By: Jessper Perez (1, 2, 4) and Suganthi Singarayar (3, 5)
Facilitator: Shanon Khadka – GK Centre for Social Innovation 1. Shanon Khadka works at the Gawad Kalinga Centre for Social Innovation (CSI). The centre aims to increase the sustainability of GK communities through the establishment of new social enterprises. In his talk Khadka described the beginnings of GK and its progress, which led to the creation of their Centre for Social Innovation program.
Gawad Kalinga began in 1995 in Bagong Silang, an area notorious in the Philippines for its high crime rates, drug use, and violence. GK began by building one or two houses for individual families at different locations.
However, it quickly became apparent that building houses sporadically or in small pockets would not succeed because the surrounding community gave no support and often was detrimental to the good works already accomplished. So, GK’s work turned to what it is now commonly recognised for: building communities.

As GK progressed, it continually refined and improved its techniques and approaches with each new community. After building over 2,000 communities in the Philippines alone, one challenge stood out as being particularly problematic: the problem of long-term sustainability. The problem is certainly not new, it is a challenge many charity-based organisations have struggled with in the past. GK observed that businesses or social entrepreneurs would often go into partnerships with communities where they would provide resources or money for a particular project, but once the business or the social entrepreneur left, the community would struggle to continue with the project. The recipients, whether an individual or an entire community, often become dependent on the support of the donor. Once the donors departed or the support ceased to continue, recipients often became disoriented and despondent.

CSI was GK’s answer to this problem. CSI took the organisation’s values of excellence, honour and Bayanihan (community or teamwork), and applied it to a business setting. CSI became a bridge that brought corporations, the government, and academics together with the local community to help it sustain itself and grow. CSI brought experts on business, policy and technology to help train and educate local communities, to help them create businesses and other avenues that would help locals thrive as a family and as a community. Locals have access to subject-matter experts, and experts and businesses have access to the locals’ insights and information. CSI allowed a free flow of information for those who needed it. As Khadka puts it, the Centre became “an ecosystem that encourages young entrepreneurs to start a social enterprise”.

The culmination of CSI and its works is the Enchanted Farm. The Enchanted Farm is a place – an actual farm – where people from different sectors can come together to converse, to brainstorm ideas, to discuss potential directions, and to cooperate with each other in community. The Enchanted Farm has become a testing ground for new technologies such as green energy, bamboo bicycles and bags made from hyacinths, and new methods in organic farming and water processing. The Enchanted Farm, says Khadka, is doing for social enterprise what the Silicon Valley did for information technology. Khadka says that this is because the Farm and all its works are still essentially based within a community – locals live and work on the farm. By making the community the basis and the focal point of the Farm they are able to ground the fundamental values that GK advocates – community and cooperation. For businesses this translates into a better understanding of local environments, settings and situations, leading to greater corporate social responsibility.

Through cooperation with big corporations, the government, and resident locals, the Enchanted Farm now showcases world-class products made from local produce. With new products and techniques to showcase to international corporations and visitors, the Enchanted Farm has recently become something of a tourist attraction. Guests from all over the world, including France, Canada, China, Singapore and Australia visit. Many visitors do tours and some have tried their hand at working at the Farm’s banana plantation, fish farm and gardens. Bed and breakfast facilities at the Farm are staffed by the locals who receive hospitality training. Khadka likens the Enchanted Farm to an amusement park with a “Filipino twist” – instead of high rides and roller coasters, guests bask in the fishponds with the fish and jump around in the mud.

By creating an atmosphere of creativity, patriotism and support in local communities, and by creating a bridge that fosters communication between government, corporations and resident locals, the Enchanted Farm has become a breeding ground for new ideas, new techniques, new technology and new business. These new prospects provide an excellent basis for sustainability projects in GK villages all over the world. As new ideas emerge, new applications to different environments, different skill sets and different needs can be met. But the beauty of the whole program is not only that the GK villages advance, but the government is given access to more information for better governance, corporations are given an insight into improved corporate social responsibility, and academics are given grounds for experimentation. The GK Centre for Social Innovation, and specifically the Enchanted Farm, in its first few years, has already created a new era for social enterprise in the Philippines.

Links: Human Nature Video:

Social entrepreneurship GK website:


2. Ms Cecelia David Manheimer – President GKonomics Ms David Manheimer is President of GKonomics International Inc., a Gawad Kalinga partner which champions social entrepreneurship and sustainable businesses in GK communities. Under her leadership, GKonomics has been successful in providing opportunities and livelihood for those at the bottom of the social pyramid, with over a hundred world-class products being produced by empowered residents in 25 Gawad Kalinga communities all over the Philippines. GKonomics was recently chosen as the winner of the Think Big: Breakthrough Innovation Grant, for its dedication to eradicating poverty through responsible and sustainable business practices.

