by Maria Angela Flores

Social enterprises are changing the way we do business, from a profit-driven model to one that builds communities. In developing Asia, these organisational hybrids are receiving more attention as the region faces a development conundrum. We have seen tremendous growth in the past decade – Asia accounts for a quarter of the global GDP. However, many pockets of the region continue to struggle with high levels of poverty, unemployment and inequality. 

In Southeast Asia, the Philippines included, the youth bulge potentially can bring demographic dividends but can also spell disaster if the young cannot find economic opportunities. Add to that the presence of fragility in this part of the world where human needs go unsatisfied and threats to stability become a barrier to prosperity and human development. Social enterprise can fill the gap and be the vehicle for inclusive growth.

A new study published by the British Council and the Philippine Social Enterprise Network (PhilSEN) with support from the European Union (EU) and the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) found that there may be as many as 164,473 social enterprises operating in the Philippines whose top objectives are to generate employment, alleviate poverty, improve a local community and empower marginalised groups. They favour inclusion of the most vulnerable and marginalised and provide a platform for voice and economic participation for those left behind.

The publication Reaching the Farthest First is a significant development in terms of providing insight into the contributions of social enterprises in the Philippines. The results were derived from a survey of 206 social enterprises nationwide. With these quantitative estimates and their economic and social contributions, it is clear that government should respond to this movement.

We found that:

  • social enterprises are empowering women through employment and leadership of social enterprises
  • young people are becoming active in the sector particularly in the newer startups
  • social enterprises are creating new pathways to better livelihoods and supporting inclusive growth
  • of the 34 per cent growth in jobs in the Philippine economy, it is estimated that 5 per cent come from social enterprises
  • in terms of sectors, social enterprises are mostly in agriculture. This support is welcome and critical to alleviate the conditions of our farmers, producers and cooperatives. Some sectors have very little representation such as fisheries, energy, housing and justice and rehabilitation
  • Social enterprise activity in the Philippines is taking off – the number of social enterprise start-ups has more than tripled in the last decade alone.

The findings point to the importance of generating support for the sector and finding one voice to advocate for such support. If sector stakeholders are unable to lobby effectively, government, the private sector and development actors will find it difficult to respond to the growing need to establish a more robust environment for social enterprises to flourish and deepen their impact.

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