Filipinos Under 40 on Social Entrepreneurship and the Role of Non-Profit Organisations Today
Founding sustainable initiatives, steering non-profits, and ultimately sending up weary and anxious calls for social change, these fine young women and men are right on target with issues and speak of these with fire, logic, and full involvement. Social entrepreneurship is on the rise. And young advocates are fronting the intersection of good business sense and social, cultural, and environmental volunteerism. The time when social responsibility rested on the shoulders of those who founded and supported causes upon retirement has passed. The new generation of advocates has edged out the notion that professional and financial maturity built over a lifetime career is the baseline of giving back. These days, we don’t fear the full steam of youth.
Founding farmer and CEO of AGREA International, Cherrie De Erit Atilano, 33, has been teaching farmers best practices since she was 12. She grew up among sugarcane farmers in Negros Occidental, who could not collect income in the off-seasons and would eat rice with only soy sauce for nourishment.
Her mother had wanted her to be a doctor, but as she reached University age, she was adamant to pursue her passion for agriculture. She enrolled in an agricultural course at the Visayas State University in Leyte.
Twenty-one years of work in the sector came to a head in 2014 with her founding of AGREA International, the name being a portmanteau of “agriculture” and “Gaia,” a nod to nature.
One of AGREA’s main pillars is the eradication of hunger by upholding an ecology of dignity; that is, promoting the well-being of farmers as they work towards food security in their provinces.
Its goal is the development of a one-island economy through agriculture. In its first pilot farm in Marinduque, not only are new farming techniques, but also a holistic system that includes multi-cropping, marketing, and livelihood, are implemented.
“Philippine agriculture is so broken,” Atilano says. “We are an archipelago, and agricultural practices and support are individually mandated by Local Government Units [LGUs].” AGREA started piloting its core principles in Marinduque, and will soon be expanding to Siargao.
In 2010, Shanonraj Varsovia Khadka co-founded the Gawad Kalinga Enchanted Farm, the famous foundation’s incubator and training ground for social entrepreneurship and social tourism in Angat, Bulacan. Two years later, he spearheaded the building of a 30-hectare Farm Village University, the first in the world. It was set to be a convergence of community, industry, and university. The facility boasts a business incubation facility and a campus for young leaders alongside a GK Community.
Khadka was faced with challenges when he started the dream. He and his team were well aware of the amount of trust they had to build. They were hardly in a position to preach. They had the status of outsiders in the community, with lots of cred in market-based solutions and technological and innovational support, but with no relationships with the farmers to speak of.
“It’s all grounded on trust and relationships,” the 31-year-old emphasises. “We learn on the ground with the farmers. Who am I to teach them about farming? How can a farmer trust me when he knows nothing of my dreams?”
Khadka himself benefited from the lessons of GK Enchanted Farm. In 2012, he co-founded Bayani Brew, a purveyor of heritage beverages, following inspiration from the beverages already being produced on-campus. The products brandish “the heroism of farmers,” hence the name, and the potential of Filipino food products for local support and consumption.
In her quiet flurry of teenage activities, Arianna Maria Ortigas Borromeo’s work for Classikids, a non-profit formerly dedicated to giving ballet workshops, jumps out of her schedule. Her advocacy sometimes competes with schoolwork sometimes, but a precocious volunteer learns the art of time management much faster than a careerist could, mainly because of uncorrupted attachment to the meaning of one’s work.
What happens, then, when she studies architecture abroad? Borromeo assures us that the art workshops she established in Classikids will not fall by the wayside, as there are younger volunteers in her school, the British School of Manila, who can capably take up the reins.
The teenagers behind Classikids intended the non-profit to be a venue for therapy and trauma healing through dance and visual arts.
Borromeo introduced the visual arts department. Workshops follow “cycles,” or short curriculums teaching art history and painting techniques to public school students. Of late, workshops have expanded to a “Teach the Teachers” paradigm, with Borromeo helming the instruction of teachers in digital art.
She was 17 at the time of the interview, and when pressed for her 18th birthday plans the following week, she smiles calmly. Her advocacy might be cut out for her as soon as she starts shuttling between countries for university. But much like growing up, growing an advocacy doesn’t seem to faze her.
His longstanding passion for sports—football and basketball have their place —translated into a career for Miguel Martin Nacianceno Bermundo, 37. But instead of becoming a professional athlete, he put himself on the path of discovering and educating a future FIFA World Cup champion or a UAAP star player in football.
This former PE teacher co-founded Dream Big Pilipinas, a registered NGO that sets up free football clinics and camps for children of informal settlers. The organisation nurtures and develops sporting talent and provides scholarship opportunities in state universities and private educational institutions in search of varsity players.
Bermundo, who secured a coaching licence when the organisation took off, is proud of Dream Big’s spread-out approach to giving promising young athletes an education. “We realised that there are kids who don’t pass entrance exams mainly due to language barriers,” he says.
