For the past months, I’ve had the pleasure of working part-time as a research assistant in one of DLSU’s research centers, wherein we’re currently conducting studies on social enterprises (SE) in the Philippines. Unlike mainstream businesses, SEs adhere to a triple bottom line approach: social, environmental, and financial. They are emerging innovators in a sense that they strive to solve social issues through very intricate, but arguably manageable business models.
An example would be ANTHILL Fabric Gallery, an SE that develops indigenous apparel with contemporary designs. They source their fabrics from their indigenous partner communities, and in exchange ANTHILL provides community development programs that focus on cultural appreciation, product innovation, and financial literacy, among others. Ultimately, they aim to preserve the weaving traditions of several indigenous communities in the country.
SEs are very different from usual businesses such that things like corporate social responsibility aren’t just a minor component in their operations. In SEs, the social purpose is what keeps their vision, mission, and objectives alive. You can say it’s a form of activism brought by the inefficiencies of governments and traditional businesses to solve social issues, but it’s more than just that. SEs, or social entrepreneurship in general, are finding innovative means to help in further solving issues in education, poverty, rural and urban development, health, employment, and agriculture, among several others.
Fortunately, SEs are already being advocated by several sectors within the Lasallian community. I’ve seen classes, student organizations, and DLSU offices who each have their own way of advocating social entrepreneurship. I’m glad that DLSU – at least in my college – recognizes that apart from the usual lessons we learn on gaining a competitive edge, establishing a large market share, or developing a new product unlike any other, we’re also being taught that organizations like SEs exist. It’s a good indicator that we’re learning more and more on how to contribute positive social change apart from donating to charity or working with a non-government organization. Simply put, SEs just gave us more opportunities to fulfill that “I want to change the world” attitude that we may have felt at certain points in our lives.
But of course, SEs can be twice or even thrice harder to financially sustain as compared to traditional businesses. While social entrepreneurs are trying to make ends meet with a decent cash flow, they also have to ensure that they are staying true to their social mission. Perhaps one of the best examples of SEs in the Philippines is Human Nature, which has been considered as a trailblazer of the SE scene in the country. Today, they have already expanded their operations to the United States, Singapore, Malaysia, United Arab Emirates, and other foreign countries. Despite what skeptics would say that SEs are very difficult to financially sustain, some others like Human Nature were able to overcome this. At the end of the day, it depends on the kind of compelling business model they’re able to create, while at the same time having a concrete social mission.
Until today, however, social entrepreneurs would admit that SEs can get very confusing for others, considering that SEs have both a financial and social mission. But we also have to take note that it was only in 1999 – when the Philippine Social Enterprise Network was established – that SEs began to take hold in the Philippines. In our current study, we found out that SEs in the country are in critical need of professional services or consultants in terms of legal, accounting, and information technology concerns, among others. The SEs in the country are still very young, and in the long run they’re going to need more financial support from investors, microfinance institutions, and government regulations, which are evidently lacking.
The good news is that one of the best things with SEs is their support network. It’s a heartwarming feeling to know that several government agencies are assisting several SEs in terms of training and other technical needs. If this continues, the government in general may finally recognize the potential of these SEs to help alleviate poverty in the country.
The way I see it, it is only a matter of time that traditional businesses would begin to follow suit. I don’t mean that they will start adhering to the same business model, but perhaps knowing that businesses like SEs exist can shed light as to how traditional businesses can revamp their operations to make it more humane and environment-friendly. After all, at least according to a 2014 study by the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative, impoverished populations worldwide consist of approximately 1.6 billion (global poverty statistics aren’t conducted frequently due to the immense difficulty). Lastly, we don’t really want to destroy the only world we have, don’t we?