by Rolando A. Reyes
As a developing country, a wide disparity between the rich and the poor exists in the Philippines. Though enjoying an economic growth that is one of the highest in Asia today, the effects of such growth has not really trickled down to the poor. The underprivileged continues to be deprived of even the most basic necessities. According to a well- known economist, poverty can only be reduced in the long term if the country can sustain its economic growth by 7 to 8 % in the next 10 years.
Are the poor then doomed to a life of scarcity until this sustained growth is achieved? Not really. Fortunately, the country are not lacking in altruistic souls. Many non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are helping the poor improve their lives through livelihood programs, scholarships, and free health services. Different religious organizations are doing their share. Through their corporate social responsibility (CSR) commitment, businesses are also extending a helping hand. In the last few years, a new breed of heroes for the poor has emerged. These are the so called social enterprises.
A social enterprise is a business organization that trades for a social and environmental purpose. It has a clear sense of its ‘social mission’; is fully aware of the difference it is trying to make; knows who it aims to help; and how it plans to do it. Its income comes from selling goods or services. Its rules are clear about what it does with its profits which is to reinvest these to further the ‘social mission’.
Human Nature is a social enterprise with a mission to uplift the lives of Filipinos, especially the marginalized. Founded by sisters Anna Meloto-Wilk and Camille Meloto and Anna’s husband Dylan, volunteers of Gawad Kalinga, an NGO which build houses and model communities for the poorest of the poor. Human Nature produces world-class natural and organic beauty, personal and home care products. Since its establishment in 2008, the company has made headway and is giving multinational competitors a run for their money. It is penetrating the global market and now exports to the United States, Singapore, and Malaysia.
Dylan, a British national and poor once upon a time, was himself a recipient of people’s altruism. Of humble beginnings, Dylan had to drop out of high school because of difficult circumstances but he never gave up on his dream of being rich. A big break came knocking when Prince Charles himself, through his foundation, lent him an equivalent of two hundred thousand pesos to start a computer game distribution business. His business thrived and became the biggest computer game distribution company in Europe landing Dylan ninth in the list of the wealthiest British under thirty years old.
Grateful for his abundant blessings, Dylan resolved to pay back by helping the poor. A Filipino friend introduced Gawad Kalinga to him and he decided to visit the Philippines to take a look. What he saw amazed him! The once filthy depressed squatter areas were transformed by GK into beautiful communities, with decent houses granted to the informal settlers. With renewed hopes put in their hearts, the lives of formerly despondent people were also transformed.
When he first came to the Philippines, Dylan intended only to donate one of his luxury cars whose proceeds when sold would be used to build GK houses, be a GK volunteer for six months, and then fly back to his homeland. But things did not turn out as planned. He desperately fell in love with GK and the Filipino people, got enamored with Anna, the daughter of the GK founder Tony Meloto, married her and decided to settle in the Philippines. Since then, his life transformed forever!
Heart of a Hero
In operation for four short years, Human Nature received in 2012 the Global Social Entrepreneur Award given by the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship founded by Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum. On receiving the award, Anna said, “Now, more than ever, business should be at the forefront of addressing social and environmental issues because it has the resources, technology, and discipline to make a significant impact. All it needs is the heart and the will to do so.”
A heart of a self-sacrificing hero and the will to achieve its goal, Human Nature certainly has these. The company mission says it all; acknowledging themselves (the people comprising Human Nature) as faithful stewards of their God-given talents and natural resources, they commit to give the best of themselves to build with urgency a sustainable global company which showcases the best of the Philippines and uplifts the lives of its people, especially the poor, by selling affordable, quality, natural products. It lives by its core values which are Pro-Philippines, Pro-poor, and Pro-environment.
In choosing raw materials to be used for product development, Human Nature asks the question, “Can this plant or herb or other natural raw materials, be sourced locally?” If the answer is no, a further question is asked, “Can it eventually be grown in the Philippines?” It is only when an ingredient meets these criteria that it is eventually used.
As an example, lemongrass oil, a raw material used by Human Nature, passed this test because lemongrass is extensively grown in the country. On the other hand, she butter, although a good and widely-used ingredient used in beauty and personal care products, failed because it’s not and cannot be produced locally.
Human Nature employs GK residents who are paid more than the minimum required by law and are given benefits better than many other businesses. Interestingly, it is perhaps the only company which has ‘no-firing-but-no-babying-either’ policy which happily has resulted to a 99.5% work efficiency!
Raw material suppliers which are mostly community-based farmer cooperatives are paid fair prices by Human Nature to support and give them their just due. Sometimes they are even paid higher than prevailing market prices if this is warranted for farmers to afford at least a decent living.
Working with various NGOs, Human Nature makes sure that farmer cooperatives’ businesses are profitable and sustainable. For instance, citronella farming and oil extraction technology were introduced to coconut farmers in Labo, Camarines Norte by an NGO, the Philippine Federation for Environmental Concern (PFEC) to serve as an additional livelihood. Human Nature committed to be a sure market for the citronella oil. Likewise, sugarcane farmers in Cauayan, Negros Occidental were organized by another NGO, the Alternative Indigenous Development Foundation, Inc. (AIDFI), to go into lemongrass farming and oil production, again, with Human Nature as a sure buyer.
