After an annual search around the globe for top social entrepreneurs, Schwab Foundation has selected 24 winners, 2 of whom are Filipinos – Jaime or “Jim” Ayala and Reese Fernandez-Ruiz.
Their customers are the poorest of the poor. Their businesses focus more on helping them than on making a profit.
Imagine two children who fight to study over the dangerous crackle of a kerosene lamp. Or think of a fruit farmer whose trees are ravaged in the dark of the night by bats. With a solar-powered lantern, the children study longer and do better in school, while the fruit farmer illuminates her field to scare away bats. Ayala’s Hybrid Social Solutions Inc, provides these lanterns and other innovative products to rural communities withoutaccess to basic goods and services.
Imagine a mother, who searches a landfill for scraps of cloth to weave but only makes 20 centavos a day after middlemen swallow up the profits from their sales. Fernandez-Ruiz’s company cut out the middlemen. She heads Rags2Riches, which helps impoverished women earn a livable wage by crafting recycled materials into fashionable and eco-friendly products.
Now both are being recognized internationally.
With their eyes set on environmental solutions, unique products and helping the poor, the Filipinos fit the bill of those picked as Social Entrepreneurs of the Year 2013. “The winners were selected in recognition of their innovative approaches and potential for global impact,” said the Schwab Foundation in a statement.
According to the foundation, more than 200 entrepreneurs from 59 countries have won the prestigious award, including Filipinos like Bam Aquino, Tony Meloto, Jose Luis Oquiñena, Mark Ruiz, Dylan Wilk and Anna Meloto-Wilk.
Ayala said he and past Filipino winners all seem to share a positive outlook about what they can do for the Philippines. “A lot of people, when they see poverty, they throw up their hands. We’re very optimistic,” he said.
“No country was every built on charity. Countries were built because people mobilized and took initiative,” said Ayala.
For both entrepreneurs helping people comes from a personal place.
As a young girl, Fernandez-Ruiz lived on the move, following around her missionary mother. In a way, she also lives her life in service. She helps hundreds of mothers, who in turn have more money to give their children better lives.
“Together, she has worked with the Rags2Riches team making sure that we really lift Filipino artisans out of poverty, maybe, one fashion or home accessory at a time,” said the company’s Marketing and Corporate Relations Manager Joe Mark Pardiñas.
“Our Community department was able to train 900 artisans since 2007 (when we started) to present,” he added.
Ayala made a pretty profit for the Zobel de Ayalas, growing their real estate company as the president of Ayala Land. Yet he left the lucrative post to start his own company to fulfill a childhood promise to help others.
“[My father] was an honest government employee. He almost became a priest, actually, so I think it was always in our family to think about others,” he said.
He recalled sitting at his father’s deathbed as a 14 year-old boy and his dad’s final advice? “Take care of your mom, get a good education and serve your country.”
“My life has been about figuring out how to serve,” he said.
What is unique about the Schwab Foundation’s award is that it gives winners access to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, one of the most elite and high profile business meetings where top CEOs, policy titans, and sometimes even rock stars schmooze with each other.
Social entrepreneurs have the ear of the top CEOs more and more these days, Schwab Foundation co-founder Hilde Schwab told Huffington Post.
Ayala and Fernandez-Ruiz will be able to spread the word not just about their businesses but also the Philippines as a business destination.
For President Benigno Aquino III, the meeting was an opportunity to sell the Philippines’ new image as a successful economic star thanks to his government’s anti-corruption drive.
Ayala said he would tell CEOs to take advantage of business opportunities in the low-end market, especially in rural areas.
“CEO will have their priority markets and for some reason, the Philippines has somewhat fallen off the map of priorities,” he said. “Like anything else you’ve got to market the country,” he said.
Ayala believes that with the right advertising, CEOs could see how attractive it is to invest in selling long term quality products to Filipinos.
He explained that for a long time the Philippines has been one of the largest consumer markets in the world for fast moving consumer goods like softdrinks and cigarettes. But now with Filipinos’ incomes rising, he sees a real opportunity for businesses who want to invest in longer lasting and more expensive products like computers, TVs and refrigerators.
“The infrastructure and product costs have gotten to the point where you are reaching a tipping point where people can actually purchase these things. The markets are here for the taking.”
“If you do this, you will change the development of the countryside and the country,” said the social entrepreneur.
(Story courtesy of Katherine Visconti of Rappler.com)