People over profit

Shadz Loresco
People over profit
Social enterprises bring opportunities for sustainability to people long marginalized in the name of profit-making

Individuals sharing a vision, likely even blood, hatch plans to take a path less traveled. Off they march to disaster zones, depressed communities, agriculturallands, rural areas, or neglected neighborhoods.

They start scaling solutions to nonprofit concerns, such as job creation and education, using market-oriented strategies that have made the country’s conglomerates huge and top 50 clans richer.

The impact economy in the Philippines rises to fill gaps and make growth inclusive. Its approach to poverty stands out.

“We can’t sell on pity,” said independent filmmaker and producer Jourdan Sebastian.

His company Taclob, maker of weather-ready, upcycled backpacks, hires survivors of Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan). For every Compassion bag it sells, a child survivor also gets a backpack that is loaded with school suppliesand doubles as a floatation device. (READ: ‘Taclob’: Spreading enterprise with compassion after Yolanda)

Weaved into the Taclob story are tales of heroes instead of victims. Sebastian recounted what he had heard while distributing relief goods in the wake of the disaster.

“We do not need relief goods. We need jobs,” the people of Tacloban and nearby areas had said.

Through Taclob, a number of survivors are now able to create a product that has direct benefits and relevance to others. Recently, they took part in producing earthquake-ready backpacks in light of the news that the West Valley Fault straddling parts of Metro Manila is ripe for its next major movement in 400 years.

TACLOB. TACLOB bags aim to help Yolanda survivors.


SUSTAINABLE. Sample products of Marsse Tropical Timber. Photo from Marsse Facebook Page

The long road to sustainability

But the dream of a well-oiled social enterprise machine can be fraught with tight cash flows, limited distribution, and product development costs.

“You can start with little money, but you have to watch your invoices,”said Minka’s Mark Rivera. Minka fashions toothbrushes out of bamboo and other eco-friendly materials. (READ: How a toothbrush can make a whole world of difference)

A social enterprise emerges fast with a product, according to Rivera. Its mantra is “build, measure, learn”– quite a departure from the long product development cycle of traditional organizations. It hinges on lessons mined from failures and customer feedback.              

Yet, the social component is the high point for social entrepreneurs.

“It takes a lot to harvest a tree. Training-wise, we are very patient in teaching people (we) want to invest in,” shared Mara Sebastian-Marzan of Marsse Tropical Timber, a sustainable tropical hardwood plantation in Umingan, Pangasinan.

Marsse’s workers, who are also farmers in the community, are also taught by Marzan’s two brothers in carving furniture and other wooden pieces. Their wood supply comes from a minute fraction of the trees Marzan’s family has grown in the last two decades.

Asked if the woodcraft business is making money, Marzan did not share specifics.

“We are selling our products, but most profit goes back to our farm, into planting trees, maintaining the farm, and supporting the community that works in the farm.”

The farm remains the main revenue source.

For two-year-old First Harvest, which whips up healthy peanut and coco spreads, the profit also goes back to the business. Cofounder Catherine Patacsil also related that getting their products aroundis made easier by social media.

“For P60 ($1.28), we can reach a thousand consumers already,” she said. “Money is not so much a problem as network is.”

Where there are associations for industries, there are communities for social enterprises. Collaboration with like-minded groupsis encouraged. In fact, it can be a way of distribution. Muni, for example, organizes events where conscious producers and consumers can meet. It will be holding the 4th Muni Market on October 24-25.

Human Heart Nature, a beauty and personal care brand, is a common partner to the aforementioned businesses. Its team got these socially-driven leaders to bare their stories at the Green Business Forum 2015 on September 24 at the SMX Convention Center in Pasay City.

Back when First Harvest was beginning, Human Heart Nature also sent its quality assurance team to train First Harvest workers on technical process and sanitation.

PEOPLE OVER PROFIT. Jen Horn, Founder & Chief Collaborator of Muni; Catherine Patacsil, co-Founder of First Harvest; Mara Sebastian-Marzan, Chief Marketing Officer of MARSSE Troopicl Timber; Jaime Paraiso, co-founder of Treehugger; Jourdan Sebastian of TACLOB, and Mark Rivera, Managing Director of MINKA Inc. answers questions.

The power to produce

First Harvest workers come from the farming community cultivated at the Gawad Kalinga Enchanted Farm in Bulacan. “What they lack in probable competence, they will compensate in commitment,” said Patacsil.

The Philippines is seeing an evolution in capitalism. By producing excellent goods and services that prove beneficial to consumers, people from marginalized or neglected communities seize the opportunity to sustain their families and themselves. But the thought can be stretched to these workers also providing their fellowmen with value, and making social impact in return.

The country needs more entrepreneurs to turn towards its rich resource. As United States social justice and liberation advocate Mia Birdsong put it in a TED talk: “What’s working is the people and what’s broken is our approach.”

“Let’s honor the skills, drive, and initiative that poor people bring to the struggle every day.” –

Shadz Loresco is a freelance business writer for both online and print. Follow her on Twitter: @shadzloresco.

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