It occurred to me during a conversation over lunch with a colleague Lito Casaje (who is with the Literature Department of DLSU) that our national hero, Jose Rizal, was actually a social entrepreneur. Lito and I are both fans of Rizal’s literary works and his other achievements as a Renaissance man. I particularly admire Rizal because of his facility for languages and for his essays and novels. Just a few years ago, I read a wonderful English translation of Noli Me Tangere, which highlighted not only his literary gift but also his humorous side.
Over the past few months, I have been doing research on what strategies social enterprises can utilize to reconcile their financial and social objectives. I have also done several case studies, together with a former student, on both successful and struggling Philippine social enterprises, including those being incubated at the Gawad Kalinga (GK) Enchanted Farm in Bulacan. Many of these social entrepreneurs are young, idealistic individuals who have studied in some of the best schools in the country. Instead of taking the more lucrative corporate route, however, they decided to take a risk by working with people at the bottom-of-the-pyramid, either as their employees or as suppliers of their products. Their business models depart from the mainstream approach of maximizing profits. Instead, they attempt to spread the wealth to a variety of stakeholders by giving of themselves to others.
I thought Rizal’s life as an exile in Dapitan, described variously by historians as peaceful, idyllic, and unexciting, could serve as an inspiration for these young social entrepreneurs.
In Dapitan, Rizal made use of existing resources to build several houses made of bamboo, wood and nipa, one of which served as a school/workshop for the young boys in the area. Instead of charging tuition, he made his pupils work in his garden, fields, and construction projects in the community. This is very similar to the concept of ‘sweat equity’ that is a core principle of Gawad Kalinga.
Rizal also planted fruit trees such as mangoes, lanzones, guyabano, and nangka, and raised animals, including poultry, in the property that he bought with the money he won from the lottery. After teaching the young boys from 2:00 to 4:00 PM, he spent the afternoon farming, even as his pupils helped him water the plants and prune the fruit trees.
To support his farm and to provide clean water for the townspeople, Rizal built Dapitan’s first waterworks system, even without any support from the government. In addition, he spent several months in draining the marshes in order to get rid of malaria. Moreover, he used the money an English patient paid him for his medical services to equip the town with a lighting system consisting of coconut oil lamps strategically placed in dark streets, at a time when electric lighting had not been introduced in the country.
Clearly, Rizal was a social entrepreneur, especially since the innovations he introduced showed the townspeople that they could be self-sufficient. He also succeeded in awakening the civic consciousness of the townspeople, who considered him their own. Our young breed of social entrepreneurs can learn a lot from what has previously been thought of as an ‘uneventful’ phase in Rizal’s life.
Raymund B. Habaradas is an Associate Professor at the Management and Organization Department of the Ramon V. Del Rosario College of Business of De La Salle University, where he teaches Management Principles, Management of Organizations, and Management Research. He welcomes comments at email@example.com. The views expressed above are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official position of DLSU, its faculty, and its administrators.