Civil society groups urge Congress to prioritize social enterprise bill to help hasten pandemic recovery
Civil society organizations (CSOs) on Sunday called on legislators to prioritize the passage of the Poverty Reduction through Social Entrepreneurship (PRESENT) Bill to help more Filipinos recover faster from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“At the heart of the proposed social entrepreneurship bill is the aspiration to help members of low-income communities and vulnerable groups, especially women, earn a decent living and escape poverty,” said Oxfam Pilipinas Country Director Lot Felizco ahead of the opening of the 19th Congress on Monday.
The Poverty Reduction through Social Entrepreneurship (PRESENT) Coalition, which is supported by Oxfam Pilipinas through the Gender Transformative and Responsible Agribusiness Investments in South East Asia (GRAISEA), said the proposed policy measure aims to promote social entrepreneurship as a strategy for poverty reduction.
“This bill, if passed, will enable the creation and strengthening of social enterprises as transformational partners of the poor and marginalized,” said Institute for Social Entrepreneurship in Asia President and PRESENT Coalition Convener Dr. Marie Lisa Dacanay.
“Without systematic government support, social enterprises have grown from 30,000 in 2007 to more than 164,000 before the pandemic. With systematic government support, a vibrant social enterprise sector can address poverty on a grand scale while ensuring inclusive recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic towards accelerating the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals of zero poverty, no hunger, reduced inequality, women’s economic empowerment, and building resilient and sustainable communities,” Dacanay added.
FILLING THE GAP
Despite the comprehensive assistance given by social enterprises to the communities that they serve — from training and jobs creation to entrepreneurship support and market intermediation — they still face many challenges with the current policy environment.
“Social enterprises (SEs) are forced to fit into the mold of for-profit businesses or non-profit organizations but they are neither,” said Felizco, who said it was time to recognize a social enterprise as a different entity altogether that requires its own set of definitions and assistance.
“Especially in rural and far-flung areas, these social enterprises are filling the gap that the market and the government do not have the capacity or the expertise to fill,” Felizco said.
In Mindanao, for example, the social enterprise Coffee for Peace has helped farmers - many of them from indigenous peoples - develop high-quality coffee (through local innovations) that are not only export-quality but have also gained a local following. Through such intervention, more local farmers have entered entrepreneurship and are now sought after by different markets.
Dacanay said they are collaborating with the Department of Trade and Industry to help build a database of social enterprises after the Micro Small and Medium Enterprise Development Council passed a resolution recognizing social enterprises as partners of government in poverty reduction and inclusive recovery.
“With a clear picture of what and where social enterprises are in the Philippines, we can put together distinct and systematic government programs, services, and incentives to support their development and growth,” she said.
Before the last Congress ended, the Senate Committee on Trade, Commerce and Entrepreneurship had already directed the creation of a Technical Working Group to reconcile the various versions of the proposed bill filed in the Senate.
“We hope the new Congress will take such progress into consideration and fast track the bill,” Dacanay said.
A study by the Philippine Social Enterprise Network and the British Council, supported by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific showed that there were around 164,000 social enterprises (more than 15% of all businesses) in the country before the pandemic. In 2020, a succeeding study of the Institute for Social Entrepreneurship in Asia showed that 55% of social enterprises experienced major downturns; 41% experienced some setbacks, and only 4% reported any positive impact.
“Just like before, social enterprises are innovating to survive the long-lasting effects of the pandemic. However, innovation alone cannot see them through,” both groups said.
“Social enterprises do not just create decent jobs — they uplift communities and vulnerable groups; they secure the future of agriculture and sustain the interest of the youth in local business. Social enterprises can feed Filipinos for many lifetimes if only they are given enough support,” Felizco added.
Besides urging the deliberation of the social entrepreneurship bill in Congress, Dacanay said the PRESENT Coalition will also be working with the executive branch to mainstream provisions of the bill in government programs even while the bill is being deliberated in Congress and local government units (LGUs) to develop localized social enterprise programs to assist the sector recover and build back fairer.
Kristine Sabillo Guerrero | Senior Officer for Media and Digital Influencing, Oxfam Pilipinas