Four years ago, sisters Anna Meloto-Wilk and Camille Meloto were in the United States where they were introduced to a line of all-natural cosmetics and personal care products. They were so impressed that they began researching on the idea of starting their own organic line.
Little did they know that this would end up changing their lives as well as the lives of thousands of others, and that they would sell over two million products, engage over 16,000 distributors, open branches in the US, and help farming communities in the Philippines — all in less than four years.
A Communications graduate, Ms. Meloto-Wilk had not seriously considered venturing into her own business. Neither did her younger sister who majored in Education, but confesses to be a makeup lover. However, as daughters of Gawad Kalinga (GK) founder Tony Meloto, both had been exposed to the concept of social responsibility most of their lives.
The idea of Gandang Kalikasan, Inc. (GKI) was first conceived in 2007 when the sisters visited California while Ms. Meloto-Wilk’s husband was assigned to establish GK branches around the US. While there, Ms. Meloto-Wilk observed a growing trend of natural products being marketed as affordable to everyone and not only to the elite.
Their curiosity led them to research on organic products. They soon discovered that almost all of them contained natural ingredients bought and shipped from tropical countries such as the Philippines. Manufacturers overseas would produce, package and sell their final products — usually at an immense markup.
It dawned upon Ms. Meloto-Wilk that while these organic ingredients were easily sourced in local Philippine markets, they were high-value commodities everywhere else; why not replicate the trend for organic products by producing them right at the source? Upon their return to the Philippines in 2007, both sisters met with a natural cosmetics formulator who helped develop GKI’s first full line. In November of that same year, with the help from a circle of friends and Gawad Kalinga partners, GKI’s Human Nature brand was launched.
GKI’s mission is primarily driven by the dire need to address poverty in the Philippines. It aims to provide fair livelihood opportunities to the poor, while generating profit. With this in mind, GKI was founded on three core principles: Pro-Philippines, Pro-poor and Pro-environment.
The firm believes that being pro-Philippines means patronizing local markets as a key in uplifting the economy. GKI makes it a point to source raw materials within the country and imports only when these are unavailable locally. It further believes that the Philippines is not only capable of producing quality raw materials, it has the potential to create world-class finished goods. This drives GKI to source locally at fair trade prices and export products of the highest standard.
GKI is pro-poor and prides itself in helping their workforce sustain quality livelihoods through innovative approaches to employment. At present, a third of the firm’s workforce comprises residents from nearby Gawad Kalinga villages. In addition, GKI ensures that their employees enjoy shorter probation periods, wages above amounts mandated by law, and, upon regularization, full benefits, health coverage and other incentives. They also receive financial mentorship and are encouraged to become active in their GK communities and programs.
In addition, the company spearheads numerous projects to help farming communities across the country. An example is the CommPassion campaign which donates 100% of all profits from the sale of one of its products to the passion fruit farming community of Gawad Kalinga Village Pueblo Antonio, Catigan, Davao del Sur. GKI also collaborates with the Philippine Federation for Environmental Concern to supply them with organic citronella oil for their Citronella Bug Spray produced by Brgy. Kanapawan in Camarines Norte. In 2010, Human Nature launched their One Heart for One Community campaign, where 100% of their profits from the bug spray will be given to Brgy. Kanapawan.
All GKI products are natural and organic, and 100% free from chemicals that may harm the soil or water. This is their pledge to being pro-environment.
Since Human Nature was launched, the organic trend in local markets has grown significantly. But for the sisters, this is only the beginning. They consider this the infant stage towards becoming the first Filipino multinational social enterprise that operates on the philosophy that profitability, sustainability and social progress can meld together.
In 2009, Human Nature opened offices in the US. Plans for expansion to Canada, Singapore and Malaysia are underway. GKI also continuously strengthens its associations with local retailers, as well as through direct selling. It aims to increase the scope of its advocacy by inviting more farming communities to participate.
Ms. Meloto-Wilk believes that the business sector is one of the most influential catalysts for change in society because businesses have the funds, technology and discipline to make a positive impact. By channeling these resources towards a socially-inclined goal alongside earning revenues, entrepreneurs have the potential to make a real difference.
Gandang Kalikasan, Inc. and its founders have clearly put this ideology into practice. The sisters attribute GKI’s remarkable growth to its people. “We’ve attracted a lot of people with the good we’re doing,” Ms. Meloto-Wilk shares. “We don’t just attract good people; we attract good people with good hearts.”
The Entrepreneur Of The Year Philippines 2011 is sponsored by SAP Philippines. The official airline is KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, operating on behalf of the Air-France KLM Group. Media sponsors are BusinessWorld and the ABS-CBN News Channel. Winners will be announced on October 12, 2011 in an awards banquet at the Makati Shangri-La Hotel. The Entrepreneur Of The Year Philippines will represent the country in the World Entrepreneur Of The Year 2011 in Monte Carlo in June 2012.
The Entrepreneur Of The Year Philippines has concluded its 2011 search for the country’s most successful and inspiring entrepreneurs. It is a program of the SGV Foundation, Inc. with the participation of co-presenters De La Salle University, Department of Trade and Industry, Philippine Business for Social Progress, Philippine Stock Exchange, Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship and the Development Bank of the Philippines. In the following days, BusinessWorld will feature the Entrepreneur Of The Year Philippines 2011 finalists.
Humanity and nature in a social enterprise
Camille D. Meloto,
Gandang Kalikasan, Inc.