From local to global
P-Noy’s administration would like to treat it as a coming-out party, an occasion to tout the economic gains made by the Philippines by showing visiting economic managers, investors and possible business locators how far we have come, and how much farther we can move if the right ingredients mesh.
The World Economic Forum on East Asia, an offshoot of the annual WEF held in Davos in Switzerland, is a gathering of both government officials and private-sector leaders to discuss economic issues and discover emerging fields that businesses can profitably invest in.
So it’s really a great occasion for Filipino firms to court possible investors and solicit aid from foreign governments who share the same goals of regional development.
Among these businesses benefiting from the Forum is Human Nature, a social enterprise whose flagship store was recently visited by a delegation from the WEF. The event was organized in partnership with the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, which recognizes social enterprises that have had “a great impact and seeks to replicate successful social businesses on a global scale.” Human Nature was recognized in 2012 with a Global Social Entrepreneur award.
The visit to Human Nature will be the only store visit in the course of the Forum, which is being held for the first time in the Philippines. Other social enterprises will be presenting their operations at the Forum meetings themselves.
Delegates from Switzerland, India, Cambodia, and Bangladesh took part in the visit to Human Nature. They were joined by Filipino social entrepreneurs and Schwab awardees, including Sen. Bam Aquino, current chair of the Senate committee on trade, commerce, and entrepreneurship and the Senate committee on youth (and himself a social entrepreneur); Jaime Ayala, founder and CEO of Hybrid Social Solutions Inc. (HSSi), Philippines; Mark Ruiz, president of Hapinoy, a microfinance program for entrepreneurial sari-sari store owners; Antonio “Tony” Meloto, founder of Gawad Kalinga; and Reese Fernandez Ruiz, president of Rags2Riches, a fashion brand that provides sustainable livelihood for poor communities.
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During the store visit, Anna Meloto-Wilk, president and cofounder of Gandang Kalikasan Inc., the company behind the Human Nature brand, explained how the social marketing firm links farmer-based organizations and community-based livelihood groups to its supply chain and export markets.
“We sought to make natural personal care products that are accessible, affordable, and reachable—while addressing the needs of the poor,” Meloto-Wilk said. “We strive to optimize rather than maximize profit, we go beyond what makes the best business sense and focus on what is best for the Philippines and the poor.”
Human Nature then strives to multiply the income of poor communities by helping create the market for their products and produce.
Indeed, Human Nature is best known for its line of insect repellents, face oil and facial and body care products, laundry and home care products, makeup, and even “organic-inspired” toys. With a formula created by a home-based entrepreneur living in an urban poor community, Human Nature also markets a line of bottled iced tea, while helping other communities grow, harvest and process the organic produce that goes into various food products and cosmetic items.
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Meloto-Wilk stressed that as an organization, Human Nature “continues to challenge traditional business practices in the Philippines.” She said: “What businesses can do is look at the thresholds—what is keeping the poor, poor? And cross it.”
She cited the legal minimum wage, contractual or nonpermanent status of many workers that keep them from enjoying health and other employment benefits, and buying prices of raw materials from farming communities as such thresholds.
Human Nature currently pays 61 percent above minimum wage. “Our goal is to pay double the minimum wage by yearend,” added Meloto-Wilk. The company also enforces a “no firing” policy for its regular employees.
It also works closely with farming communities, helping them increase their margins by identifying raw materials that can be grown locally and using these materials in creating new Human Nature products. “Much of what we need for beauty products—soybean oil, passionfruit seed oil, sunflower oil, elemi oil—these can be grown in the Philippines. We invest in farming communities, helping them master the technology, so we can eventually source all of these materials locally,” Meloto-Wilk said.
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Much of the talk at the World Economic Forum are surely swirling around the “big issues,” from economic growth to regional cooperation, from trade policies to banking regulations.
But I’m hopeful that the visit to the Human Nature flagship store, with its cheerful interiors and shelves filled with consumer products that assure customers of their organic origins, health benefits and social enrichment, would show the “money folks” that there is more to business and economic development than just profits and losses.
There is also the human dimension—the dimension that looks after the overall health of people and of the earth, the dimension that seeks a better life for poor communities, a life defined not just by material benefits but by responsibility and communal togetherness as well.
From the small and humble, to the grandiose and global, perhaps we can spread the benefits of development all around.
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