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25 Social Entrepreneurs Changing Lives in the Philippines

Meet the social entrepreneurs who are changing the country one life at a time
By Paolo Chua for |


Social entrepreneurship is a concept that's been around for a while, but its rapid growth the past decade is impossible to ignore.


The concept of social value has its roots in charity but it has evolved into a different beast. More than being charitable, social enterprises support communities by creating social, environmental, and financial impact. Social enterprises work together with the underprivileged, giving them the connections and knowledge to produce their goods. This, in turn, creates healthy demand and a steady source of income for those in need.



The emergence of the social entrepreneur has brought new hope to the state of the country. These are some of the notable people at the forefront of innovation, changing the Philippines one life at a time.



Tony Meloto

Gawad Kalinga and GK Enchanted Farm



Meloto is the founder of Gawad Kalinga. As a kid, he lived near the slums and was exposed to Filipinos living in extreme poverty.  But it wasn’t until he was on assignment in Australia that he felt the call to help and give back to the community. In 1995, he started Gawad Kalinga, a movement that helps build communities. Gawad Kalinga has been expanding in leaps and bounds since then, being implemented in over 2,000 communities as well as developing countries Indonesia, Cambodia and Papua New Guinea.


GK Enchanted Farm is Gawad Kalinga’s initiative to raise social entrepreneurs who will truly help local farmers and artisans, creating a ripple effect that will showcase Filipino products and hopefully help end poverty.




Camille Meloto and Anna Meloto-Wilk

Human Nature

IMAGE Pia Puno


Following in their father Tony Meloto’s footsteps, sisters Camille and Anna, together with Anna's husband Dylan Wilk, created Human Nature. A beauty and personal care brand, Human Nature produces high quality, natural, and earth-friendly products that help low-income communities, providing them with livelihood training, farming, and processing equipment. The brand has won countless international awards for social entrepreneurship and organic product development.




Krie Lopez

Messy Bessy



Messy Bessy was established in 2007 as a result of Krie’s program called HOuSE (Helping Ourselves through Sustainable Enterprises). The brand’s flagship products are biodegradable and natural household cleaners made by the at-risk youth who Messy Bessy employs.



Marie Cavosora




After a five-hour personal tour by Tony Meloto of the Gawad Kalinga property, Cavosora decided to change life paths and volunteer. From volunteering, she eventually became part of the management team and a social entrepreneur. She started CalaBoo Creamery with the intention of helping out farmers through the milk of fresh, locally sourced, grass-fed carabaos.



Anya Lim


IMAGE Toni Marie Despojo


Founded in 2010, ANTHILL makes hand-loomed fabrics for clothing and accessories in partnership with the Bulbulala Farmers and Weavers Association in Luzon, Handcrafters of Mary Enterprise in Visayas, and the Daraghuyan Community of the Bukidnon Tribe in Mindanao. Lim was recently awarded the special jury prize at the APEC Business Efficiency and Success Target Awards.



Len Cabili

Filip + Inna


Cabili grew up in Iligan and admired textiles at a young age. In college, she took up clothing technology at the University of the Philippines. A chance trip to General Santos City and Lake Sebu moved the entrepreneur so much that she established Filip + Inna. Today, she works with embroiderers, weavers, appliquers, and beaders from different Filipino tribes: Ga'dang from Mountain Province, Tinguian from Abra, Ilongot from Aurora, Ifugao from Kalinga, embroiderers from Lumban and Taal, Mangyan from Mindoro. In Mindanao, she works with Yakan from Basilan, from where her mother hails, Tboli from South Cotabato, Blaan and Tagakaolo from Sarangani, Tausug from Jolo, Sama from Tawi-Tawi, Maranao from Marawi, and Manobo from Davao.



Paula Aberasturi

Down to Earth

IMAGE Raen Badua


When she became a mother, Aberasturi had an organic awakening. Wanting the best for her family, she would buy organic produce at high market prices. Her farmer husband, Nicolo then suggested that they could easily grow their own organic produce. The family then uprooted and moved to Sta. Rosa, Laguna, where they keep a backyard farm. They also put up Down to Earth, an organic farm on the foothills of Mr. Kitanglad in Bukidnon.

One of the few biodynamic farms in the country, Down to Earth states, “We grow our DownToEarth products sustainably: growing flowers, vegetables, herbs without synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides or herbicides; and raising all our hens, chickens, pigs, lamb and cows on local grasses that are pesticide-free. The animals are raised outdoors and never given antibiotics, steroids or growth hormones. The cows are bull-bred, native cross-breeds and have never been castrated or dehorned. They have not been fed GMO corn or soy, or animal by-products.”



Aberasturi also conducts regular workshops on backyard farming to encourage more city dwellers to try it out themselves. 



Marielle De Leon-Lazaro and Liza Morales Crespo

TALI Handmade



TALI Handmade is the brainchild of Lazaro and Crespo. The two started the bag and accessory brand after a visit to a city jail. Seeing the potential to empower lives, the founders recruited the female inmates and taught them design patterns eventually establishing TALI Handmade. Crespo is also a principal of Liza Crespo Ecotecture, an architectural firm that is focused on sustainable design.




Bea Misa-Crisostomo


IMAGE Raen Badua


Ritual was started by Bea and husband Rob Crisostomo. The general store stocks bath and beauty products as well as cooking ingredients locally sourced from small-scale farmers. In 2010, the same year it was established, Ritual was recognized by TIME for its products and advocacies.




