An admirable Filipina
She has succeeded in what many consider an impossible mission.
While banks avoid lending to the poor because of high credit risk, she actively seeks out the poor and lends exclusively to them. While the government has repeatedly failed in its microloan programs for the poor because of high default rates, she lends out a yearly total of P2.5 billion in microloans to the poorest of our poor, and they are paying back in full.
Ruth Callanta is president of the Center for Community Transformation (CCT), a nongovernment organization (NGO) that is transforming the lives of impoverished families. Nearly a million poor Filipinos were beneficiaries of services extended by CCT in 2017 alone.
When Callanta set up CCT in 1991, it had zero budget. Today, it has P2 billion in assets, 176 offices nationwide, and 1,300 full-time staff. CCT is now an umbrella organization of a group of 16 interdependent NGOs that serve underprivileged sectors such as street dwellers, farmers, fisherfolk, factory workers, out-of-school youth, microentrepreneurs and indigenous people.
CCT’s mission is to break generational poverty and generational street-dwelling in our country. To achieve its mission, CCT employs a novel approach that aims to transform three aspects of the lives of the poor, namely: spiritual, social and economic.
The CCT approach starts with its staff members immersing themselves in a sector. They organize groups that engage in weekly Bible and prayer sessions. The aim is for a spiritual transformation that will strengthen the moral character of the participants, and firm up their sense of fair dealings with the community.
While others have trepidations about injecting a spiritual component to social work advocacy, the reality is that religious associations are our society’s only institutions that effectively work to keep alive our fast-vanishing tenet of empathy for the less fortunate.
The upright conduct that results from spiritual transformation constitutes the vital component that brings about social and economic transformation. This appears to be the key element missing in the microcredit failures of the government and banking institutions. And this is the pivotal component that enables CCT to achieve a loan repayment rate of 98.2 percent.
When a yearning for change becomes evident in the prayer groups, CCT then extends loans that enable members to become microentrepreneurs. Others are taught vocational skills and then assisted in obtaining jobs as construction laborers, factory workers or office staff. The continuing prayer sessions engender an implicit group pressure for members to promptly pay their loans, a feature similar to the Grameen microcredit system in Bangladesh.
The credit cooperatives organized by CCT enable the co-op members to substantially earn back the loan interest they pay each year. A savings association has also been formed to inculcate the habit of saving; total savings amounted to P413 million in 2017. CCT also operates training centers, boarding schools for the poor and community-based kindergartens.
The CCT approach developed by Callanta has become so successful that it has been copied by many microfinance institutions around the world. It has made her a renowned leader in the antipoverty movement.
CCT obtains the bulk of its funding from its own operations, which proves that the poor can pay for their own development. There are also wealthy philanthropists — among them the families behind Security Bank, The Generics Pharmacy, United Neon and 200 other corporations — who silently support CCT programs without fanfare and publicity.
Every year, we heap adulation on businessmen who make it to the world’s list of billionaires. We live at a time when the capitalist ethos of insatiable self-enrichment is worshipped.
But when the scourge of poverty afflicts half of our population, the truly admirable members of our society who deserve our people’s adulation are those who take the less traveled road of selflessly serving the poor.
Ruth Callanta is an admirable exemplar of the Filipino race.
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