philippines in both urban and rural settings. There are more than 700,000 sari-sari stores across the Philippines, sustaining low-income Filipino families. But this micro-business is not dependable and are faced with inefficiency and low profitability.

Most sari-sari store owners have problems maintaining an inventory and accessing transport of the goods, and oftentimes have limited capital—thus the creation of Hapinoy.

The enterprise is a mutually beneficial partnership of local manufacturers with sari-sari store owners. It is a chain of sari-sari stores that are owned and managed by micro-finance borrowers. The program provides a comprehensive package of benefits to women micro-entrepreneurs through access to business loans, partnerships with manufacturers, and training in capacity building, character and values formation, as well as improvements of the physical space of the sari-sari store.

A vital feature of Hapinoy is the manufacturers who provide the stores with the best possible price, and thus increasing the sari-sari store’s profit margins. At the same time, market reach of the manufacturers is expanded—a win-win situation for both.

The other social enterprises featured are Conti’s Multi-Purpose Cooperative, a source of low-interest financing for its employees; Gawad Kalinga who built homes all over the country; Pathways to Higher Education helps less privileged high school students get a college degree; Venture for Fundraising, an organization that helps non-profits learn how to raise funds; and Center for Agriculture and Rural Development (CARD), an innovative leader in the micro-finance industry.


ROSE CRUZ CHURMA is a retired architect who now has the time to do the things she always wanted to do: read books, write about them and encourage others to write. Her online bookstore, Kalamansi Books and Things (facebook.com/kalamansibooks), promotes Filipiniana books and publications by Filipino-Americans. Email her at kalamansibooks@gmail.com.


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