Tackling peace, plastics, PWDs: Mindanao’s social entrepreneurs band together

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Friday Feature

DAVAO CITY — Mindanao’s social entrepreneurs have banded together to create a bigger impact in the communities and draw more attention to the country’s southern islands.

“It’s always been Manila wherein a lot of entrepreneurs were recognized. We are on the same page helping people, saving the environment, and I think it is time for Mindanao to be recognized as a hub for social entrepreneurship,” said Joseph “Joe” Castillo, founder of the Joe Green Project, which teaches mothers, particularly those in calamity-hit areas, convert plastic trash into backpacks and wallets.

Joe Green Project is one of the members of the newly-formed Social Entrepreneurs of Mindanao, a network intended to foster collaboration among both members and other groups.

Coffee for Peace founder Joji Felicitas Pantoja, another member, said this would allow them to draw from each other’s specialization and avoid duplication of projects.

“Why not talk and discuss where can we collaborate,” she said.

Ms. Pantoja cited as an example Paquibato, a remote part of Davao City that is one of the local government’s focus areas for development under its anti-insurgency program.

Nag-usap-usap na kami kung ano ang magandang dalhin sa (We are already discussing what would be good to introduce in) Paquibato as a social enterprise,” she said.

The group is also open to assisting other organizations that want to work there, “We could guide them,” said Ms. Pantoja, who has more than a decade of experience working on peace efforts alongside coffee production in conflict-affected areas.

Banding together would also mean having a bigger voice for lobbying government on policies, particularly in terms of program support and possible tax breaks for the social enterprise sector.

Ryan D. Gersava, founder of Virtualahan, which focuses on providing job and livelihood opportunities to persons with disabilities (PWDs) and other disadvantaged persons, said social enterprises should not simply be lumped together with the micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) sector.

Social enterprise, he described, is the “child” when you marry business and non-government work.

“This is a new generation of an organization that has a business model of making profit but has an intention to generate (social) impact,” he said.

Mr. Gersava said social enterprises “break barriers” and fill in gaps in existing public and private structures.

He cited his own Virtualahan, which offers digital skills training as well as an entrepreneurship program, then links their members to potential employers or investors.

The training is not 100% free, but Virtualahan helps trainees who cannot afford the fees to find sponsors, usually from among the potential employers.

“A lot of employers want to become socially conscious and want to hire PWDs and other disadvantaged groups, but don’t know how. They don’t have the confidence or the capacity to be able to do that,” he said.

Virtualahan currently has a community of 300 members in over 60 cities nationwide. Graduates of their skills program have gone on to become data analysts, website developers, graphic designers, or virtual assistants; while the entrepreneurs have ventured into internet cafe and food businesses.

Ms. Pantoja said, “We see to it that we have balance. If there is no money, how can we continue on our mission? We have to take care of our clients, products that are marketable, and we have to make sure that our suppliers are paid well and are also improving their livelihoods.” — Maya M. Padillo