Mark and Reese Ruiz



This year is our most memorable year so far. It has been a rollercoaster ride for the both of us. Or rather, for the three of us (our little one on the way!)! I could not imagine going through all these with anyone else but you. We survived through the most challenging times because of your optimism, intelligence, wisdom, humor, kindness, perseverance, calmness, and indomitable faith. Thank you for being such a blessing to us and to everyone you encounter.:) Happy Happy Birthday to the love of my life, soulmate, best friend, and soon-to-be-daddy to our little baby boy! We are both so blessed to have you in our lives!! Thank you for another year of surprises, silly songs, broken lyrics, weird dance moves, deep conversations, shallow conversations, and love!:) I love you to the multiverse (yup, all of them), and back!

A post shared by Reese Fernandez-Ruiz (@reesefernandez) on Sep 16, 2016 at 7:35am PDT


Rags2Riches works with the women of poverty-stricken Payatas, bringing livelihood and development to the community. The brand supports their artisans with programs such as further training, financial assistance, and full-time employment.


Mark is also attached to Hapinoy, a development program founded by Senator Bam Aquino. Hapinoy supports the many sari-sari stores in the Philippines through training, business capital and innovation.



Michael Harris Conlin

Foundation for Sustainable Coffee Excellence



A coffee enthusiast from the beginning, Conlin decided to make his passion a business. Henry & Sons began with him personally grinding coffee beans to sell. Finding success in his venture, he decided to inject the social aspect after learning that farmers didn’t put importance on coffee beans. Foundation for Sustainable Coffee Excellence helps the La Trinidad farmers in Benguet, providing livelihood, equipment, water, education, and health.


Michael recently opened The Giving Café, a selling space and café that promotes FSCE’s efforts.



Thomas Graham and Rafael Dionisio

MAD Travel


A journalist by profession, Graham came to the Philippines to interview GK founder Tony Meloto. He decided to stay after seeing Gawad Kalinga first-hand. In 2014, he launched MAD Travel together with Dionisio, creating a sustainable tourism agency that’s partnered with the several Gawad Kalinga communities.



Louis Faure


Here I am, back under the mango trees of the GK Enchanted Farm, back in my second home, with the little Malaya and all the others. The past five months I spent in Paris have been very intense, as I knew it would be the last time I live under my parents' roof. The last time I would be sharing my days with my family that way, where we would be going to work and to school in the morning, come back in the evening to share dinner, go see a play, attend a concert or escape for a week-end of cold surfing and warm fireplace in Normandy. The last time I would start my days biking over the river Seine. From now on, I will still bring my little sister for a walk on my shoulders once in a while, she'll just be heavier every time. There is no melancoly, only the joy of moving forward to becoming who we are, listening to where our intuition leads us. These are not goodbyes, but see you laters, bringing along more beautiful moments to be stored in our memories. Moments spent with people who will always be there. And I saw sparkling in their eyes a light that said : you're on the path of finding your passion, your purpose, your peace; and you make me want to find mine too. As a dear friend of mine often says, there are no inspiring people per say, but people who fearlessly live out their own shining beauty. I know that my place today, and probably for the next few years, is with the most fiercefully authentic people I've met: the young men and women of the GK Enchanted Farm, who wake up everyday to build a brighter, fairer and happier tomorrow. Together.

A post shared by Louis Faure (@farmboylou) on Jan 26, 2017 at 4:46pm PST



Louis, the co-founder of FreeBirds first came to the Philippines to look for internship opportunities. After realizing that he could do more, he conceptualized FreeBirds with Vincent Tetal. FreeBirds provides free-range organic poultry raised in natural conditions by the local farmers. Louis recently finished his studies and has returned to the Philippines, kickingFreeBirds into high gear.




Alvie Benitez




GoldenDuck develops duck products ranging from premium salted eggs to award-winning burgers. The enterprise is most known for their “golden eggs,” salted egg colored with turmeric. GoldenDuck employs local duck farmers, providing income to their families and enriching the community.



Fabien Courteille

Plush & Play


Fabien Courteille (second from the right) with GK's SEED scholars and Marie Cavosora


Fabien first traveled to the Philippines in order to learn more about social entrepreneurship. He soon fell in love with the country, leaving his life in France. In October 2012, he founded his own social enterprise Batang Bayani International Inc. through which Fabien creates socially responsible toys Plush and Play that provides livelihood opportunities for women in the countryside.



Tajen and Catherine Sui

First Harvest


First Harvest produces delectable spreads and jams made with nutritious ingredients, priding itself with its no-extenders rule. The two founders thought of the enterprise at GK, where Tajen was a volunteer and Cat was connected to Human Nature. Today, First Harvest distributes natural honey-sweetened peanut spread, peanut crunch with pinipig, and salted cococaramel produced by the peanut farmers in Bulacan.



Ron Dizon, Xilca Alvarez and Shanon Khadka

Bayani Brew


While volunteering at GK farm, Dizon, Alvarez, Khadka found that thecommunity's mothers brewed teas from crops like tanglad and pandan. The team deduced that these teas could be packaged and marketed as refreshing cold drinks and soon, Bayani Brew was born. Bayani Brew prioritizes the local organic farming communities by giving them livelihood and promoting farmland development.




Chris Torrance

Ambension Silk Enterprise


Torrance arrived in the Philippines in 2014, working under Gawad Kalinga in an effort to help the community. He founded Ambension Silk Enterprise to give the Philippine textile industry a new lease on life by producing artisanal Eri silk products.






This article originally appeared on TownandCountryPH

Minor edits have been done by the editors.

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