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
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.