Cecilia David Manheimer was commissioned by Tony Meloto to put together a program to sustain the livelihood of GK villages. Ms Manheimer proudly explains how, collaborating with four other female volunteers, they created what is now known as GKonomics , which Ms Manheimer presides over. The program’s vision is inspirational: “a prosperous Philippines where no citizen is in need… (and) no one is left behind”; their mission – uplifting: to empower GK communities in producing world-class products, and to instil in them a sense of pride in their work.

Since its creation two years ago, the milestones the program has achieved certainly inspire respect. It has assisted in starting 47 enterprises, 19 of which are owned and run by GK villagers; created over 200 products sold in outlets and stores in Hawaii, Singapore and Paris; funded two schools; and held two art exhibitions which have raised millions of pesos in funding. Some of the products they have created have been so popular that it has surprised everyone involved. Partnering with the Ateneo Innovation Center and the Institut Catholiques des Arts et Métiers, a French engineering school, GKonomics collaborated with students to create an electric powered Bambike – a bicycle made from 90% bamboo. The Bambike was originally expected to fetch P12,000 ($300) at auction, but eventually sold for three times that amount, at P36,000 ($900). Mich Dulce, a celebrated Filipina designer, has partnered with GKonomics to employ residents from Paradise Heights (formerly known as Smokey Mountain, the location itself is an inspiring story) to create her world-renowned hats.

It was as a result of these partnerships and the innovations they fostered that GKonomics was awarded the inaugural Breakthrough Innovation Grant (BIG) by the Fisherman Foundation. The good works that they have already achieved, reminds Manheimer, “is not possible without engaging partners”. The partnerships and the collaborations between private entrepreneurs, university institutions, corporations and local residents is the lifeblood of the GKonomics program.

Understandably, it is the partnerships and the fruits from these partnerships that Ms Manheimer greatly encourages. Whilst GKonomics, in the few years since its birth, proudly assists and maintains new enterprises in 37 GK villages, there are still another 2,000 GK villages in the Philippines alone that need help. It is only through new partnerships, new social entrepreneurs, and new innovations that the rest of the villages in the Philippines, and indeed the rest of the GK villages around the world, will have the means to start new enterprises that will sustain long term livelihood.

Anyone interested in volunteering or partnering with GKonomics should contact:

3. Ms Lindy Joubert, Director, UNESCO Observatory Multi-Disciplinary Research in the Arts Director of the UNESCO Observatory Multi-Disciplinary Research in the Arts, Ms Lindy Joubert, is very interested in the effect of the arts on community health and well-being. The work of the UNESCO Observatory is similar to that of GK inasmuch as it is based on volunteerism and it works with marginalised, rural and disadvantaged communities. Graduate students from the Faculty of Architecture at the University of Melbourne or professional architects work with community based NGOs to design community meeting areas - health centres and cultural centres. The students have undertaken designs in areas such as Cape York where they worked on the renovation of a school and PNG where 30 students went to a remote area for two months and worked on the design of a health centre. The UNESCO Observatory has also worked with the Maasai in the Kenyan Rift Valley. There they came up with the concept design for a cultural centre using material found in the area: rocks, sticks, barrels used for petrol – which can be seen in the roofline.

Ms Joubert is keen to partner with GK and has taken students to GK villages on a number of occasions.

Links: Cultural village program:

Creative Cowboy films: Meet the Maasai:

Creative Cowboy films: A Maasai scholar:

4. Ms Cherrie Atilano – President, Blue Bamboo Cherrie Atilano is the Founder and Chair of Blue Bamboo Ventures, a growing social enterprise whose mission is to be the global leader of creative bamboo products.

Ms Atilano worked as a Senior Technical Trainer for Bayan-Anihan, the food-sufficiency program of Gawad Kalinga, helping empower and enhance the agricultural skills of various communities. She was also a Landscape Horticulturalist Supervisor of Ayala Land Inc., helping develop the landscaping of major projects such as Bonifacio High Street and Serendra Residences in Taguig City, and UP Ayala Technohub in Quezon City.

Some people refer to her as the Bamboo Queen because of her social enterprise, Blue Bamboo Ventures, but Cherrie Atilano prefers to think of herself as a “crazy bamboo shoot from the Enchanted Farm”. Atilano refers lovingly to Gawad Kalinga and the Enchanted Farm because of her love of the Filipino Bayanihan spirit (a spirit of teamwork and cooperation). She tells the story of farmers teaming up to help carry another farmer’s house to a different, more abundant location, “that’s the Bayanihan spirit of the Philippines” says Atilano. Nowadays, whilst the carrying of a neighbour’s house is no longer common, Atilano sees that same Filipino Bayanihan spirit in GK, she says “it is the modern face of Bayanihan”.

