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It was a mind-blowing day of liberation, the beginning of a dramatic journey out of poverty for some of the most marginalized Filipinos in the rural areas through Social Entrepreneurship. The first batch of graduates of SEED Philippines (School for Experiential and Entrepreneurial Development), received their certificates as Social Entrepreneurs in Agri-business, the first in the country, and quite unique to the world, which accounts for the over 500 short-term and long-term foreign interns and volunteers, mostly French, who come to the farm and other Gawad Kalinga communities yearly to assist in mentoring the students in social business start-up and incubation and other entrepreneurial activities that create shared value.

Young men dapper in well-ironed barong and young ladies resplendent in elegant ternos overwhelmed well-heeled guests --- some flew in from the US, Malaysia and France --- who marveled at how children of landless farmers, tricycle drivers, construction workers, labanderas and other survival trade or profession could look so good and so confident.

Gift of Excellence

This radical social experiment in education and business has been a long and arduous struggle for the aspiring poor with big dreams, starting their mornings at 5am --- tending free-range chickens under mango trees, raising Peking ducks beside tilapia ponds or processing lemon grass and citronella into essential oil -- while wrestling with cost accounting, environmental science, project management, English and French, in the afternoon. The goal is to enhance their natural intelligence with confidence, competence and commonsense, that what is learned in the classroom daily must be applied and tested on the ground. It is a grounding in academic theory and practice, building strong character (particularly honesty, hardwork and humility) as the foundation of knowledge and skills. The bottomline is to give the striving poor the gift of excellence, quality, integrity and beauty, not making them mere objects of pity and charity, as is usually the case.

Quality of Life

Ron De la Cruz, who spoke for the male graduates, said it very clearly: "Our collective dream is to give our family the quality of life we never had, and to show other poor Filipino families that we can do it together." The son of subsistence farmers, he and his family of nine call a former pigpen home. Ron had to stop school for three years to support the education of his younger siblings, like most of his former out-of- school classmates. He is excited to start his gap year in July with Human Nature together with three other graduates to study and develop the local supply chain for essential oils. He has a personal mission to "liberate the pili trees in Bicol" and the poor farmers who nurture them, from the monopoly of a few who control the market of Elemi, a high value ingredient of branded cosmetics and fragrances that is processed from its sap.

"Ron makes his entrance to the farm on Graduation day "

Ron's speech got a standing ovation from Commencement Speaker, Dylan Wilk, who wanted to hire all the other graduates to join his social enterprise, Human Nature. His belief in applied quality education as a major instrument in ending poverty by creating shared prosperity is concretized in his company's commitment to provide full scholarship to fifty incoming SEED students this new school year. This will include outstanding students from Luzon, Mindanao and Visayas, who will eventually support our GK Farm Village hubs in the provinces.

Big Dream, Big Faith

Another speaker was Rinalyn Pagao, the daughter of an unschooled farm caretaker, who was the voice for the women in her class. This graduate with the highest academic grades spoke about big faith with diligence and perseverance to achieve a big dream - never giving up even if the road is bumpy and dark and sometimes uncertain. She was the valedictorian of a nearby public high school two years ago who fought to be part of the pioneer batch of social entrepreneurs of SEED Philippines despite available scholarships in other established universities and pressure from family and friends for her to go for the conventional four year college course in Accounting. It seems she made the better choice. For her faith and courage to pursue an experimental and experiential curriculum we formulated with TESDA, she just might get the slot this September for a four year scholarship in the highly prestigious French Business School ESSEC being offered by ELLE magazine to two top female graduates of SEED Philippines.