Dream Big then set up academic review materials and centres for English that also take in out-of-school youth on the promise that they will continue their studies. Some scholars who started out as nine-year-olds are now adults.
The other professional side of Miguel is consistent with football: he was hired by Globe Telecom to head its football advocacy. He has been with Globe ever since and now manages the company’s entire CSR programme.
Bermundo has then been instrumental in changing perceptions of the sport in the country. His CSR and NGO worlds have exposed him to the other effects of sports on community. Football is slowly gaining ground as a peacekeeping tool, for instance. It was just a matter of giving Filipinos playing time.
Climate change advocate Marianna Lopez Vargas, 28, rubs elbows with scientists and other technical experts in her workplace on a daily basis. As chief partner manager of her grandfather’s research non-profit, the Oscar M. Lopez Centre for Climate Change Adaptation and Disaster Risk Management Foundation, her job, mainly, is to make the work of experts heard and appreciated.
Vargas hails the centre’s establishment in 2012 as “almost prophetic.” It was the year before Typhoon Haiyan’s landfall, and, in her grandfather’s opinion, there was little imagination, let alone foresight, for the disastrous effects of climate change.
She is not a scientist herself, by her own admission, yet she feels like she has been “learning by osmosis” by being surrounded by experts. She had previously moved to Australia to study marine biology after earning a degree in Environmental Development, but she would early on realise that her place is in facilitating the interface of human well-being and environmental science.
Marianna seeks to protect the centre’s highly relevant research work, so she finds it important to give their in-house experts opportunities to continue their studies and convey their findings to the public.
Communicating the centre’s findings and avoiding the trappings of experts isolated in their technical talk were tasks that gave meaning to research. To this end she oversees the formation of partnerships with higher education institutions and science organisations.
Strengthening her grit in her advocacy is a key life event: motherhood. She finds herself suddenly involved and invested in a future that her son’s generation will experience.
The work of Eleanor Rosa Igna Pinugu, 34, has become synonymous with safe spaces. Mano Amiga, the school she built for children of low-income families, has flourished into a community unto itself, providing majority of its enrollees scholarship opportunities through a socialised tuition fee scheme. It has also pioneered project-based learning (PBL) in the country.
“Fourth graders have looked into the school’s electricity consumption in a bid to save costs,” she glows. “I would jokingly tell my admin assistant that she’s being driven out of a job!”
That’s but an example of a creative point of pride that Pinugu finds in social enterprise. She drives the wedge between the latter and charity by stressing fund independence. Fundraisers can only do so much, but Pinugu is bent on her target of five schools by 2025 through a financially sustainable model weaned from them. Currently, her team is studying locations in Tagaytay and Tanauan, and is expanding phase two of the present campus to accommodate 800 more students.
She Talks Asia is her other safe space. As a co-founder, Pinugu finds that the platform allows women to feel, express, and empower themselves by removing the stigma around certain topics. Last October, co-founder Iza Calzado revealed losing her mother to depression and suicide and struggling with her own mental health issues. Pinugu herself recalls a conference tackling the #MeToo movement that brokered healing testimonies from participating women.
Pinugu is a recent awardee of the 2019 edition of the Obama Foundation Asia Pacific Leaders, a yearlong programme developing young leaders in the region. Its “values-based, ethical leadership” platform captures Lynn’s back story, from her beginnings as a young missionary in Mexico to her current efforts in spreading the twin gifts of education and women empowerment.
Carlo Manuel Villarta Delantar, 27, had been operating on a normative view of social impact: he thought a business’s natural recourse was to take care of its employees. This perception could practically be a DNA imprint. He saw his parents as the quintessential benevolent business owners, providing housing for their employees and scholarship opportunities for their children.
Then he went to college. His family of manufacturers in Cebu suddenly came to light as “a minority” in championing social impact in business.
“I felt that businesses should be pro-communities, pro-collaboration, pro-impact,” he pronounces. Social impact would be an area “where he could thrive,” and as such, he builds and disseminates narratives of needs, assistance, changing consumerist mindsets, and circular economies. He is, foremost, a storyteller.
This vein runs through all his platforms, whether for his work in Waves 4 Water, an international nonprofit providing a simple clean water technology to areas hit by natural disasters, or Altum, a design and strategy studio with base in Makati that he co-founded. The Cebuano had packed his bags and put down some roots in Manila where he felt he could serve “the richest of the rich and the poorest of the poor,” connecting fund sources from the metropolis to impact areas in Cebu and other far-flung communities.
Waves 4 Water served as his post-Haiyan confrontation of the need to simplify innovations. Delantar went around communities, demonstrating the extraction of clean water from a simple membranous instrument that mimics the mechanism of kidney dialysis. It’s the small tweaks in daily life where the big societal changes reside, he finds. Meanwhile, Altum and his exposure to other business models and practices, notably those of outdoor gear maker Patagonia, throw up the digital age entrepreneur in him.
- Photography Jinggo Montenejo
- Hair Jeff Valenzuela
- Make-Up Jeff Valenzuela