Ms Atilano has found her love of her country and of her people mirrored in GK. The transformations that GK inspires, within the country and within each GK community, inspired Ms Atilano to give up her prized Fulbright Scholarship to be a part of that transformation through Blue Bamboo. Living within the Enchanted Farm, Atilano has witnessed first-hand the internal change in the villagers from a squatter mentality to a community mentality. She describes the change within the children of the community from having very low self-esteem; from not having the confidence to answer a question; to now confidently answering in English, French or Japanese. She reminds us that these transformations take time and you need to be with the people, to live with them in the community, to be able to help them transform. As Atilano sees it, this way of caring for the poor, caring for the nation and its citizenry, is what brings forth real social progress.

Blue Bamboo Ventures encourages social progress through the promotion and creative use of bamboo. Culturally, bamboo is significant to Filipinos because of its strength and versatility – it is widely used in creating huts, furniture, tools – and historically it has been used in traditional dances and in weaponry. Having a base within the Enchanted Farm meant that Blue Bamboo could train the villagers to create bamboo beds, landscaping projects, roof decking and green buildings – varied projects for a very versatile commodity, but as varied as the projects are, they all serve one goal: uplifting the nation.

This goal, this “ambitious plan”, said Ms Atilano, is to take the nation of small-thinkers and make them dream big. So instead of building small bamboo huts, Blue Bamboo’s big dream is a Bamboo Palace, which is already well on the way to completion. The Bamboo Palace will be the centrepiece of architectural design within the Enchanted Farm. It will showcase the best in bamboo products from all over the Philippines, and in future it will be a reception area for those tying the marriage knot. The Bamboo Palace’s role in this plan is to be “a connector, a collaborator, so that small bamboo (businesses) that exist in the Philippines can scale up”. By connecting individual small businesses from all over the country, Atilano and GK want to help the entire bamboo industry within the Philippines. An industry chain of small businesses that runs from start to finish – from the bamboo plantation to the final product – with a strong Bayanihan spirit, “an industry of helping each other”, says Atilano.

Increasing the strength of the bamboo industry means keeping and creating more jobs within the country, thereby boosting the economy. It also contributes greatly to environmental sustainability – more bamboo plantations – as bamboo can sequester carbon from the atmosphere by up to 30% more than wood species1. But most importantly, sharing the value of this industry with the poor uplifts the most vulnerable and needy in the community, and boosts the national spirit. All of these factors, says Atilano, are the ingredients to making a positive social impact, on both a domestic and global scale.

N.B. See the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan for a quick overview,

5. Ms Clarice Simonneau – EFI Social Entrepreneurs Clarice Simmonneau is a French social designer who completed her end study internship at Gawad Kalinga Enchanted Farm for the Centre for Social Innovation team. She completed three years of study in the field of Product Design at L’Ecole de Design de Nantes Atlantique in France and completed her Master’s Degree at the Campus of China School in Shanghai.

During her 5 month internship at the GK Enchanted Farm she was involved in developing solutions and businesses for the villagers, collaborating with and managing a team of interns from all over the world. Clarice helped to establish projects, such as the nail salon, a souvenir shop and a recycling/composting system for the community.

Ms Simmonneau said that being a designer meant communicating the importance of design, because design is everywhere - at the same time the designer has to be responsible and be aware of the social and environmental impact of what is created. Ms Simmonneau applied for an internship online and was directed to the Centre for Social Innovation which she discovered is an incubator for social entrepreneurs. Often people will have an idea but they won’t know what to do to make it into a workable reality. The Centre for Social Innovation helps social entrepreneurs to come up with a business plan, provides access to experts, links them with families in the community who might have the necessary skills to help with a project, gives them a place to produce the item and a place to communicate information about their brand. The idea is to create Filipino brands that will replace the plethora of foreign, mainly American brand name products that are used in the Philippines and at the same time create jobs for Filipinos using local products.

Ms Simmonneau lived at the Enchanted Farm as it was in its initial stages and she said there were very few materials, resources, tools and only one laptop between the volunteers, and these resources had to be recycled amongst them. There were often funny situations that arose due to the lack of language skills on both sides. She said that she learnt a lot from living amongst the community and the community also learnt a lot from watching foreign students living with them. The community learnt that the foreign volunteers were not so different, that they could wash using one bucket of water, that they could sleep on the floor and they could travel to the city on the floor of a truck. Because Ms Simmonneau lived in the village and got to know the people there, she became the bridge between the villagers and the interns, able to match interns with villagers in terms of the knowledge and skills needed for each project.