Thursday, December 1, 2011

Gawad Kalinga's European tour of hope

As stories about corruption, crime and violence continue to hog the limelight like telenovelas gone awry, we become filled with disgust and search for answers to the question, how have we come to this? But out there are countless stories of hope that remain untold simply because we choose to look at the noisier, bloodier, sexier, more scandalous and titillating side of things.

I recently spoke with Antonio Meloto, founder of Gawad Kalinga (GK), RM Awardee and Inquirer’s 2006 Filipino of the Year and felt a surge of hope. I have written several stories about him and GK, some written long before accolades were heaped on them. The recent one I did was on GK’s Enchanted Farm in Angat, Bulacan, which is a showcase and center for social innovation (CSI). The center is part of GK’s second phase: a 21-year vision with a road map towards a First World Philippines.
There, nestled on 14 hectares of verdant, undulating terrain is a farm, home, village and “university” rolled into one, where people’s dreams and ideas are put to the test, made to grow and become realities.
Many European students and volunteers have spent time not only at the Enchanted Farm but also in remote GK villages where they lived the life of the locals. They brought home with them amazing stories of Filipino resilience, innovation and hope.

When Meloto recently did a hectic tour of 17 universities in France and England, he was met with great enthusiasm. Among those he visited were Oxford, Cambridge, Leeds and Sorbonne. Students, academics, social scientists and regular folk wanted to know more about GK and hear it straight from Meloto.

Meloto’s European tour was arranged by Olivier Girault, an executive of Orange Telecom, who has great affection for the Philippines and deep compassion for the poor. For Meloto to cope with the backbreaking schedule, Girault put Meloto on an “8888 formula: 8 hours of sleep and 8 glasses of water daily; 8 speeches and 8 meetings a week.”

Meloto shared with me his reflections on his university tour. Waxing Shakespearean, he said, “From France to England, GK smells as sweet.” That trip, he said in one breath, was part of “my continuing journey of hope for the world to see the Philippines as the next miracle of Asia and for our people to discover the awesome gift from God and the amazing privilege of being Filipino today.”

I now let Meloto speak in his own words. If you want the whole transcript, send me an e-mail.

“I was in England and France for a speaking tour of 17 business, management and development schools. I spoke about hope in our bottom-of-the-pyramid initiative called Gawad Kalinga and its social business offspring, Human Nature.

“French President Nicolas Sarkozy spoke pro-actively about austerity to students at Strasbourg University on Nov. 8, in the country that invented many global luxury brands. He spoke about depression in the morning; I spoke about hope in the afternoon in the same event.

“The mostly young audiences were eager to hear about innovations and new horizons in the Philippines as they face a fast-changing world where an emerging Asian dragon is offering debt relief to former masters from the West.

“Social entrepreneurs are fascinated with GK’s capacity to achieve scale with its 2,000 communities built to date and its audacious goal to end poverty for 5 million Filipino families by 2024, adopting a nation-building strategy anchored on the politics of caring and the economics of sharing, while working with both the government and the business sector.

“Last year’s award for GK and me as Social Entrepreneur (from Ernst & Young, Schwab Foundation and the World Economic Forum), and the same award this year given to my daughters Anna and Camille (for Human Nature products) simply affirm that we might be going in the right path in creating a template for merging philanthropy and profit in order to do the most good.

“Before GK, many did not know where the Philippines was on the map. Now our country is becoming a popular destination for internship and social immersion, in a cultural setting where Europeans learn to count their blessings and smile with happy people who seem oblivious to suffering.

“This year we had over 100 European interns doing mostly an average stay of six to eight weeks, doing humanitarian service or supporting a social enterprise in a GK village and a week off to enjoy the white beaches…

“They are the most inspiring visitors any country can have. They dug ditches, painted houses, played with the children and loved their adopted families, calling the parents Nanay and Tatay. Thousands more are expected to come soon. We already have a long list of applicants for next year’s summer program, including 33 MBA students.

“There was something remarkable in the responses of future decision-makers from (all the institutions I visited) in the face of present uncertainties and troubles caused by the mistakes of past generations. They were polite and asked questions that showed a great desire to be game-changers for their future to be brighter and their world safer.

“Many now want to pursue causes, not just careers, their lives measured by value added to others, not only money earned for self. To seek happiness in people, not just pleasure in things.

“It is best to discover the Philippines early as the rising star of Asia in beauty, social innovation and hospitality; consider it as a wise destination and (place) to invest in while opportunities abound, (and) make it … home and be part of its ascent in the community of nations.

“I quote Florence, a French intern at the GK Enchanted Farm: ‘The saddest day of my life was coming home to France after learning to be happy in my village in the Philippines.’”

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