Lifting Filipinos out of poverty by growing social entrepreneurship at home

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

ANGAT, Philippines — To Antonio “Tony” Meloto, migration is both culprit and symptom of the entrenched poverty in the Philippines. It is a poverty of self-esteem as much as anything material, he adds.

Migration of rural people to urban slums, which includes Filipinos from every walk of life from doctors to domestic workers to wealthier countries, disrupts the lives of millions of families and drains the country of talent that is much needed here and under-appreciated abroad, says the 64-year-old former Procter and Gamble executive and founder of Gawad Kalinga, one of this country’s best-known nongovernmental organizations.

“Build the Filipino dream, not some other country’s dream!” he exhorts a group of college students on a field trip to the Enchanted Farm, a rural project intended to reverse the migration trend and close the widening urban-rural wealth gap. An economist by training, Meloto wants to bring together talent groomed by the best universities and wisdom rooted in the traditional rural lifestyles to create new businesses and products: bottling of a traditional lemongrass tea, for example, or turning talented traditional cooks into fast food entrepreneurs.

“The combination of the genius of the poor and the rich is quite explosive,” Meloto told me, explaining that “rich” in this context means people given the opportunities and privilege of a good education.

Ironically, some of the earliest “rich” partners to come to the farm project are migrants to the Philippines. Most are recent graduates from top European universities where Meloto lectures frequently. To attract more of their Filipino counterparts to follow suit is a challenge in a country where salaries cannot compete with those in wealthier nations, where a job overseas is considered a ticket to financial security.

Meloto says poverty in the Philippines is not just an economic issue but a behavioral one, the result of 350 years of Spanish, the American colonialism, “of us thinking we’re not white enough and us believing we are not smart enough.”

One symptom of the latter is the pervasive use of skin whiteners in the Philippines today.

“You should be happy with your skin color,” he continued to the young collegians, gently ribbing one young man for his spiked blond dye job. “Don’t show the world that God made a mistake when he made you Filipino. “

Source: PBS NewsHour (link opens in a new window)

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