The best investment you can make to create a sustainable future?– part 2
A year ago I wrote of my trip to the Enchanted Farm and my experiences. I was drawn to the place having met with Tito Tony (Tony Meloto) the founder of the farm and also Gawad Kalinga. As anybody that has met with Tony, his personality and charm are addictive and enticing and I needed to know more about the man and the Farm. I was not disappointed – as reflected in my write up of the visit in which I reflected that investing in one Social Enterprise at the farm was perhaps the best investment one could ever make.
Like many others no doubt, I am not a huge fan of ‘charity’. Often the money given goes to the executives running the charity and what does reach the people in need is not always utilised in the best, most sustainable, way.
Social enterprise is a very different kettle of fish as one’s investment, whether that be time and/or money, is utilised to support the initial stages of its development, so that the enterprise can become self-sustaining and supportive of other enterprises. As a result, successful enterprises can have significant social impact – employing the local villagers, leveraging the natural resources (such as land) and providing the basis from which to drive effective economic development from the bottom up.
So, it’s been a year and I’m back at the Social Business Summit and the Enchanted Farm, described as the ‘silicon valley’ of Social Entrepreneurship.
It felt really good to be back – coming back to a place where you really feel amongst friends.
There is a very strong common purpose at the farm and you feel that everybody is there to try and make it a better place. Like last year, there was a huge amount going on at the Business Summit, from presentations in the Hyundai center to demos and farm tours.
Many of the presenters have very emotional stories to tell of their life path and have given up much of their external lives to spend more time at the Farm.
I think it was Gandhi who said you find yourself in the service to others and I think this is true for many at the Farm who haven’t found much happiness in today’s consumer driven culture and are drawn to the greater sense of community, over self.
In the consumer driven culture of today, the marketers use the promise of happiness to promote their products – buy this new car/iPhone/TV and you will be happy. But, the new car/iPhone/TV soon gets scratched and outdated and very soon brings us unhappiness. God forbid it breaks down. But then there is the next one and the next one, always with the same promise. It’s this lack of contentedness and the sense we will only find it by buying the latest gadget, that the corporate marketers want to reinforce, to keep us all coming back for more – to keep on buying more stuff we don’t really need and continue the consumer capitalist model of ‘more is good’.
I can see an ongoing trend, of those that are fortunate to have more than enough stuff, coming to the realisation that it’s not the stuff that brings happiness and are looking elsewhere. Many on such a quest will find the Farm enticing. In many ways, the Farm stands at the forefront of this shift away from the current consumer capitalism model, of growth is good at any cost, to one of greater co-operation and engagement in a common mission.
The Farm also reinforces the understanding of interdependence. In our current economic model, the notion of independence is given top priority, of putting ‘I’ or yourself first, ahead of others. We’re taught it’s a dog eat dog world and you have to put yourself first, otherwise you’ll lose out. On the Farm, interdependence is the name of the game. The food eaten, is grown, harvested, cooked, presented and eaten by those on the Farm. Likewise, the entrepreneurs are reliant on their employees, whilst the employees in turn are reliant on the entrepreneurs to drive the business forward. Neither is exploited and each member of the community plays a role for which each member of the community is appreciative of that role played. This sense of interdependence is something many religions emphasize as a key part of living a happy life – its makes us more grateful for what we have, understanding how many others play a part in our lives, and also gives us a greater sense of self-worth, as we understand the role we play in the life of others.
Deep stuff, but I feel that it’s these less tangible factors that are behind the success of the Farm drawing in so many, from all different walks of life.
I am very excited by the farm’s current endeavours.
One thing the Philippines has, is land, lots of it. But, just like many other parts of the world, farmers are getting old and the land is not being used. It’s a massive resource that is simply not being levered.
The latest buz word is permaculture which is defined as ‘the development of agricultural ecosystems intended to be sustainable and self-sufficient’ which is exactly what the farm is all about – teaching the villagers to be able to utilize the land around them, to be sustainable and self-sufficient. Here again, the Farm is at the forefront of a revolution, training SEED scholars the basics of permaculture, with six or so students managing a 2000sqm lot.
Many in the developing countries are increasingly worried about their food security and quality – any form of supply disruption would leave millions in the cities without access to food. Not only that but the food we eat is increasingly dangerous to our health, with some GMO crops having the DNA to cause the stomachs of insects to rupture and are coated with cancer causing toxins. We live in a world where chemical companies are now the largest seed suppliers and nobody knows or understands the longer term implications of GMO crops. Even worse is that they can’t be contained as seeds can literally ‘blow with the wind’. It’s a path to potential disaster.
The Farm’s focus on permaculture is huge in my opinion, in a number of ways.
· As it gets rolled out to other villages, they can become self-sustaining in terms of their food requirements, shifting away from factory farming methods.
· The harvest can be used by the entrepreneurs to create value added product, whether than be peanut butter or duck burgers.
· The Farm can bring in specialists that can train the teachers and scholars on best practices, who can in turn offer permaculture courses on the Farm. Visitors would love it, the Oasis offers good accommodation and there is plenty to do. The side benefit is that the farm could act as a bit of a hub for permaculture in the Philippines and ASEAN.
Indeed, when you put it all together the Farm is part of a shift in consciousness. – shifting away from a consumer driven, ‘me first’ detached lifestyle, to one that offers greater contentedness, interdependence, community and sustainability.
But it is this and even more. It’s a hot bed of determination, entrepreneurship and great ideas
I was one of the panel of judges to assess 9 of the new entrepreneurs. These were SEED students or graduates and a mom who had 5 kids and worked in the kitchens. The stories they told of their lives before the Farm, living with nothing and often being abandoned, are heart wrenching but the products they introduced brought smiles to our faces. Friendchips, Enchanted nuts, OHGK drinks and Puto rice cakes are ones that spring to mind. Wow.
Enchanted nuts packets each have quotes on the back like: “Help others; God will have his own way to pay you back”. I like it. I like the entrepreneur even more. She had 5 kids to look after, was busy in the kitchen all day and, without anybody knowing, set about creating the product to launch at the Summit. A terrific example of, if they can do it, I can do it too.
I met with a load of interesting people over the two days. Indeed, there are so many local and international participants it would make sense to have a ‘speed dating’ session at the next event so as to get the opportunity to meet everybody.
My advice to those reading this, but that have not yet travelled to the Farm, is to make the effort to get out there with an open mind and see for yourself.