Nanette Medved-Po Shares Generation HOPE's Progress and Impact to Education and Beyond
Nanette Medved-Po—founder, chairman, and president of the non-profit organisation Generation HOPE—is totally in her element in a remote school outside General Santos, South Cotabato, Mindanao, which has become incredibly meaningful for her of late. “On Mondays, 46 kids walk three hours with one teacher from home to here,” Medved-Po shares. “There used to be only a shed where they would study, then sleep in until Friday, when they would walk the three hours back home. This was a school with no buildings, electricity, or water. Now they have classrooms—and this is the first time for Generation HOPE to build something more than just that.”
Well-versed with other non-profits such as World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF) and Bantay Bata, Medved-Po knew fundraising for a cause had its challenges. In a flash of inspiration, she came up with HOPE in a Bottle, a bottle of purified water just like any other in the market, with one main difference: 100 per cent of its profits are donated towards building classrooms. Generation HOPE finds retail partners to buy its product, the customers who buy HOPE in a Bottle at those locations create profits for the company, and the profits build schools identified by the Department of Education (DepEd)’s Adopt-a-School programme in the neediest of areas in the Philippines.
According to generationhope.ph, classroom shortage is a real problem, resulting in lower achievement and lower engagement levels in students. DepEd says 84,000 classrooms need to be built to bridge the gap in classroom deficiencies all over the country.
“When I started HOPE in March 2012 it was very much a foreign environment for me,” Medved-Po says. “I had no idea what I was doing. Knowing my goal, I just had to put one foot in front of the other. It was a challenge and a very humbling experience for me, but I was super fortunate to surround myself with people who knew much more than I. As a result, I learnt things I never thought I could.”
Medved-Po reveals a current movement at HOPE beyond selling water, yet still creating impact. “We partner with other businesses if they want to build classrooms through us with their name on it. At the end of the day, both our objectives are fulfilled. Let’s take that HOPE effect and share it,” says Medved-Po.
Companies like National Bookstore and Sanicare already offer consumer products like co-branded notebooks and tissue boxes, profits for which go towards building classrooms. “If companies don’t have the capability to do this in-house, we can work with them to do something together. Even if we only get one, two, or 10 classrooms out of it, it’s better than none,” says Medved-Po.
Since its inception, Generation HOPE has sold over 27 million products and as a result has built 91 classrooms, with the goal of reaching 100 by the end of the year. It has helped at least 16,983 students. “I know we talk about HOPE in terms of how many bottles we sell, but the truth is, we don’t really see ourselves as a water company—we see ourselves as an impact company,” reveals Medved- Po. “We just so happen to be selling water to build our classrooms. If we decided to sell something else, instead, it would be totally fine, as long as there is impact for social good.”
To further emphasise this, HOPE recently launched a brand-new initiative—HOPE in a Star: an online fundraiser that allows donors to win a once-in-a-lifetime experience with their favourite Filipino celebrities, like Omaze from California. For a minimum donation of 20 pesos, fans might win a trip to Sarangani with Erwan Heussaff, a workout session with Iza Calzado, karaoke with James Reid and Nadine Lustre, or backstage access and a day with Pia Wurtzbach. “Celebrities choose what experience they want to host and work with us for free. They are leveraging the power of their celebrity and their fans for good—to help nation build with classrooms,” says Medved-Po.
The Engine That Could
For someone who keeps mostly to herself, Medved-Po’s humanitarian efforts with HOPE have sparked some international attention. In 2016, she was invited to speak at a TED X ADMU talk on the topic “Is it enough to be just profitable?” Here she discussed how today’s generation looks for something other than money. “There is certainly room to be profitable and responsible at the same time. Businesses have a unique opportunity to do good, right? I know very few companies will follow in our footsteps committing 100 per cent, but they don’t need to.”
In 2017, Medved-Po was bestowed the honour of becoming one of only three Filipinos on Forbes Magazine’s Heroes of Philanthropy in Asia. “When I saw the Forbes listing, I didn’t think of it as, ‘Hey, I’ve arrived!’ but, ‘What a great opportunity to shine the light on a new way of doing business’,” she says. “We certainly know we are not a giant in this space—we are just little guys trying to make a difference.” In March this year, Medved-Po was invited to talk about HOPE with the non-profit organisation Winrock International in Washington, DC. She now sits on its board.
