The best investment you can make to create a sustainable future? – part 3
It’s been a busy week – after 4 islands, 4 flights, 4 ferries and numerous taxi rides, we have seen a tiny fraction of the Philippines, an archipelago of more than 7,000 islands. One of the most memorable experiences? Having dinner at Tita Yoli’s house in Gawad Kalinga’s Enchanted Farm in Angat, about 1.5 hours north of Manila. Great food, interesting and authentic conversation, genuine affection and humour with some real people.
It’s the fourth time I have visited the Farm and I hold the view that it is perhaps one of Tony Meloto’s, otherwise known as Tito Tony (Uncle Tony), most significant ambitions/achievements. Tito Tony is the founder of Gawad Kalinga, an NGO that has spearheaded, with the help of volunteers, the building of over 3,000 villages across the Philippines with the sole purpose to lift Filipinos out of poverty. A massive undertaking and Tito Tony’s contribution has not only been immense to the Philippines, but life-changing for all involved.
The Farm, however, takes his endeavour to the next level. Developing a local ecosystem that allows these villages to grow and prosper, whilst at the same time restoring the dignity and belonging of the villagers, is a truly inspiring vision. It showcases how one can take a financially ‘poor’ village and transpose it into a bustling community filled with talent, hope and success. It is a model that has huge potential in other markets such as South Africa, Malaysia and India.
The Farm is unique in the way it brings together all sorts of people – from those visiting for a few days, entrepreneurs from all over the world, scholars, interns from top universities and all those in the village which the Farm surrounds. Financially rich and poor, enfranchised and disenfranchised, all ages, all nationalities, together in a little piece of nirvana (or for that matter Tita Yoli’s house in the village). Breaking through the various social barriers helps bring the understanding that we are all pretty much the same, with the same dreams and goals.
The success of the Farm is due to the steely determination of Tito Tony and his team. For the School for Experiential and Entrepreneurial Development (SEED) scholars, this is perhaps their only chance to get out of poverty and Tito Tony takes that responsibility very seriously, demanding the best out of them.
Many on the SEED program students have come from difficult backgrounds and, while one can listen to and be moved by what they have gone through, it’s another thing altogether to have lived it. Talking with the students, one gets a sense that they would fit in anywhere and succeed at whatever they put their minds to, if given the chance. They demonstrate a maturity and ability way ahead of most peers and have street smarts that many financially rich kids lack.
Tito Tony’s book, ‘The Builder of Dreams’, is a terrific story highlighting his ambition behind Gawad Kalinga and the Farm. He often refers to the importance of being a story teller, to spread the word and get the message out, to attract both local and international support.
In this vein, my partners and I at MarcWhittaker will provide a two-year scholarship to one SEED student. We will also get involved in mentoring the student and would look to him/her to write news articles on the Farm, that we will post here. This will help keep us up to date with activities at the Farm and make the scholar instrumental in getting the message out, so that readers may also take an interest and make the trip out to see for themselves. It will also offer up opportunities of cross fertilisation.
In this regard, we were recently contacted by a Singapore-based VC firm that had come across one of our earlier posts on the Farm and thought there could be a good fit with our investor base. We are very glad they did. The space that they are investing in, namely disruptive technologies for food and animal feed, looks very promising to us. It offers the potential to do good and generate strong returns.
One area that the VC firm has exposure to is protein for the fish and animal feed market. Most current feed production is inefficient, having a poor feed conversion ratio (such as harvesting small fish to meal up to feed the larger fish) and is increasingly based on a diet of GMO soy. Consider the space and you will question what it is we are eating! The VC is focussed on a company that is developing insect-based feed, which is both a more natural food for fish and is also a great way of utilising biomass.
It was interesting to note that Louis Faure, one of the Farm’s entrepreneurs running Freebirds, is also looking at alternative animal feeds. He was ‘desperately’ seeking Black Soldier Flies to start mating them and was disappointed as he was unable to catch the few he spotted – not something you would expect to hear from a Frenchman in the Philippines!
It’s reflective of how the Farm is touching on some of the same key issues that we face in parts of the developed world – food security and protein production.
We intend to continue developing our relationship with GK’s Enchanted Farm.
In time, we intend to provide scholarships to additional kids in other communities outside of the Philippines so that we can play a role in developing a sense of interconnectedness across these different communities at the international level. The financially poor have a wealth of capabilities and, if we want a safer, more content, prosperous and happier world, we need to recognise that we all possess the same attributes and capabilities, that can only be realised if we level the playing field a little.
We would welcome readers to get engaged and can put you in touch with the Farm directly, or Tom at MAD Travel that can organise your visit ([email protected]).
Should you wish to know more about how you can get involved, please reach out to me at [email protected]
Lastly, here is a great quote from Tito Tony:
How do you keep your Dream alive?
- Plant the dream early. Make your heart, mind and hands a fertile ground for your dream to grow.
- Nurture it with Passion daily. Water it with love, fertilize it with faith, sunlight it with hope.
- Make it your highest Priority. Don’t allow trivial and harmful distractions remove your focus from giving your all to your shot for excellence and greatness.
- Persist in learning new things, doing things better, making things bigger, doing more good, opening new doors, breaking new ground, expanding your borders. Grow Patience in yourself, wait for the flowers to bloom, for the branches to bear fruit. To everything there is a season. Wait for the right time, for the right reason, for the right person.
- Persevere in doing what is right. Endure the pain. Keep trying, keep fighting. Pick yourself up everytime you fall. Learn from every mistake. Never quit on your dream, never give up on yourself – or your family, your country and the rest of humanity.
Live fully. Love deeply. Enjoy the journey. When your Dream is alive, you are truly alive. Yours will be a future full of hope.