Success. This late employee of Procter and Gamble changed his life at 35. Once a Christian missionary, he created an NGO to fight poverty in the Philippines. Thanks, in particular, to social entrepreneurship.
“You build with values, not only with money”, “I prefer the freedom of serving to the power of directing”… Quotes like these, Tony Meloto spreads them in every place he goes by. And for those who wouldn’t be fully convinced yet, he adds a few keywords : honesty, sharing, simplicity, work… That’s how he is. At 63, this Filipino, guest of honour of UNESCO’s Planetworkshops which took place in June in Paris, mixes henceforth with the world’s most powerful people yet finds his happiness and reason to live among the poorest of his country by helping them to find out how to start over and make it to a better life.
Nothing to do with Charity Business, where dollars are fading away too often because of a lack of project. Tito Tony (uncle Tony), as he is called often by his fellow citizen, manages to mix two words often incompatible in nowadays’ world: liberal and social. It is after all not surprising. This guy with such a communicative energy has graduated in economics and turns out to be missionary by vocation.
His first steps in life drove him however quite far from what he has become nowadays. Born in a poor family, Antonio is a good student. After high school, he was granted a one-year-scholarship in the US and, in order to make some pocket money, worked as a model for swimsuits. A few years later he graduated from Manila University and his career path seemed obvious: it will be Procter & Gamble. “He worked hard and quickly became the yuppie he dreamed to be: having his own apartment, a car and famous brand clothes” recounts Charlson L. Ong in his book. Tony Meloto will work seven years for the American company, before creating his own.
In Manila slums Suddenly, at 35, everything changes: he doesn’t stand anymore this life reserved for an elite whom he judges is superficial whereas millions of people are left behind, in extreme poverty and violence. It doesn’t match any longer with his christian values, deeply ingrained into him. He drops everything. “I became a christian missionary at first”, recounts Meloto, before he decides to tackle the transformation of the society. “I had to find back some humanist values in order to be able to show humanity myself towards the poor”. Being well in his forties, Tony Meloto creates his NGO called Gawad Kalinga, which means to give care. He infiltrates Manila big slums’ violence beside gangs and dealers. “Some are interested in the victims, the women and the children, me I am targeting the men, the ones responsible”. Goal: to manage to have them change by giving them back their dignity. This begins with building houses and villages with schools, health centres and farms to give them their keep. These men are the same ones who are actually building “after signing a strict commitment to rules of good behaviour”.
Of course there are some who fail: around 20% relapse. “This leaves the way to 80% who succeed”, points out Tony Meloto with a big smile. “Even in the worse thugs there is always something good. This is what I target”. Disappointments are incidentally not where one will always predicts they might come from. The day that several top figures from the Church denounced the campaign he is carrying out against tuberculosis because a subsidiary of the large pharmaceutical company which supports him is selling condoms, he is taken aback. “This issue caused much comments. It made me very popular”. Tony Meloto is also that: a radical optimistic. Several large companies (Air France-KLM, Shell, Total, Schneider Electric) and, in the course of time, hundreds of thousands of volunteers, coming for short periods from all over the world, follow him in his project of giving back to all these people a reason to live. As of today, nearly 2,000 communities have been launched. This relates to one million people, while he targets 5 million. A drop compared to the harsh reality of the poverty statistics in the Philippines where 25 million people are leaving in extreme poverty and 25 others are hardly over the poverty line. Besides these villages he thus launched an incubator for social entrepreneurship. His eldest daughters, his son-in-law, everyone his doing his share. Several companies have been created.
Tony Meloto is also striding across universities and European Grandes Ecoles (note : kind of an equivalent of the American Ivy Leagues) in order to convince students to come to the Philippines to do some business. “Why when someone speaks about Asia, do Europeans understand only China?” asks Meloto annoyed. France is one of his favourite countries. “It is French history that inspired me”, he says, with a hint of mischief. As a matter of fact, he hosts two young French guys who created their start-up. His house hardly gets empty after all.
Rewards, prizes and endowments are piling up. But his way of life doesn’t change at all: no credit card, no bank account, “question of coherence” and of means, since his wife has the required financial resources to support his dreams. “I am like a virus. My only goal: that my ideas do contaminate people.”