MyShelter Foundation, Inc. has given a whole new meaning to the term “on the house.”
Founded in 2001, the initiative was set up by Illac Diaz, who now serves as its executive director. “Social entrepreneurship is one of the most powerful systems to uplift poverty in society, primarily because it generates money to increase its capacity to change the world,” said Mr. Diaz in an interview with BusinessWorld.
For its first project, it built the Pier One Seafarers’ Dormitory, which functions as transient accommodation for maritime overseas Filipino workers. The idea hit Mr. Diaz while he was on a “serendipity walk,” a class exercise formulated by the Asian Institute of Management—where he took up his Master in Entrepreneurship—to spur the student to think of business ideas. Walking along the T.M. Kalaw area led Mr. Diaz to a concept that would provide much-needed lodging to the country’s seamen, who tend to end up in cramped quarters while waiting for job placements.
Recognized for pushing for unconventional solutions to common problems, the organization has since become a proponent of alternative architecture projects such as peanut shelters, coral walls development, earthen schools, and even bottle schools. There’s also Design Against the Elements, a global architectural competition that sought to address the looming threat of climate change.
MyShelter Foundation’s latest brainchild, Isang Litrong Liwanag, aims to promote lighting that is both eco-friendly and economical. Citing a 2009 report by the National Electrification Administration, the group claims that there are three million houses outside the Metro Manila area that still do not have access to electricity.
Using a P150 to P200 solar bottle bulb designed by students from the Massachussetts Institute of Technology—whose Department of Urban Studies and Planning took Mr. Diaz in as a research fellow—the project draws from the principles of appopriate technology, an approach that espouses the use of small-scale and energy-efficient technology in one's surroundings, to power local houses. It has since caught the attention of Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim, who provided solar lighting to 120 homes in Tondo's Baseco Compound earlier this year.
While social enterprise is still ambiguously defined in the country, Mr. Diaz has been quick to distinguish between his foundation and other types of benevolent institutions. Even the most well-meaning charities can fail, he says, if they run short on support from those who donate to them. “Charity depends on people with the Christmas spirit,” he says. “But not everyone has the Christmas spirit all the time.”
Yet he also doesn't discount the role that the latter plays in the wider web of community involvement. “There are sectors that really need charity,” says Mr. Diaz, citing disaster operations, children’s causes, and deadly diseases as examples. “But what is wrong is for everyone to dip their hands into the charity pot. That leaves less chances for charity-worthy programs to get the funds.”
Indeed, advocates of social entrepreneurship are well aware that resources are scarce for local do-gooders. Instead of the top-down approach that most welfare groups practice, Mr. Diaz suggests the bottom-up strategy of social entrepreneurship which, if done effectively, can serve as a venue not just for the employment, but also to empower entire communities.
Charities, while promoting social awareness, can be disempowering in their reliance on external support to nourish themselves and continue their causes. The goal of a social enterprise, on the other hand, is to help beneficiaries become self-sufficient by eventually making itself obsolete and leaving the business with the latter.
It is a future that MyShelter Foundation hopes to achieve through its various housing projects in both the urban and rural areas. Mr. Diaz believes that it is through sustained, instead of sporadic, efforts that one can alleviate the endemic problem of poverty.
“The world does not operate on a per-project basis,” he says. “It is only with the efficiency of business that we can make a large-scale transformation.”
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