By Sahlie P. Lacson

Ten young entrepreneurs with a social mission in the field of agribusiness, healthcare, education, energy, and technology were recently given recognition during Bank of the Philippine Islands’ (BPI) 5th Sinag Awards.

Entrepreneurs 18 years old and above who are leading a registered social enterprise (SE)
operating for at least two years, and which addresses a specific social problem and defined social impact comprise this year’s awardees. The list includes GI Crafts Shell, Museum & Gallery, Malingkat Enterprise, Meaningful Travels Ph, Organic Growth, Yumi’s Farm, Down to Earth, Halal Organics Crops Production, Mavil’s House of Mushrooms, Sabang Daguitan Surf Camp & Dao Balay Kawilan, and Subida.

BPI Sinag, under BPI Foundation (the Bank’s social development arm), says that MSME’s (micro, small, and medium enterprises) make up the 99.6% of all registered businesses in the Philippines, with 61.6% of all jobs created emanating from them. And so it is through these facts that the BPI Foundation created the search and provided a platform to utilize the expertise of the Bank, being one of the leaders in business and finance, to reach out to this segment of the economy and include them in formal banking systems. “BPI Sinag Accelerate is a platform which, through the annual business challenge, aims to discover, equip, and empower social entrepreneurs with innovative ideas and existing mission-driven and socially-conscious enterprises who can help uplift Filipino communities,” introduces Ma. Sarah B. Alli, program manager for entrepreneurship of BPI Foundation. Moreover, they aim to scale up and sustain these social enterprises by providing them with capital, that is, intellectual, social, and financial capital through the search, learn, and boost phases of the competition.

Process

First, BPI Sinag provided the finalists with business workshops/boot camps to help
them develop their skills in business management, marketing, and finance. Second, BPI Sinag partnered with like-minded institutions, individuals, businesses, and investors, and connected them to social entrepreneurs to provide them with the opportunity to talk, learn from each other, and work together. Third, at the end of the business challenge, BPI Sinag provided them with financial grants to help them scale their business and grow their impact in the communities in which they work with.

“I thought my business (was) already doing good, but when I was able to meet the professors, and all others who helped us during the BPI Sinag bootcamp/training, as well as the fellow SEs, it was there that I realized that I still have so many things to learn and apply in our enterprise. When I came back to the farm, I applied all the lessons I have learned which gave more structure to our business,” shared Carlomagno Aguilar, owner of Organic Growth, who is one of the top 10 awardees. Their SE was cited for training farmers on how to grow organic vegetables and show them modern ways of growing them. They also teach new ways to do agribusiness.

Moreover, Nicolo Aberasturi, owner of Down to Earth who emerged as this year’s grand
winner, also shared, “it (BPI Sinag) opened our eyes to many, many things. We realized that we could really extend and should be our duty to share the knowledge that we have, especially to a lot of [rural] farmers who are having a hard time trying to survive… we get them in our workshops all the time.” Their SE focuses on biodegradable waste solution for small spaces or urban environments with little or no access to a garden or land. They utilize food waste from households, restaurants, or communities which they then turn into a material to grow food. They also conduct workshops and training to farmhands, and to people who have idle lands in both rural and urban areas and offer them solutions to produce food using mainly food waste.

For 2019, all winners received cash grants and a six-month mentorship program by pioneering social enterprise incubator BAYAN Academy for Social Entrepreneurship and Human Resource Development to be facilitated by Dr. Eduardo Morato Jr. There were six other social enterprises who also received special recognitions and cash grants (most of them in the field of agriculture), and will be joining the annual BPI Sinag ng Pasko Christmas Bazaar in December to present their products and services to holiday shoppers.

However, as stressed by Alli, more than the awards and cash prizes, what BPI Sinag is most proud of is being able to grow the network and continue helping MSMEs. And just like all the winners, they too, hope to continue the program as they move on the right track based on the social enterprises that have helped scale up and grow, and the businesses they have helped throughout the years of the competition.