Thursday, February 24, 2011

People power of the most profitable kind

People power of the most profitable kind
By Tina Arceo-Dumlao
Philippine Daily Inquirer
February 24, 2011

MANILA, Philippines—A veteran social development worker scathingly remarked during a major conference that a group or company cannot rightfully claim that it is “doing good” if it is “making a profit.”

As far as the leader of the non-government organization is concerned, a decent profit and noble work to help Filipinos move out of poverty do not—and must not—go together.

Social entrepreneurs MicroVentures, Rags2Riches, Hybrid Social Solutions Inc. (HSSI) and Gifts & Graces beg to disagree.

The prime movers of these social ventures stressed during the recently concluded People-Powered Markets exhibit organized by PinoyME, Ninoy & Cory Aquino Foundation and the Philippine Business for Social Progress that contrary to popular belief, it is indeed possible to marry the objectives of earning a profit to sustain operations and helping less fortunate Filipinos have a better life.

They and other social entrepreneurs are showing how to do just that, and they hope to encourage other like-minded individuals and groups to take part in the new “people power” revolution that combines pro-poor work and profit.

Rags2Riches and Gifts and Graces earn from selling goods produced by people’s organizations and small communities to the country’s huge fashion, novelty and home-products market.

The multi-awarded Rags2Riches focuses on women in Payatas who transform scrap fabric into woven works of art according to the designs of fashion designer Rajo Laurel, bag artist Amina Aranaz and furniture designer Kenneth Cobonpue.

Because Rags2Riches is able to link their products to the marketplace, the Payatas women now earn much more than what they used to get from selling foot rugs.

Gifts and Graces follows the same track as Rags2Riches, but is involved with a bigger number of organizations that produce a wide range of products, from home ware to fashion accessories.

It helps these organizations by improving the quality and design of their products as well as enhancing their production efficiency so that they can sell more products, thus boosting their profit.

Meanwhile, MicroVentures supervises the Hapinoy chain of sari-sari stores, and helps the variety (sari-sari) store owners by giving them access to more goods at less cost.

Main items for sale are personal, home-care and food products such as soap, shampoo, toothpaste and canned goods. They also earn a good profit from selling over-the-counter medicine and phone credits.

MicroVentures is able to do this by aggregating these thousands of sari-sari stores so that they have a better bargaining position with product manufacturers such as Unilever, Nestle and Unilab.

For MarcVentures, its work is about harnessing the power of the sari-sari store and providing the owners—mostly women—with increased income.

HSSI, on the other hand, seeks to address the problem of access of rural poor to electricity, initially through the sale of solar home appliances to homes not efficiently serviced by the national power grid due to their remote location.

HSSI’s mission is to provide all communities with high-quality goods and services for development. Additional products in the pipeline include water purifiers, self-adjustable eyeglasses and efficient cook stoves.

The company could have chosen to distribute other products, but it decided to concentrate on these much-needed goods to contribute to national development.

Rags2Riches, MicroVentures, Gifts & Graces and HSSI are just a few that have adopted the social entrepreneurship model. Hopefully, others will follow in their lead to bring about a new kind of development.