By Joan Q. Icotanim
I first heard about social entrepreneurship in 2010 when I was reading about a startup company, which produces natural and organic personal care and beauty products. Their raw materials are aimed to be all sourced locally and directly from marginalized farming communities.
I eventually joined this company in 2011 as part of its Social Enterprise Development Department. Our department’s task was basically to make into reality this company’s goal to transform the countryside into productive source of world-class raw materials, and to uplift the quality of life of farmers in the process. It was a tall order, but the possibilities were endless. This company had a vision to “embolden all businesses to better serve society” which inspired many other startups to tweak their strategies to create businesses with a heart.
Later on, I met other social entrepreneurs with the same mission to eradicate poverty in the country within this lifetime. Most of them are young people – graduating students, fresh from college, young professionals quarter-life crisis-ing, not-so-young professionals midlife crisis-ing – all of them looking for deeper meaning in what they do.
But what exactly is social entrepreneurship? Oxford University Saïd Business School’s Skoll Center for Social Entrepreneurship defines it as “the practice of combining innovation, resourcefulness and opportunity to address critical social and environmental challenges.” Simply put, it’s a business that aims to address a social mission by integrating strong advocacies into the fabric of corporate strategies. Popular definition states that it’s a business with triple bottom line of people, planet, and profit – unlike traditional business models with the welfare of the shareholders (profit) as the main driving force in strategic planning.
Towards the end of 2011, I had a chance to accompany Mr. Antonio Meloto, the founder of Gawad Kalinga in a 15-day speaking tour in 17 business, management, and development schools in France and England to talk about rising social enterprises in the Philippines. It was a great venue to dissect the aspects of social entrepreneurship and how it’s shaping the world of business today. I was surprised that the West which has always dictated the norm – whether in development or business, fashion or latest trends – was very keen on hearing what the East had to say. They have been learning inside the classroom business tools and frameworks and development models that seem to be not working or ineffective. It was refreshing for them to hear somebody speak about development not just in terms of economics, but also that which is anchored on relationships and people – that it moved most of our young audience to come to the Philippines to do volunteer work, spend internship in a social enterprise, and even develop their own grassroots business. True development is about raising humans into beings with dignity, considering the whole of the person in every single dimension, as a venerable pontiff once said.
Today we hear about brands such as Human Nature beauty products, Bayani Brew drinks, Rags2Riches bags, Plus and Play toys, First Harvest spreads, and a lot more. They are now competing head-on with popular brands in supermarket spaces and as household names. There are also several corporate initiatives to support budding entrepreneurs such as PLDT Project Pagsulong and BPI-Sinag, as well as award-giving bodies like E&Y Entrepreneur of the Year. ComCo Southeast Asia also gives its share in supporting this noble cause by offering a service called Ignite designed especially for rising social enterprises.
Truly, this game-changing model of disrupting traditional businesses has gained the attention and respect it deserves. Soon enough, I hope the Philippines and even the world reach a point when there will no longer be categorization whether one is a traditional corporation or a social enterprise, because all businesses will eventually be serving the good of all stakeholders, always optimizing profits for the betterment of society.
Joan Icotanim, a Community Development and Social Change Advocate, is the Brand Communications and Administration Director of fast-rising and award-winning communications agency ComCo Southeast Asia.