WITH A PUR­POSE

THE PAST YEARS HAVE SEEN SO­CIAL EN­TREPRENEUR­SHIP FLOUR­ISH, ES­PE­CIALLY AS A YOUNGER GEN­ER­A­TION USES IN­NO­VA­TION AND TECH­NOL­OGY TO SOLVE CHRONIC SO­CIAL PROB­LEMS AND CRE­ATE SO­CIAL VALUE

F&B World - - CONTENTS - Text by TRI­CIA MORENTE Pho­tos by RG MEDESTOMAS and ARTU NEPOMUCENO

It's not just about money and busi­ness. These days, set­ting up a food brand also in­volves help­ing ail­ing so­ci­eties.

So­cial en­ter­prises spring from dif­fer­ent mo­ti­va­tions— sav­ing the en­vi­ron­ment, up­lift­ing the marginal­ized, and en­sur­ing food se­cu­rity— but what unites its founders is a keen­ness for turn­ing ide­al­ism into ac­tion. In to­day’s dig­i­tal world, where in­for­ma­tion is read­ily avail­able and “real time” has be­come the norm, the on­cecom­mon prac­tice of wait­ing for so­lu­tions from gov­ern­ment sim­ply won’t cut it any­more. Peo­ple are gen­er­ally more proac­tive about the changes they want to see in so­ci­ety.

A CUP FOR CUL­TURE

Of­ten, peo­ple get in­volved in so­cial change when they con­nect with oth­ers who in­spire them. For Ben­jamin Aba­di­ano, the former Je­suit who owns the cheek­ily named Ad­vo­café, a four- branch cof­fee es­tab­lish­ment that chan­nels “100 per­cent of its net in­come” to­wards the in­dige­nous peo­ple ( IP) com­mu­nity, it was an ethno­graphic study pro­ject of the Manobo tribes of Bukid­non that steered him to­wards so­cial en­trepreneur­ship.

“It re­ally opened my mind to the re­al­i­ties ex­pe­ri­enced by the IPs,” re­lates Aba­di­ano. “It struck me how a com­mu­nity that’s so rich in terms of cul­ture and val­ues— I be­lieve they pro­vide us our iden­tity as a peo­ple— can be so de­prived.”

Long be­fore so­cial en­ter­prises were in vogue, Aba­di­ano had al­ready been work­ing with IPs since the 1980s, stay­ing in Min­doro with the Mangyan tribe for nine years. His team cre­ated a skills­cen­tric high school pro­gram with a two- fold pur­pose: re­spond­ing to the ed­u­ca­tional needs of the stu­dents and pro­vid­ing a sus­tain­able mech­a­nism for the school to even­tu­ally run it­self. “We called it ‘ liveli­hood pro­grams’ back then, but it’s the same model fol­lowed by so­cial en­ter­prises to­day,” says Aba­di­ano, adding that it pleases him to see more peo­ple from the younger gen­er­a­tion, es­pe­cially the IP youth, get­ting into the space.

“Ed­u­ca­tion and in­for­ma­tion dis­sem­i­na­tion are driv­ing the trend. It’s be­come an in­ter­na­tional fad, which is good for the sec­tor be­cause if so­cial en­ter­prises don’t hit the main­stream, then peo­ple won’t think too highly of it. It’s just like agri­cul­ture— we all need to eat, and yet agri­cul­ture wasn’t seen in a good light. But now you see more peo­ple par­tic­i­pat­ing and that is cre­at­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties that trickle down to the com­mu­ni­ties that need it most,” he says.

Ad­vo­café is one such in­for­ma­tion plat­form. Orig­i­nally cre­ated as a mar­ket­ing cen­ter that would show­case the prod­ucts of stu­dents of Pa­mu­laan, the first cen­ter for IP ed­u­ca­tion in the Philip­pines that Aba­di­ano founded, Ad­vo­café is a so­cial en­ter­prise that seeks to raise peo­ple’s aware­ness of the is­sues con­fronting IPs in the Philip­pines.

Cof­fee afi­ciona­dos vis­it­ing the ar­ti­sanal cof­fee shop to par­take of or­gan­i­cally pro­duced blends from Bukid­non, Min­doro, and the Cordilleras not only leave the café prop­erly caf­feinated but en­riched with sto­ries of the lives of the IP com­mu­nity. These sto­ries come not from the mar­ket­ing col­lat­er­als dis­played in the shop but the in­dige­nous peo­ple them­selves, as IPs make up 100 per­cent of the staff. “Our baker is from Ifu­gao, our master roast­ers are Ti­boli and Mangyan, we source our cof­fee beans from IP farm­ers— all our op­er­a­tions are IP- led,” ex­plains Aba­di­ano, adding that he and his IP staff had no prior ex­pe­ri­ence run­ning a café and had to learn ev­ery­thing from the ground up, in­clud­ing, he amus­edly re­counts, “how to turn on the oven.”

A rocky road that in­volved a lot of trial and er­ror and the orig­i­nal Malate branch al­most shut­ting down even­tu­ally saw Ad­vo­café break­ing even in two years. “I was de­plet­ing all my sav­ings al­ready,” says Aba­di­ano. To­day, the IP- led café has four branches: two in Manila and two in Davao. And all are funded by the orig­i­nal café in Malate. “We’re seven years old this year, and I’m very happy I don’t have to go to the shop ev­ery day be­cause it’s be­ing run by them, the IPs. It’s sup­port­ing a lot of com­mu­ni­ties and, more im­por­tantly, show­ing peo­ple who the IPs are and what they can do,” says Aba­di­ano.

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