AS a registered nurse, Mary Adelyn Gronda-Tecson had the opportunity to experience the conditions of the underprivileged among the depressed communities when she joined Antonio Meloto’s Gawad Kalinga (GK).
While she was doing her volunteer work with GK, Tecson was inspired by the call of Meloto to raise the bar of commitment to uplift the conditions of the poor.
Together with two friends, Tecson established Fishes and Changemakers Inc. (FCI) in 2014 in Purok Binuswangan, Barangay Guiwanon, Bantayan, Bantayan Island, Cebu.
Tecson told the BusinessMirror in an interview that they encountered a myriad of challenges in the early years of the business. To make it more challenging, none of them had a business background. But they remained unfazed. They joined and networked with different business organizations to enhance their skills and know-how.
Their dedication and perseverance paid off. In March this year, FCI won the Nestlé Creating Shared Value contest in Brazil. Tecson said the win could create a big difference in their business as Nestle will provide them a grant as one of the prizes.
What made you decide to go in to social entrepreneurship?
Our priceless exposure with development work had inspired me to venture into social entrepreneurship. Having the privilege to visit various marginalized communities nationwide and appreciate poverty in many aspects had inspired me to dream that one day, I’ll be partnering with these communities so as we create an economy that no one is left behind. It was very timely then when GK and Tito Tony Meloto were encouraging everyone, including us GK workers, to explore social business. Then the opportunity comes in, then our team just jump in to it.
Could you describe the early years of the business?
The capital to set up the company was the first concern, but a handful of friends also committed to join our journey. We were fortunate to have a team who have the expertise in eclectic fields, which became the strength of our social enterprise because we were able to complement each others weaknesses. Being a development worker also had taught us to see every situation holistically. It was also hard that most of us have no background to business when we joined different social enterprise hubs and competition like British Council Philippines—Active Citizens, BPI Sinag Accelerate, Gkonomics Enterprise Circle, GK Enchanted Farm Social Entrepreneurs and many more. It was then when we realize that to be able to make our social enterprise sustainable, we need to create an ecosystem of multisector partnerships with the likes of the departments of Agriculture, Science, Trade, and Echostore, Holy Carabao and many more.
What is the nature of business of FCI?
Fishers & Changemakers Inc. is a pioneer and lone social enterprise that partners with local artisan fishing communities to manufacture and distribute high-quality Balangay’s Best Seafood Products using sustainable technologies and equitable business practices in the Philippines. It was established in October 2014 during the rehabilitation efforts in Bantayan Island, Cebu, to journey with selected fishers as they fully recover from the typhoon’s aftermath. Through our partnership with Rare Philippines, we were able to expand to these six fishing communities: Looc and Lubang of Mindoro Occidental; Ayungon and Bindoy of Negros Oriental; and Cantilan and Cortez of Surigao del Sur. FCI works with fishermen committed to sustainable fishing practices.
FCI was founded with rural development in mind. Our business model increases fishermen’s income in multiple ways: (1) by purchasing their catch at fair market price (immediately doubling previous earnings); (2) by increasing the value of their produce through post-processing into dried seafood; and (3) by allowing them access to a larger market beyond demand from local towns and extortionist middlemen. On top of increased income for fishers themselves, FCI also employs their wives who take care of dried seafood production and packaging. This empowers women in the community who are elevated into status as partners in income generation, which supplement their role in managing the household. FCI creates value for fishing communities, the Philippine fisheries sector, and responsible and ethical consumers/ retailer, all while preventing marine degradation.
Please tell us the recent milestone of FCI.
We just recently won the Nestlé Creating Shared Value Prize 2018 in March in Brazil, which includes a grant from Nestlé that will be catalytic for FCI by building up our capacity in three areas: 1) infrastructure, 2) internal systems; and 3) consumer awareness. On infrastructure, we have not been to able to acquire the necessary requirements for export due to the limited size of our production center. We will invest in a customized space that will allow Balangays to mass process dried seafood. On internal systems, we will create modules, materials, and technology-enabled tools that will help speed up the training of new balangays. On consumer awareness, we’ve been successful at connecting general audiences to the plight of fishermen through our social-media posts. We will invest in a strategic awareness education campaign to accelerate this movement.
How would you assess its current status?
When we started this social enterprise, we didn’t really imagine that this would be very promising. Moreover, to make a huge impact to the fishery sector who are considered as the poorest sector in our country, which we only knew a year after its inception. Being their voice, slowly seeing the developments, facilitating synergies and empowerment of the fishers that has been taken for granted for so long had already gave us satisfaction but it doesn’t end there. We’re thrilled with the continuous innovations and the endless learning as we work toward achieving our social mission of “building sustainable fishing communities, one catch at a time.”
Inclusive growth is an integral key to our country’s problems. As mentioned in the “Reaching the Farthest First,” social enterprises have played a pivotal role in generating employment, alleviating poverty, improving a local community and empowering marginalized groups. The heart of every social enterprise is their social mission, which diversifies avenues to achieve it.