By John M. Jacinto

Livelihood Program Coordinator

Education has been the showcase program of Kapatiran-Kaunlaran Foundation Inc. (KKFI) for past decade. We believe in former South African President Nelson Mandela when he said that, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

In its own humble way, the KKFI desire to serve as a bridge that allows poor children to cross from the margins of society to its mainstream.

That is why the Foundation continues to operate the pre-school Community Development Center or CDC, which we also fondly nicknamed Kindling Kids’ Functional Intelligences (KKFI), making it a namesake of KKFI, the mother institution. (It might interest the readers to know that the CDC’s precursor is the first kindergarten school in the Philippines that started almost a century ago in KKFI’s Hugh Wilson Hall building).

Our Alternative Learning System (ALS) sessions in Manila North Cemetery (MNC), Tondo also in Manila, and the dumpsite area in Pulilan, Bulacan have been featured by various media institutions. The KKFI is also focused on the Supervised Neighborhood Play (SNP) and scholarship program for elementary, high school and college students and those entering the ministry and church service as deaconesses.

All the stakeholders of the Foundation, especially the staff, are one in this direction and the Livelihood Program has always been too happy to be at the backstage as a support in order for the above-mentioned education programs to shine.

The role of the Livelihood Program is clear—to provide opportunities for parents of KKFI scholars and beneficiaries and other community members so the latter can finish their education.

However, the Covid-19 pandemic changed all that. The economic slowdown and the grim prospect of global recession compelled the leadership of KKFI to put the Livelihood Program at the spotlight.

The argument was that KKFI beneficiaries are so poor and vulnerable financially that they will be inevitably crushed by the oncoming unprecedented economic crisis the magnitude of which we cannot even predict at this point. All we know is that it would be devastating.

The Livelihood Program must step up to soften the blow for our poverty-stricken beneficiaries and others we will be able to reach. The objective of this new thrust is to help poor families survive in the short- and long-term.

How can we turn down such a challenge?

We have been exposed enough to the areas of operation of KKFI to understand how vulnerable residents are to the onslaught of the coming economic tornado. But there’s no escaping it.

Hence, although unused to the limelight, the Livelihood staff eagerly and instantly threw themselves to the work.

We know we have to learn new skills, and fast. We can’t wait for the lockdown to ease up before taking action. It’s a “now or never” thing.

It was a good thing we have conducted entrepreneurship seminars and production workshops in the recent past. At least, we already had a good idea of what to do and we had come to understand that an entrepreneur must “learn as you go.” We also learned that to be enterprising is to be daring. So…

First, the Livelihood staff and the beneficiaries jointly identified a product that they will develop and sell. We began talking to ourselves, interviewing potential clients and markets, and deciding what products we can offer that the market would patronize.

It was not a very hard decision to make. The Department of Science and Technology (DOST) recently conducted a skills training on the production of dishwashing liquid and fabric softener.

We acquired the needed raw materials (this was a bit of a challenge at the time since stores and business establishments were all closed at the time) and soon, the production began. In the meantime, we busied ourselves with branding and coming up with a design for the labels.

In no time, the KKFI was able to come up with two new products—the Spark Dishwashing Liquid and the Pure and the Fresh Fabric Conditioner. These products were then offered to resellers, preferably the direct beneficiaries of KKFI.

Even the volunteers of  the erstwhile operational livelihood projects of Foundation, the Spa Ritual and Tea spa and the Daily Bread bakery and bread shop, became resellers in order to make up for their lost income.  Amazingly, they demonstrated what they picked up from their constant exposure to discussions on what values must an entrepreneur possess in order to survive and thrive.

We have not stopped fine-tuning the new venture’s operations, studying closely the sourcing of raw materials, the tools and equipment are necessary, the production facilities required, and the personnel who can manage and work in order to run the business smoothly and seamlessly.

Anyone who thinks starting a business is a breeze is unaware of the storms he or she has to survive before he or she can have a glimpse of a silver lining at the end of the tunnel.

Another thing, this tunnel is a very long one or just one of the several before hope appears. It is said an entrepreneur usually fails between three and four times before finding himself or herself successful in a business venture. It’s like an unavoidable rite of passage.

KKFI is not exempted from this vicious process. It has its share of start-up problems: What is the appropriate packaging for the products? Should we use a waterproof label? How can we ensure their quality? Why are our products today not as sweet-smelling as yesterday? Did we change the perfume?

Complaints came and each time we hear one, it hurts. And embarrassing. To be told that the products you have invested blood and sweat to produce are of low quality can give you sleepless nights.

But we fight the negative feelings. We try to learn from our mistakes and use the negative feedback to improve future products’ quality. There’s no giving up. We have to be gritty.

The old massage center inside the KKFI compound became our production area. We optimized the Program Department’s personnel by turning some of them into our production force. To ensure that the products would reach the target communities, we tapped ALS students and organized them into a delivery team.

On June 24, 2020, the Spark Dishwashing Liquid and the Pure and the Fresh Fabric Conditioner were officially launched. Immediately, three resellers signed in, two of them were retrenched employees of KKFI.

Soon after, 33 residents of Manila North Cemetery and four other ALS students offered to be KKFI’s “community marketers.” According to them, this opportunity augmented their respective families’ income.

Excluding the income of resellers, the KKFI was able to increase its capital from P21,000 to P45,702 as of September or three months after the venture started. Hence, the production reached 652 liters of dishwashing liquid and fabric conditioner combined.

We are cautiously upbeat, thanks to these developments. We are not out of the woods yet, as they say, but we have faith. We know God is watching us and guiding us since, after all, all these efforts are meant to help the poor people He loves.

We realized that sometimes, one needs to be thrown into the waters full of sharks in order for that person to know how to swim. I know it’s a cruel and dangerous metaphor to make, but I feel that’s exactly what happened to the Livelihood Program.

But then, it’s a blessing in disguise. We were totally unaware of the potential of the Livelihood Program to help more people until the pandemic came along.

But I don’t want to thank the pandemic for giving the Livelihood Program a new and more important place in the KKFI’s scheme of things.

That is crueler than the metaphor about the sharks, isn’t it?

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