By Tony Meloto
(Note: This is the first part of a piece Tito Tony, Gawad Kalinga founder and father, wrote in The Philippine Daily Inquirer, April 15, 2012.)
“I value the freedom to serve more than the power to rule.”
Skoll Foundation CEO Sally Osberg cited this line from my book “Builder of Dreams” when she introduced me at the global Social Entrepreneur of the Year awarding ceremonies at England’s Oxford University last March 29.
The quote became a recurring message, and one of the most tweeted, in the weeklong gathering of the Skoll World Forum which brought together nearly a thousand of the world’s poverty-busters and freedom fighters who came to share heroic victories after failing and falling many times, and stubbornly standing up again.
(The Skoll Foundation, the world’s largest foundation for social entrepreneurship, presents the Skoll Awards for Social Entrepreneurship each year to a select few social entrepreneurs who are solving the world’s most pressing problems.)
To the determined and authentic, service love does not easily give up.
Clearly, the desire to serve does more good for the world than the ambition to rule.
In the past decade, the Skoll Foundation has honored ordinary men and women who had the freedom of spirit to fly uncommon ideas for the common good, normal people doing the abnormal because the old normal no longer worked.
This global event has been described as a gathering of small people with big deeds exemplified by this year’s awardees—Landesa, Nidan and Proximity Designs. To be in the company of game-changers and disruptors who are not afraid to turn the world upside down is a big honor for Gawad Kalinga (GK) and for the Philippines.
Jeff Skoll—the founding president of eBay online auction and shopping website who founded the Skoll Foundation in 1999—said it simply at our lunch meeting on the first day: “Just tell your story,” how your crazy idea grew wings and flew out of the cage.
After those hectic days in Oxford, I’m now trying to piece my story about the incredible journey of ordinary dream-builders from the slums of Manila who have found their way to this world stage.
Cash is good but sacrifice is better
The staggering $1-million prize given to Gawad Kalinga—nearly equaling the Nobel prize—that came with global credibility and prestige, validated our focus on vision and value and not on money and power. Quite often, it is the cause that chases after money when one begins with a funding mentality. We chose to start our journey to ease human suffering differently by bleeding for the cause, digging into our own pockets and not giving up when the wells dried up and friends started to abandon us. The sacrifice ultimately bore fruit—2,000 GK villages built and over a million lives transformed, not only of the most marginalized, but also of the volunteers who found redemption and meaning in caring.
When we are not blinded by a desire for money or paralyzed by a lack of it, we learn to use our creativity, raise passion-driven caretakers and volunteers whose nobility cannot be bought and the integrity of the mission is not compromised.
Like Jeff—the producer of such socially relevant films such as “The Inconvenient Truth”, “Contagion” and “The Help”—I am a movie addict, influenced in the causes I champion by unforgettable lines from my favorite films. “Build … and they will come” was a profound message I received from Kevin Costner in “Field of Dreams.” We did … and they came. We built our first communities without a master plan and adequate resources and never stopped trying even when we kept making mistakes until we got it right. Others who knew better or had more resources were scared to do it or simply gave up after a few falls. Up to this day, with all the recognition we have received, we are still a work in progress.
Big dreams for small people
Big money started to chase our cause with big trust in our everyday heroes. The big spirit of our volunteers attracted science and system from universities, corporations and government to come and enhance our delivery, scale and sustainability.
Big business became our friend in development as we created shared value for the poor and those helping them. Doing good made good business sense.
The floodgates of goodness are now wide open and more social entrepreneurs in the Philippines are leaving their comfort zones to give comfort to the suffering.
It is to all our caretakers, cohorts, collaborators and comrades in this peaceful revolution for change that awards like this belong to. We have a long way to go in our audacious dream of helping end poverty for 5 million families in our country by 2024 but an important global recognition like the Skoll award brings us closer to our goal.