Human Nature also assists other socially-oriented entrepreneurs to make their dreams of helping the poor come true through a partnership with the Gawad Kalinga Enchanted Farm, located in Bulacan. The farm serves as an incubation center for potential social enterprises. Bayani Brew (Ice Tea & Purple Leaf Tea Bottled Beverage), The Golden Egg (naturally colored salted duck eggs), and Gourmet Keso (its gourmet karabao white cheese) are some of the start-up social enterprises developed in the farm. Enchanted Farm also serves as one of Human Nature’s pilot farms.
Raw materials used by Human Nature are thoroughly researched to ensure that each one is naturally derived; safe for human consumption; produced using a green process; and is not converted into toxic substances when mixed with other ingredients or disposed- off in the environment.
Coconut oil-based surfactants or cleansing agents manufactured by a publicly listed company, Chemrez Technologies, Inc., passed Human Nature’s stringent test for use in their Tough Love liquid detergent, dishwashing liquid, and powder detergent products.
Searching and finally finding a local source for natural cleansing agents, Anna exclaimed, “We’re really happy to have found Chemrez, which has a lot in common with Human Nature in terms of our advocacy and values. It is a company which manufactures sophisticated and safe products by harnessing the country’s natural resources. It shows that the Philippines is not limited to just exporting raw materials from our natural resources but that it is also capable of synthesizing these into world-class products like these coconut oil-based cleansing agents.”
Savonel® and Hi-Foam® are the coconut oil-based cleansing agents manufactured by Chemrez Technologies, Inc. These products were developed to replace SLS and SLES which are widely-used in personal and home care products. Unfortunately, studies show that SLS and SLES cause skin irritation and contain traces of a probable cancer-causing chemical. In contrast, Savonel® and Hi-Foam® are safe to both man and the environment.
Chemrez is a leader in green chemistry innovations. Its products are designed to reduce or eliminate the use and generation of hazardous substances. Its manufacturing processes are properly engineered to adequately address safety, health, and environment concerns.
Constantly in the process of innovation, Chemrez has developed many value-added and eco-friendly products to satisfy not only customer requirements but also those of the society. It has tapped the indigenous, natural, and sustainable coconut oil as a feedstock for many of its products including Savonel® and Hi-Foam®. It is the pioneer and the biggest manufacturer of coco-biodiesel in the country.Chemrez is a local publicly-listed company, an affiliate of D&L Industries, Inc.
As an advocate for the environment, Human Nature uses locally manufactured recyclable PET bottles for packaging. It supports the “Balik Bote, Bigay Buhay” program which encourages consumers to donate their recyclable bottles to Human Nature to be sold to support various GK communities. It also advises consumers to bring their own reusable bags when shopping.
In 2011, Human Nature was even awarded with a “Cruelty-Free Company Certificate” by the world's largest animal rights organization, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) based in the United States in recognition of its policy against animal testing and its commitment to environmental stewardship.
As a responsible social enterprise, Human Nature is reinvesting its profits for the furtherance of its mission. On January 26, 2012, Human Nature gave a P300,000 grant to the Alternative Indigenous Development Foundation, Inc. (AIDFI) for the expansion of the farmer cooperative’s lemongrass oil production in Negros Occidental.
It also donated 100% of its October-December 2010 profits from the sales of Bug Spray which uses citronella oil to the Kooperatiba ng mga Maliliit na Magniniyog ng Barangay Kanapawan (KMMBK) and Philippine Federation of Environmental Concern (PFEC). Totaling P972,694.94, this amount is used in community development projects in Barangay Kanapawan, Labo, Camarines Norte. The projects aimed at eradicating poverty in the barangay include the renovation of an elementary school building, procurement of textbooks and school supplies, and the improvement of the community health care program. Since the launch of the campaign, Human Nature has continued to donate 100% of its profits to support other farming communities. Their latest campaign called “The Farmers’ Fund Drive” aims to sell 50,000 units of Bug Shield to fund the development of two Citronella oil producing Gawad Kalinga communities in Bukidnon.
Human Nature also committed to give back 100% of the profits from all the sale of Passion Fruit Mineral Lipstick to fund the development of a passion fruit seed oil production facility in Catigan, Davao. Such facility will provide more income for the GK Pueblo Antonio Community located in the municipality. To date, profits from this product have enabled the company to purchase a seed extractor that was donated to the community. Human Nature committed to purchase the oil at a fair price and develop more products that will use it once the community is able to produce the oil.
With its remarkable success in a short period of time, Human Nature sees itself becoming a globally successful enterprise with a heart which will serve as a gold standard and embolden other businesses to follow suit to better serve the society, particularly the poor.
In ending, Anna said, “Human Nature will be among the best players in the world, with a global brand, and with a sustainable business that is truly Filipino and takes to heart the welfare of the poor and the environment.”