Thursday, October 07, 2010

Inspiring change, restoring dignity

Inspiring change, restoring dignity
Business World - Online Edition
October 7, 2010

Antonio P. Meloto
Gawad Kalinga Community Development Foundation

Statistics indicate that nearly one-third of the country’s total population is impoverished. That translates to about 30 million Filipinos living in urban slums or in underdeveloped regions that lack sanitation, safe drinking water, access to food and employment, and other basic necessities. Moreover, the greatest damage that poverty inflicts can be invisible -- these are the moral and spiritual scars that living in squalor has inflicted on the Filipino psyche. Convinced that something had to be done, Antonio P. Meloto, chairman of the Gawad Kalinga Community Development Foundation, was moved to act.

A life-altering spiritual encounter with God in 1985 led Mr. Meloto to join Couples for Christ, a Catholic lay ecclesial movement. Through the organization’s ministry work, he organized outreach and youth programs for the residents of Bagong Silang in Caloocan City, a vast relocation site for the urban poor in Metro Manila.

It was in Bagong Silang where Mr. Meloto experienced the resigned desperation of the poor. He witnessed how dangerous drugs and vices were destroying the youth; how young children were forced to abandon school and start working. But beneath the hopelessness, Mr. Meloto also saw their yearning to better their lives. Willingness was evident, but opportunity was lacking. Mr. Meloto resolved to create these opportunities.

"It defies logic that a country so gifted with natural resources and talented people can remain so poor. Change must come about for hope to be regained," he says. Mr. Meloto adds that this change must come, not in the form of handouts and donations, but in something more enduring. He envisioned a sustainable, community-based program to help the marginalized poor reclaim their right to a decent life, beginning with a roof above their heads.

This premise led to the Gawad Kalinga Community Development Foundation (GK). Drawing support and volunteers from Couples for Christ, Mr. Meloto began renovating the poorest areas of Bagong Silang, transforming it into a safe neighborhood with well-built and comfortable homes. In 1999, Mr. Meloto and his volunteers proudly applied the finishing touches to the first GK house ever built.

After the initial success of Bagong Silang, Mr. Meloto began to identify new sites for GK Villages. The movement eventually swept the nation, bringing together advocates, sponsors and volunteers from all sectors of society to build homes for the homeless. Brightly painted houses and communal facilities such as multipurpose halls, schools and clinics steadily rose in GK Villages around the country. With a home to call their own, the once poor and idle recipients were motivated to lead productive lives.

At the outset, GK’s financial resources mainly came from the Couples for Christ community. Barely four years after its formal launch in 2001, the foundation experienced a significant growth in finances as corporations supported the GK vision. Mr. Meloto asserts, "The problem of poverty is immense. Our response cannot be small. So we leveraged on widespread public-private partnerships to encourage collaboration between the government, corporations, landowners and other stakeholders."

To manage GK’s growth, the foundation was restructured to include policies to regulate future developments, and to guarantee transparency and credibility. New homes will only be given to the poorest families in every target community. These homes cannot be sold and, while the beneficiaries would not have to pay for their new homes, they would have to take part in its construction. Mr. Meloto explains, "In GK, we refer to it as sweat equity. It creates a sense of ownership, and is part of our goal to provide every Filipino with the dignity of a decent home and neighborhood."

GK also conceptualized four guidelines to be followed in all its programs: each GK project must be doable, visible, quantifiable and replicable. Furthermore, every initiative is founded on the same credo of less for self, more for others, enough for all.

Under Mr. Meloto’s guidance, GK has evolved into a thriving social enterprise, creating wealth to uplift the lives of the less fortunate. It has been granted a five-year accreditation with the Philippine Council for NGO Certification and is authorized to issue certificates of donations to its donors.

Furthermore, GK has grown to become an international humanitarian movement. Its vision has reached out to nations like Cambodia, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. The GK Village model is being replicated in other countries where the poor become beneficiaries of new homes. Its success can be largely attributed to its philosophy of counterparting -- everyone is welcomed as stakeholders rather than donors. This mind-set has made it possible for GK to forge strong alliances and opened opportunities for collaboration.

According to Mr. Meloto, GK’s core virtue is social transformation. GK communities work hard to remain virtually crime-free, where children are in schools and the youth have found hope renewed. Families undergo Christian formation and are taught livelihood skills. Eventually, GK Villages are expected to become self-governing. This transformation spans the full social spectrum, as stakeholders themselves are changed by their own acts of generosity and "bayananihan" (communal unity).

While there are many GK success stories, an example that stands out is the so-called rebirth of Camarines Sur (CamSur). Once a poverty-ridden and underdeveloped province, CamSur has become a prime leisure destination welcoming thousands of tourists every year. Today, the province’s 300,000 public high school and elementary students enjoy free education and malnutrition has dropped considerably. Much of this is attributed to CamSur’s 120 GK Villages. To promote entrepreneurship, GK established its GKnomiks program, where business experts share their knowledge and creative skills to help enterprises become self-sustaining and self-reliant.

CamSur is now ready for the next phase of the GK development model -- social artistry. This is where wealth is created through enterprise and distributed through philanthropy.

By 2024, GK aims to reach 50,000 villages -- one in every barangay in the Philippines, including conflict-ridden territories in Sulu, Samar and Bicol. Mr. Meloto hopes to achieve this dream through the Kalinga Legislative Bills, developed with the help of the University of the Philippines School of Public Administration and Governance.

As a social entrepreneur, Antonio P. Meloto encourages Filipinos to aspire to make a difference. He counsels, "Don’t work for success, work for greatness. Success is about achieving for yourself. Greatness is about achieving for others."


The Entrepreneur Of The Year Philippines 2010 is sponsored by SAP Philippines. Official airline is KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, operating on behalf of the Air-France KLM Group in the Philippines. Media sponsors are BusinessWorld and the ABS-CBN News Channel. The winners of the Entrepreneur Of The Year Philippines 2010 will be announced on October 12, 2010 at an awards banquet at the Makati Shangri-La Hotel. The Entrepreneur Of The Year Philippines will represent the country in the World Entrepreneur Of The Year 2010 in Monte Carlo, Monaco, in June 2011. The Entrepreneur Of The Year is produced globally by Ernst & Young.