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Hope unleased from a bottle

Poverty, while real and serious, is the standard excuse for insurgency and violence. Nowadays, the forces are much darker, the victims, so innocent and unwarned, that poverty could not be advertised as an excuse for such attacks. It has simply become an attack on the way we live.

There is, however, a group of people who decided to attack poverty, low standard of living, and societal ills with ingenuity, purpose and enterprises that sustain themselves through honorable profits. They want to improve the way all people in the nation live. They are social entrepreneurs. And their group’s social enterprises, which are still pretty much in the early stages but sustainable and growing, deserve all the recognition, at the very least – and the support from those who make that recognition.

The evening of the recently held Developmental Social Enterprise Awards (DSEA) presented by Isla Lipana & Co./PwC Philippines and BCYF, and supported by Senator Bam Aquino, was impressive even if only for the diversity of enterprises in attendance and those recognized. From solar power enterprises trying to light up communities outside the grid, to app-powered services, to the aspiring artists using bamboo as musical instruments for their performances – they are all good. They also make you want to burst from the chest because they are, first and foremost, kind and soft-hearted.

The finalists include OrganicOptions Inc., the social enterprise headed by Nonong Velasco. OrganicOptions Inc. now helps about 4,000 organic farmers and trades directly with major supermarkets. Because of its sustainable model, it has helped its beneficiaries in Antipolo, Rizal and Cavite earn more than just Metro Manila’s minimum wage.

There is Bote Central, headed by Alvira Reyes who made innovations on a coffee-roasting machine they called “Rearden coffee roaster.” This machine allows non-roastmasters, inexperienced entrepreneurs and farmers to roast their own coffee. This allows coffee farmers to establish their own community-roasting facilities and increase their margins up to ninefold by selling roasted and ground coffee vs. raw coffee beans. Even mind-boggling than their invention is that they could have kept all the grinding and roasting for themselves and kept all those profits. But that idea is not what brings them joy.

CITIHUB, the ultimate recycler, recycles container vans into dwellings for male migrant workers from the provinces such as construction workers and BPO staff, and even students. The dwellings are neat and affordable, bringing tenants closer to work with less strain on transportation costs. What cannot be missed is the environment issue that it addresses, too. So long as the country is a net importer, there will be more containers staying than going out. There is an estimated 70,000 containers that can be accessed, according to founder of CITIHUB, Panya Boonsirithum. CITIHUB has the potential to possibly graduate to the “big” soon. Panya’s family, of Thai and Chinese descent, settled in the country when he was still of tender age. He speaks perfect Tagalog, pretty much a Filipino whose heart beats fondly for the Filipino.

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BEAGIVER, Ventures Inc., headed by Josh Mahinay, was also a finalist in DSEA in 2016, when it used to be called BAG943. This year, it showed more potential and promise as they grew from a single proprietorship to a corporation, targeting more school children who would benefit from their “buy one, donate one bag” business model, and posting 20 percent increase in sales since last year.

Then there is Generation Hope, whose brand is perhaps auspicious enough that it was named as this year’s DSEA Grand Winner. Their “Hope in a Bottle” has a business model that’s as simple as a social enterprise model could be – make a profit, be sustainable, and give all the profits net of expansion allocations, to the social purpose.

In this case, the entrepreneur is Nanette Medved-Po. Yes, the local movie wonder woman if I can call her that, whose heart is even prettier than her looks. You see “HOPE in a Bottle” in Starbucks counters near the cakes, and in 7-11 shelves, and in some supermarkets. They make a small margin per bottle. But what is left of all that little margin goes to building classrooms.

According to Nanette, she chose this cause as education has a great ripple effect that can uplift the lives of Filipino families. She chose classrooms because of the serious undersupply of classrooms nationwide for children of poor families. If you see children having lessons under the trees, or under or in a multipurpose facility, or in any shade, with many students, pupils sitting on floors, you will get the idea of this need.

She chose water as her medium as it is so basic that it is definitely needed and will be bought. But because it is so basic and common, it also could not be sold at a premium. This is why HOPE for me is seriously a very good brand case study. She will not make even half of what she makes if not for the brand HOPE.

You see, what makes a brand is its promise, and her brand delivers on that promise. From profits made for selling more than 8.5 million bottles, Generation Hope has delivered 37 stand-alone classrooms in 15 schools in Manila, Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Bohol, Davao and South Cotabato, and so much more in construction as of this writing.

We were informed by her management team that they are able to make a net profit of roughly P1 per bottle. A big, sturdy stand-alone classroom with toilet facilities can cost as much as P500,000. You do the math, but it is a race to buy HOPE bottles because it is HOPE made tangible. HOPE for the education of the children of our land. And anyone is capable of contributing to that HOPE.

Hats off really to all the social entrepreneurs, award winners or not. They see the world from a different lens. They see business as a social calling. Their ingenuity is beaten only by their kindness, and their inspiration is the help they are able to bring. God bless them.

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Alexander B. Cabrera is the chairman and senior partner of Isla Lipana & Co./PwC Philippines. He also chairs the Tax Committee of the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP). Email your comments and questions to aseasyasABC@ph.pwc.com. This content is for general information purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for consultation with professional advisors.

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