Partnership platforms for sustainable societies


(CNS): Dr Marie Lisa Dacanay, President of the Institute for Social Entrepreneurship in Asia, defines social entrepreneurship as ‘a game changing strategy to mainstream social enterprises to help the poor/ marginalized and women at the grassroots become key partners in multi-stakeholder innovation platforms for developing inclusive, sustainable economies; and to partake of the value and wealth created in ways that transform their lives and communities’.


Lisa aptly describes social enterprises as hybrid organizations that have arisen in response to poverty and inequality. While they are like NGOs in the sense that they are social mission driven, but, unlike NGOs they do not depend on grants to pursue their mission; rather they are more business like and create wealth. But unlike ordinary businesses, they create and distribute wealth to the poor who are their primary stakeholders.




Here is a glimpse of some successful social enterprises that are transforming lives in South East Asia:




·         Alter Trade Foundation Inc & Negros Organic & Fair Trade Association (NOFTA) has 729 small farmers as its members, (311 of them being women) who are engaged as suppliers for organic muscovado sugar to fair trade markets at local level, in metro Manila and also in the international market in Germany. They have been helped to acquire Organic and Fair Trade certification; negotiate better terms with the sugar mills, and move up the value chain as majority owners of NOFTA Fair Trade Haus - the trading and marketing arm of this social enterprise group.


This partnership has helped the poor sugar workers to become entrepreneurial farmers. NOFTA’s member-households have transformed their lives, moving out from the sub-human conditions of hunger and poverty to one of decent living. Imelda Cervantes is one such woman who, from an asset-less agricultural worker, has become a farmer-leader of NOFTA. In partnership with Alter Trade and NOFTA, Imelda has led her association of agrarian reform beneficiaries not only to be the best supplier of organic sugar, but also to serve as a vehicle for crop and income diversification and community development. 


·         Sultan Kudarat Coffee Ventures Inc (SKCVI) is the social enterprise arm of the NGO- TRICOM, which has partnered with an indigenous people’s organization - the Kulaman Manobo Dulangan Organization (KMDO). SKCVI is one of the 51 community-based coffee enterprises (CBCEs) comprising the Philippine Coffee Alliance, which engages 34221 farming households, 200 of whom belong to indigenous communities. At least 31% of these CBCEs are led by women like Juanita Mamo. From being a voiceless indigenous woman in a male-dominated tribe, Juanita is now the elected chairperson of the Council of Elders of KMDO. Through this partnership, women and men members of the KMD tribe in Sultan Kudarat are engaged in the production, processing and marketing of Kape Dulangan- their own brand of coffee that caters to a growing local market.




·         KSU Jatirogo is a multipurpose cooperative dealing with organic coconut sap sugar and caters to international as well as domestic markets. It engages a 100% female workforce of coconut farmers, comprising 1731 women of whom 119 are heads of households (their husbands are dead or have abandoned them) and hence are members of the cooperative. KSU Jatirogo enabled women from coconut farming communities to shift from producing ‘batok’ and rough brown sugar for local markets to organic coconut sap sugar for export.


·         Karya Masyarakat Mandiri (KMM) a subsidiary of Dompet Dhuafa, has organised a women-led Sinar Abadi Cooperative of marginalized mussel strippers, comprising 200 small producers, 45% of whom are women. It has become the local partner in governance of green mussel value chain interventions. Wasti, the chairperson of this cooperative, has helped asset-less mussel strippers to become owners of bagans- the means of production for mussels. KMM has also helped the cooperative to process and trade green mussels in the local market. This economic activity has, in the Islamic context, transformed Wasti, and the women she leads, from being receivers of zakat (alms) to becoming givers of zakat. It has made women householders owners of productive assets of 3-5 bagans each. Their overall household income has increased from USD 42-64 to USD 205-410, above the provincial minimum wage of USD163.




·         Dragon Vietnam Investment has enabled indigenous women to diversify from growing corn to sustainably cultivating ginger and gac (a crop rich in Vitamin A and used as an ingredient by pharmaceutical companies), which require less land and give 3-5 times more income. It engages 2000 smallholder producers, 1000 of them being women. By producing fresh and processed ginger and gac, they now earn 5-10 times more as compared to their income from corn. Dragon buys all their produce, which is sold in the domestic as well as international markets, at flexible market price with an assured minimum purchase price. Ly Thi Dung is one such indigenous woman, who is part of an Interest Group, that Dragon organized among the H’mong people of Vietnam, to export fresh and processed ginger carrying the Global GAP Standard.


