Wednesday, July 17, 2013

GK and Sustainable Consumerism

I share the sentiments of Ms. Rina Jimenez-David regarding the superbly planned and well-packaged social enterprises, which Gawad Kalinga has given birth to.


Happy reading! J


At Large

Best of both worlds

By Rina Jimenez-David
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Even before Anna Meloto-Wilk, cofounder (with sister Camille) of Gandang Kalikasan Inc., the “mother company” behind the Human Nature line of health and beauty products, got in touch with me, I was already a customer of its organic and natural body care line.

About a year ago, I was in Shopwise Libis looking to replenish my stash of toiletries that I keep handy for traveling. This was when I stumbled on a stand-alone shelf for Human Nature products, and, liking the attractive packaging and come-on that Human Nature was “pro-Philippines, pro-poor and pro-environment,” I decided to pick up travel-size containers of its body lotion, feminine wash and “balancing” face wash. I haven’t had reason to regret my decision since.

Before then, I would spot some Human Nature items on the shelves of EchoStore, managed by friends Chit Juan, Reena Francisco and Jeannie Javelosa. The venture likewise markets organic and all-natural products which they source from communities and creative entrepreneurs around the country, but gives “value added” services by conducting workshops on product design and packaging, among others, to the women they work with.

Likewise, the Human Nature stores along Commonwealth, Quezon City (its flagship), and 25 other outlets nationwide (aside from their network of dealers) also carry other products, not necessarily of the same line of makeup and toiletries, but having the same DNA mix of corporate social responsibility and sustainable consumerism. Among these products are the “Theo and Philo” chocolate bars made from native cacao beans and attractively packaged in wrappers that mimic Philippine weaves. There’s also “Furry Kind,” a natural pet care brand (created by Human Nature global ambassador Rachel Grant, an actress and model) that has won over my son and his wife, who swear that the “tangerine treat” Cocomutt Shampoo has made their two dogs smell delectably sweet.

And then there are “Jessica Saging” and “Manny Pakwan,” names given to plush toy pillows that are, says Anna, “safe and nontoxic,” created by a visiting Frenchman, handmade by community women in Bulacan, and come together with storybooks that seek to teach young readers the virtues of a healthy diet.

* * *

Anna and I are having lunch at the Enchanted Farm Café. This is a small unpretentious eatery located above the flagship store that serves dishes and products produced by the 40 families living and working in the “Enchanted Farm,” a training and demonstration project of Gawad Kalinga in Bulacan.

For many years now, Gawad Kalinga, recognized by the Ramon Magsaysay Awards for its social development thrust centered on affordable housing, has helped create communities around the country for the previously homeless and landless, the “poorest of the poor.” The Enchanted Farm, which sits on a parcel of land donated by one family, provides more than just housing for the community. It also houses small garden plots for the residents, livelihood projects, and training and exposure programs for volunteers who come from all over the world.

Today, says Anna, one would be hard put to find an idle family in any one of the “GK” communities. With the goal of creating self-sustaining lifestyles, especially in terms of food production, GK villages are ringed with vegetable plots and animal lots that use sustainable and renewable technology and products. “We use no chemical fertilizers nor pesticides,” Anna declares proudly.

The Enchanted Farm Café is a showcase of this food philosophy, offering rice meals, salads, pastas and desserts that use the products grown on the farm and prepared by members of the community. Why, the food is even served on wooden dishes and bowls, and when I comment that they are using plastic utensils, Anna gently informs me that the spoon and fork are made from starch and, therefore, environmentally sustainable. Oops, my bad!

There is a whole story, even, on the “Bayani Brew,” an iced-tea mix whose formulation was created by one of the “nanay” or mothers in a GK community. The “brew” makes use of natural flavor enhancers like lemon grass, pandan leaves, and duhat leaves. “It was all her doing. We only gave our inputs on standardization and packaging,” says Anna.

The Bayani Brew in the café is served in used glass containers (mayonnaise jars, actually), but bottles of the brew are likewise on sale at Human Nature stores. And believe me, the brew is so good, I had two glasses over lunch!

* * *

Are Human Nature and Echostore—among others—harbingers of a trend in which marketing imperatives are tempered by social conscience? I myself think it’s a melding of the best of both worlds. Consumers find and get what they want, and are even guaranteed that the products they buy and use are healthy, safe, and effective—and do no harm to the environment.

At the same time, they shell out cash with the full knowledge that they are not just meeting their needs but also helping everyone involved in Human Nature—the management, sure, but also their employees and the producers, including the farmers who grow, sustain and harvest the organic products that go into every bottle, spray, jar, makeup case and plush toy.

It is social commitment with a smile, an exchange that demands no anger, denunciation, politics or exploitation. Maybe I’ve grown soft in my impending senior years, but you know what, sometimes it’s nice to help without needing to get mad at anyone!

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