Despite all these personal achievements, Medved-Po is always quick to point out that HOPE’s success is a team effort, something she has espoused since the inception of HOPE. In June, she posted photos on Instagram of classroom turnovers in Marawi. Although many netizens complimented her on the achievement, Medved-Po clarified in her comments, with grace, that many companies and contributors made the classrooms possible.
Medved-Po has placed HOPE HQ in her home’s basement because she wants to be a wife and a mother, while doing good work. It is here where she introduced Joie, who works at HOPE and manages its classroom programmes. “When Joie showed up in Culot, an indigenous peoples’ community, she thought she was in the wrong place because not a single structure could be found,” recounts Medved-Po. “She then realised that DepEd had only provided the land but didn’t have the budget for a structure.”
She explains this project is special because it will have two structures instead of one, a classroom plus a dormitory that will eventually become another classroom for the 46 children and their teacher. “A company in the US sponsored the whole thing. I was in New York for a press conference and I told the company owner the story of the kids. He literally wept and said, ‘We will find that for you.’”
Medved-Po sees this project as a true community effort. HOPE usually builds the classrooms, but Medved- Po reveals the military has offered to provide additional labour. “The children associate soldiers with something else, especially because of Marawi, but now they can see them building their classrooms—it’s especially meaningful,” she says. Moreover, she found another organisation to provide food for the children. “We are praying that there is someone willing to provide solar panels because there is no electricity here. After that, it’s just finding a water solution for them. This is not normally what we do,” she says.
What do big companies such as Patagonia, TOMS, and Ben and Jerry’s have in common with Generation HOPE? They all belong to an elite subset of companies that have earned a Certified B Corporation. “We are the first Philippine company to become B-certified,” says Medved-Po proudly. “We are now part of a movement of thousands of global companies who meet the highest standard of social and environmental accountability.” This stringent form of certification not only measures profits but also purpose, and for Generation HOPE to become B-certified, it should promise a commitment to positive impact for the long haul.
HOPE ticks all the boxes for the prestigious B-certification in every way. Aside from building classrooms with its profits, it highlights sustainability. HOPE worked with Green Antz Builders to create ecobricks from post-consumer plastic as building material for the schools, but Medved-Po wanted something even more meaningful to reduce HOPE’s footprint and get it to zero.
“After some trial and error, we became the first company in the Philippines to be plastic-neutral,” she says. Akin to the idea of offsetting a carbon footprint, a company can offset the equivalent of plastic that it releases to the environment. HOPE has eliminated 100 per cent of its plastic packaging footprint from January 2018, introduced non-plastic solutions like boxed water, reusable containers, and out-of-the-box ideas like HOPE in a Star. “We didn’t want to help solve one problem in education by creating another in the environment. We work with environmentally compliant co-processors that use post-consumer plastic to fuel their cement plants instead of coal—it’s a resource recovery for end-of-life plastics. This may not be the perfect solution, but given the options present now in the Philippines, we wanted to do something rather than nothing—until there is a better solution. Good shouldn’t be the enemy of great,” says Medved-Po.
As a result of becoming plastic-neutral, other companies have started to seek the advice of HOPE on how they can do the same. “We started a whole new company called Hope X, which is a plastic credit exchange platform that will allow us to scale plastic removal,” says Medved-Po. Aside from helping companies in the Philippines, HOPE is also working with those overseas. “I’m super excited because you always hear about how the Philippines is the third worst offender for ocean plastic pollution, but it may just be that a Philippine company helps frame a global solution.”
Continuing to sail in unchartered waters and taking huge risks can be frightening to Medved-Po, but the risk is worth the reward. “My greatest joy has been to witness the real enthusiasm people have to be involved in building social good,” she says. “It is such an inspiration to watch all the pieces come together to deliver…hope.”
- Photography Xyza Cruz Bacani
- Styling Monique Madsen
- Hair Claire Seelin Diokno
- Make-Up Claire Seelin Diokno
- Location Culot S. Aligado Indigenous People High School, Bawing, General Santos