·         Hiep Khanh Tea Joint Stock Company (HITEACO) engages 1000 households, 600 of them being women. It exports tea to Middle East and Europe. HITEACO established tea processing facilities in Son La province, and engaged women and men as household partners in their value chain. They provided an initial incentive package of seedlings and fertilizers, covering 70% of the inputs’ requirement. The company provides regular technical assistance to sustain the quality of the tea products. It has also introduced bio-fertilizers and ensures strict adherence to non use of chemical fertilizers. This has resulted in increased production by the tea farmers who now have an assured buyer of their produce in HITEACO.


·         Imelda, Juanita, Wasti, Pin and Dung are examples of grassroots women in Southeast Asia who have been empowered through partnerships with social enterprises and inclusive businesses working with civil society organizations in various value chain and development interventions. These are but few of the transformational partnerships in agricultural value chains that have had a significant impact on small scale producers, especially women.




·         Fisherfolk Enterprise of the Association of Thai Fisherfolk Federation is spearheaded by 160 fishers and has about 5,000 small scale fisher members-60% of whom are women. With Oxfam’s help, it introduced the Blue Brand Certification system. This certification has enabled its members to get a 20% premium price for their ‘naturally harvested, fresh, responsibly fished and formalin-free’ seafood products. Pin, who heads the fish processing and slicing group of the Fisherfolk Enterprise, trains women fishers to ensure that they produce quality and standardized Blue Brand products. Pin and other women from this enterprise have earned up to 100% more from their engagement in the Blue Brand value chain.


·         Lemon Farm Cooperative was established in 1999, and is co-owned by 28,000 consumer and producer households. It has provided a stable market for the certified organic and natural agricultural products produced by Fisherfolk Enterprises. Blue Brand certified fish and seafood is sold through Lemon farm’s 11 grocery outlets in Bangkok and through Fisherfolk shops in 4 other provinces of Thailand.


·         GreenNet Cooperative sells certified, organic, fresh and processed fish and seafoods in Bangkok. Set up in 1993, it sold the first ever certified organic fish in Thailand. It engages 400 small fishers, 160 (or 40%) of whom are women. It is also engaged in other value chains, like rice and coffee. GreenNet organized local Community Fish Markets (CFM), and registered members committed to develop their products for organic certification. They have also formed an Organic Fishers Group, that manages and checks the organic fishery products before being dispatched to intended markets. CFM members are guaranteed a price that was 20-100% higher than the price given to them by traders. 75% of the sale-income is shared between CFMs and their members, while 25% is collected and saved as mutual funds for market operations.


·         The World Fair Trade Organisation Asia (WFTO-Asia) based in Chiang Mai, Thailand is worth mentioning too. It is a regional conglomerate of 151 organizations in 19 Asian countries comprising over 110,000 producers, 75% of whom are female producers. It represents a supply chain from producers to exporters, wholesalers and shops, seeking greater equity in international trade. As the name suggests, WFTO believes in Fair Trade - a trading partnership based on dialogue, transparency and respect and contributing to sustainable development by offering better trading conditions to, and securing the rights of, marginalized producers and workers.


Patwira Narasri, Deputy Director at WFTO-Asia shares that WFTO prioritizes organizations working in multiple sectors rather than in one commodity, and provides spaces for producers, exporters, importers, retailers, and consumers to connect and work together. It shows how a business that puts people first can also be successful, simply by following the 10 principles of Fair Trade (as highlighted in their logo), that member organizations must follow in their day-to-day work. It is a tangible contribution to the fight against poverty, climate change and economic crisis and works on the simple equation of: Dialogue+Transparency+Respect = Equity in International Trade.All these platforms are providing enabling policies, programmes and resources to mainstream small producers and marginalized communities as stakeholders in building local economies supportive of sustainable consumption and production patterns for equitable community development. This is very much in accordance with the clarion call of Agenda 2030 to leave no one behind.


Shobha Shukla, CNS (Citizen News Service)

(Shobha Shukla is Chief Editor at CNS (Citizen News Service) and writes extensively on health and gender justice. Follow her on Twitter @Shobha1Shukla or be welcome to visit