The business of nation building
- Patricia Esteves () - April 4, 2011 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Unknown to many, the original silver bags made from fruit juice doy labels were made by residents of a Gawad Kalinga (GK) community in Sunshineville, Parañaque City as part of their sustainable livelihood program.

Today, the ubiquitous bags are seen not only in the arms of fashionistas in the Philippines but has also reached the fashion capital of Paris and other countries.

The bags are just one of the many products that GK residents in various GK communities are doing for their livelihood programs. GK believes that providing sustainable livelihood programs to the poor is just as important as giving them decent homes.

Behind the flourishing business enterprises in various GK villages all over the country is GKonomics, the social entrepreneurship partner of Gawad Kalinga that seeks to develop innovative, social and business enterprises that will tap and harness the resources available in GK communities. GKonomics helps find opportunities for the poor.

A GK resident absorbed in weaving a silver bag

“GKonomics brings together partners and volunteers who wish to discover and develop diamonds in the rough. They share their expertise, time, talent, and treasure to guide the GK residents and their community enterprises, bringing together the GK community and the social entrepreneur to develop world-class, marketable, and eco-friendly products and services,” says Rose Cabrera, one of the five Board of Directors at GKonomics.          

Aside from Cabrera, the other Board Directors are Divine Duran, Marivic Pineda, Pinky Poe and Cecille Manheimer. United by a mission to propel the Philippines towards prosperity without leaving the poor behind, the ladies bridge and connect the GK residents’ works to lucrative markets in the Philippines and abroad.

They supply to SM Kultura and respond to the orders of groups like the United States Embassy and the British Council and likewise, supply the corporate giveaways of big firms like SMART-PLDT. The products have also reached the US and European markets through partners who buy them and bring them to their home countries as gifts to family and friends.

Today, the GKonomics is now in 34 communities.

“The poor is not lacking in talents, only in opportunities. There are many untapped potentials in GK communities, where innovative and excellent products that will bless the world are waiting to be produced. GKonomics seeks to assist GK communities to become productive and sustainable while contributing to the country’s economic development,” says Duran.

“Our vision is a prosperous Philippines without leaving the poor behind. We want to create a country of producers and we want to connect the GK residents to the market, to the big companies. We bridge them to the suppliers, we try to match them to the right customers,” adds Pineda.

As the Board, they help professionalize livelihood programs in every GK community and lay in place the foundations for empowering the GK communities to run the livelihood enterprises on their own.

GKonomics started in 2009 when the five ladies were put together by GK founder Tony Meloto to head the GKonomics. They all have been GK volunteers before, motivated by a desire to help their less privileged fellow Filipinos to rise out of poverty.

In uniting for GKonomics, they said they all found their niche on how best they could serve and better the lives of people living in GK communities and at the same time, achieve their goal of helping the country’s economy grow, without leaving anyone behind. Right now, GK communities are producing a slew of innovative products ranging from the bags, wooden sculptures, handicrafts, fruit-scented candles, rosaries, home accessories and even coffins made of newspapers.

To make their products more competitive and world class, they’ve partnered with the Department of Trade and Industry’s Product Development and Design Center of the Philippines.

The Gkon ladies (from left) Cecille Manheimer, Pinky Poe, Rose Cabrera, Divine Duran and Marivic Pineda

Prior to GKonomics intervention, the livelihood of the residents, particularly in GK Sunshineville was selling street foods, cigarettes and rugs which could barely provide for their families.

But with GKonomics’ livelihood programs, a family can now make more money. For instance in GK Sunshineville, a family earns about P8,000 during peak times and P4,000 during non-peak times.

Duran says there’s more to be done and they look forward to more GK communities engaging in social business enterprises. A prosperous Philippines can be achieved only when wealth reaches the grassroots.

Right now, GKonomics is busy with more livelihood projects to come. “We try to diversify the products and we want improve their systems and processes. We want to empower them more as organizations,” Pineda says.

In the 34 communities that GKonomics serves, they have enterprise coordinators who guide the residents, monitor for quality control and at the same time provide skills training and values formation. “They play an important role in helping us achieve our mission. Their passion for the work inspires us to do more.” Duran says.

In the case of the Banglos sculptors, they have leveled up with the help from GKonomics. 

“We’ve already introduced them to different mediums of sculpture. A Filipino based in San Diego has seen their works and is interested in bringing their works there,” Pineda says.

She also enthuses that they will be introducing more innovative business enterprises that are world-class and export-worthy. “We are calling on more social entrepreneurs to partner with the poor and GKonomics so that together we can create a new generation of producers and a new economy that does not leave anyone behind,” adds Duran.

COMMUNITIES DURAN GAWAD KALINGA GKONOMICS LIVELIHOOD PINEDA ROSE CABRERA SUNSHINEVILLE
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