Passionate (about teaching and poverty alleviation, Edwin Salonga and Vincent Rapisura, both 34, sought a way to share their talents as educators and knowledge as businessmen. They established Social Enterprises Development Partnerships, Inc. (SEDPI) to reach out and provide training and financing to microfinance institutions (MFIs) and disadvantaged individuals. More than just a joint business venture, SEDPI is an affirmation of their belief that, through effective partnership, education and entrepreneurship, social change can be achieved.
Mr. Salonga graduated from the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman with a degree in Journalism in 1998 and earned a graduate degree in Public Administration, also from UP Diliman, in 2001. Mr. Rapisura, on the other hand, graduated from the Ateneo de Manila University with a Bachelor in Management degree in 2000. He earned his Master’s degree in Entrepreneurship from the Asian Institute of Management in 2004.
Both men trace their earliest entrepreneurial attempts to their childhood. Mr. Salonga, who was an honor student, comes from a family of six children. In order to earn extra money, he would put his scholastic skills to use by helping his classmates with their assignments for a fee.
Mr. Rapisura comes from a business-oriented family. His parents owned a store at a market in Quirino province, where they sold bagoong, as well as a furniture shop employing a hundred and fifty employees. Mr. Rapisura recounts that he and his siblings would be assigned to man the bagoong stall on weekends, which taught him the value of handling money at a young age.
Mr. Salonga admits that, initially, he was quite hesitant about giving up his day job as he was brought up to choose security over taking risks. But because of his background in Public Administration, he realized that he needed to step up if he truly wished to make a difference in the country. “I agreed to go into business under one condition — the business should not just be about making money. It has to help people too,” he said.
With their experience in academe and knowledge gained from their graduate studies, Mr. Salonga and Mr. Rapisura decided to approach the perennial problem of poverty from a different perspective.
“The money is right there,” Mr. Rapisura says, “the problem is that people don’t know how to manage their finances.” Believing that educating the underprivileged was key, they focused their efforts on capacity building and microfinance.
“We analyzed the poverty situation both academically and practically,” says Mr. Rapisura. “I realized that most of the microfinance programs in the country fail mainly because they are government-led,” he added. This is because, according to him, many people believe they are entitled to government dole-outs. They see government loans as subsidies, rather than obligations, and so have no qualms about defaulting.
Seeing the problem from this point of view, they focused on capacity building among NGOs, cooperatives and rural banks. Through SEDPI, they provided financial, technical and other forms of assistance to MFIs. They also provided start-up social enterprises with venture capital, training and systems to help incubate these enterprises.
SEDPI has since provided training to over 15,000 microfinance and social enterprise stakeholders from around 1,500 development organizations in 21 countries. Among the organizations it has trained are the Central Bank of Nigeria and the Nigerian Deposit Insurance Corporation. SEDPI has also been engaged by the British Council to provide training on social entrepreneurship in the Philippines and in the Indochina region.
Social entrepreneurships, by their nature, seldom quantify achievements in terms of revenue but instead in terms of social impact. SEDPI claims its programs have shown significant results for clients of the MFIs that it has trained. Its surveys indicate that 70% of clients are better able to send their children to school, 43% report improve housing, 38% had increased savings, 37% had increased income and 25% reported improved diets.
In addition to MFIs and social enterprises, SEDPI also aims to help overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and their families better manage their finances through online Financial Literacy Training courses. Most OFWs do not have emergency savings or insurance, are in debt, and have no investments. Through their courses, SEDPI aims to equip OFWs with the knowledge and tools for effective personal financial management, including handling debts, setting financial goals, and building up savings and investments.
Moving forward, Mr. Salonga and Mr. Rapisura see technology as an effective tool to help SEDPI attain its goals. In the interests of cost-effectivity and greater reach, they have created several online training courses and are also planning to offer computer literacy training to Filipinos who work abroad. Their long-term goal is to replicate their programs in other countries.
SEDPI operates on a people-first philosophy, where concern for the well-being of their staff is one of their core values. They cite their decision to decline an offer to be bought out by the Mercy Corps project, funded by the Melinda and Bill Gates project, for US$2 million because they didn’t feel that it was in the best interests of the SEDPI staff.
To aspiring entrepreneurs, Mr. Rapisura says, “Never give up, face challenges, and be with the right people.” Mr. Salonga, on the other hand, says that “Money should not be your main motivator. It’s not enough to just follow your passion, you also have to be strategic about it.”
The winners of the Entrepreneur Of The Year Philippines 2012 will be announced on Oct. 18, 2012 in an awards banquet at the Makati Shangri-La Hotel. The Entrepreneur Of The Year Philippines will represent the country in the World Entrepreneur Of The Year 2013 in Monte Carlo, Monaco in June 2013. The Entrepreneur Of The Year is produced globally by Ernst & Young.