Ombion: Social business organizations that last

THEY ARE TRUE. But they rarely exist. Many of those I have known were short-lived.

In the greater business circles, it is a consensus that only businesses that know how to adapt to fast-changing conditions and manage well the effects of such in their organization can be assured of survival and even sustainability.

Business scholars have also noted that of all organizations in society, business organization is the more dynamic yet riskier to manage because of its venturous character in a world governed by brutal competition.

It also plays a change-driver in the economy and society, which creates opportunities and in other times wreck socio-economic havocs.

Given such framework and perspective, a business organization must be highly adaptive, creative and fast in accomplishing its purpose before new conditions would compel it to re-invent itself or force to fade away.

Well, how much more for social business organizations whose reason for being is primarily people’s development, secondarily for profit, and for sustaining the needs of their administration and operations and not for surplus accumulation.

I have known a few that (still) exist today. There’s a lot of lessons that can be drawn from their experience. But I will try to limit only to those aspects that have been summed up, by themselves.

One such social business organization is the Bacolod-based Alternative Indigenous Development Foundation Inc. (AIDFI), where I was a board of director and quality operations manager for few years.

It’s been in service operations helping farm workers and small farmers for more than 20 years or so, and operating on small funds they acquired from some development funding agencies and other benevolent institutions and families.

It was founded by a group of Negros farmworkers with some technical know-how, who wanted to fabricate farm tools and appropriate technologies to generate water and small power, and help improve the production of farmworkers who won lands from their struggles.

The group was later aided by a Dutch marine engineer, Auke Idzenga.

Inspired by Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful, Auke has developed great interest in renewable energy. He tried micro hydro systems. But his major breakthrough is in hydraulic ram pump water system.

To make a long story short, more than 20 years after, AIDFI has constructed ram pump systems that provide water to more than a thousand poor rural communities nationwide, and in some other Asian and Latin American countries.

In all their projects, they put up a 50-50 sharing system, where the community shares in the cost of the project and AIDFI looks for counterpart funds from donors. More than that, they have also helped organize their ram pump beneficiaries into water associations, and train local technicians to ensure stakeholders responsibility and the project sustainability.

Today, AIDFI has developed into a full blown social business organization with its own fabrication shop for ram pumps and other appropriate technologies. It also won local and international awards and citations for its innovative and clean technologies, and exemplary management of a social business organization.

Auke, now its chief executive officer, has already trained dozens of local technicians engaging in technical services and community development work. But his biggest dream is to see a local manufacturing and renewable energy groups thrive to serve as locomotive of rural industrialization.

Another one is, Altertrade Corp. It’s been in existence for thirty years.

It is probably among the few grassroots-based alternative business organizations which have survived the harshness of marketing and trading business since it began its people-to-people trade in late 80s.

It pioneered the growing of green “balangon” banana in addition to other organic crops production among the upland farmers and settlers in Negros as their additional income, and organic sugarcane farming for organic mascobado production among agrarian reform beneficiaries.

Although balangon and mascobado are the flagship products of Altertrade, it also produce and process other healthy food products for both domestic and people-to-people trade and fair trade markers abroad.

What is unique with Altertrade marketing-trading work is its way of organizing its own consumers network through people-to-people trade and fair trade and solidarity campaigns. They don’t rely on placing their products in supermalls and local stores, but through organized consumers groups, cooperatives, community associations and direct product subscribers.

Like AIDFI, and other social business organizations, Altertrade also has its share of serious internal organizational problems and external relations, even near financial liquidation, forcing it to undertake numerous re-orientations, re-reorganizations and re-positioning of its organization, personnel and products.

Altertrade has been re-established into two major entities but under one Altertrade family, the Altertrade Philippines Inc., which is a wholly owned and managed alternative business organization focused on balangon and mascobado production, developing other organic and healthy products primarily for domestic market and people-to-people trade and fair trade market.

The other one is the Altertrade Philippine Foundation Inc. or ATPF, with a main task of assisting in the comprehensive development of Altertrade’s producers and their communities, and improving farming and production systems along its Sustainable Agro-ecological Village or Save as model of empowered and sustainable communities.

The decision to consolidate Altertrade into one coherent, centralized, dynamic, flat and networked-business organization was not simply driven by its desire for a truly business viability, but to make it a more effective organization that can spell a significant difference in its partners’ lives, and bring greater social impact in Negros society in particular, and the Philippines in general, now gasping for a wider breathing spell due to the neoliberal onslaught of economics and politics.

AIDFI and Altertrade are just among the rare social business organizations that exist and survived the unfriendly and often brutal business environment in the Philippines, where monopolies reign.

I know there are few others of their like. I wish them all success, expand, and create greater social impact among our marginalized sectors and communities.

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