Rising Together

In July, the rest of the graduates will do a gap year with compensation and intensive training in various social enterprises in the farm and outside. Mark Simon will go to Plush and Play with mentorship from French entrepreneur Fabien Courteille, Vincent Tatel will partner with another French Louis Faure in Freebirds, Anna Salamat will join Mad Travel under the tutelage of British Thomas Graham and Gino Garcia will make silk with American partner Chris Torrance. Others will be with Filipino partners: Franz Trajano with Alvie Benitez of the Goldenduck, Carla Laderas with Tajen Sui of First Harvest, Kimberly Evallar with Shanon Khadka of Bayani Brew, and many more. Jingjing Piloneo, a former household helper since she was 12 years old, will start her Ube jam business, under the brand name "UBEBE" and get her training from Good Shepherd in Baguio that provided her the initial 3,000 ube planters now growing in the Enchanted Farm. Monks and nuns were the most prolific social entrepreneurs in Europe for centuries; many of the best wine in Italy, beer in Germany and cheese in France were brewed, produced and processed in monasteries and convents. They were real innovators, pioneers and changemakers, using the power of social business to improve the lives of the poor.

"L-R: Vincent Tatel with Freebirds, Franz Trajano with Goldenduck,
Luis Renacia and Jaylord dela Cruz with an up-and-coming Turkey enterprise"

Change is Coming

It is timely that our first graduates are coming of age as many Filipinos await with bated breath the fulfilment of the promise of change by our new government to address the threat to everyone from criminals bred in the slums of injustice, neglect and abandonment. Drugs and crime would be a real option for many of our students if there was no other way.

It was with the goal of transforming the squalid environment that produced criminals that Gawad Kalinga partnered with former Davao Mayor, now Philippine President, Rodrigo Duterte, and his daughter Sarah, in building seven peaceful GK communities for some of the most troubled families in Mindanao.

For our SEED graduates 'change is coming' is not wishful thinking. They are the new generation of changemakers who will not just wait for government or others to make it happen. They are concrete proof of concept that change is already happening, and more positive change will come because they will show that it can be done.

Radical Disruption

The Farm Village University in Bulacan is a template for radical disruption in Philippine education that is anchored on the Gawad Kalinga philosophy of Bayanihan (collective heroism) and Walang Iwanan(no one left behind).

1. The rich and poor are partners in creating prosperity for all.

Poverty in the Philippines will end if the approach towards wealth creation is both top-down and bottom-up.

2. Future business owners will come from the bottom of the pyramid.

The bright and hardworking poor can think beyond micro, will do SME and macro if given quality education and access to capital, technology and market.

3. It is ideally a rural platform.

A countryside ecosystem for community, university and industry within close proximity will create rural prosperity that will mitigate urban migration, lessen congestion, traffic and crime in the city.

4. The men are part of the solution.

The streets will be safer and the countryside will be abundant if we have the courage and the effective strategy to recover our lost male human capital. If men are mostly the problem - our criminals, drunks and addicts are mostly men - they should be part of the solution. SEED Philippines is sensitive not only to gender equality but also to gender balance to create a harmonious society.

5. Produce locally for the global market.

Our students have a global perspective in building their enterprises, are mentored by local and foreign entrepreneurs and specialists, will observe world-class standards of excellence.

Gawad Kalinga has always been about radical change, according GK International Executive Director Luis Oquinena when he closed the graduation ceremony,"Transforming ugly slums into beautiful communities, turning idle men into productive citizens, criminals into protectors of their neighborhood."

It is also about scale.

From one village in Bagong Silang in 1999 to nearly 3,000 villages in the Philippines and abroad today. From a social movement to an emerging social market. From one Farm Village University hub today to 25 within the next decade, from 34 social entrepreneurs today to 500,000 by 2024. Many will join the bandwagon once we can show that it can be done. The big Filipino Dream: to help end poverty for 5 million families.

Most of all, it is about love

All it takes is big love for the Philippines and the rest of humanity to finally build sustainable prosperity and peace.


From the graduates and their family and the faculty and staff of SEED Philippines, we thank you for your trust and generosity in jumpstarting this unique GK prototype of Social Artistry. In particular to the donors of our classrooms and the dormitories, sponsors of our scholars and our FVU builders, four of whom came to join us: Dr. Boy and Emmy Abay, David and Catherine Thomas, Shirley Maya Tan and her parents Dato' David Tan Hua Tong and Datin Alice Goh Kim Lan. Tess Zulueta came to represent our partner since the start of the school, AirFrance KLM. Salamat!

With much love,

Tony Meloto


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