The TRUE AFRICA 100 is our list of innovators, opinion-formers, game-changers, pioneers, dreamers and mavericks who we feel are shaping the Africa of today.

Tony Meloto is a Filipino entrepreneur and founder of Gawad Kalinga (Gawad Kalinga Community Development Foundation) which means to ‘give care’. It is a poverty alleviation and nation-building organisation based in the Philippines. Gawad Kalinga has worked with over 2,000 communities in the Philippines since 1995. Their work has been adopted by other countries such as Cambodia, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea.

You are from the Philippines, and your work has been mostly in Asia. Why are you now interested in Africa? 

We are creating a global ecosystem, for people who want to do good. We are creating new win-win situations, whether it’s new partnerships between the rich and the poor, or between Asia, Europe and Africa. Many African nations and the Philippines have similar pasts. But we also are coming from a past that has perpetuated our low self-esteem.

In my country, we were colonised for 350 years, and those 350 years of brainwashing stole our soul, even though we received religion. So we spent 300 years inside the convent with the Spaniards, and then another 50 years in Hollywood with the Americans. We became the most confused people on the planet. But at the same time, this colonisation has helped us to understand cultures and our belief systems are now very similar to European belief systems, in the same way that many African belief systems are now similar to European belief systems. Nowadays, many of us Filipinos and many Africans remain colonised because of elite globalisation.

It’s time to appreciate our own history and our own land.

And looking at Togo, for instance, we realise that Togo and the Philippines are almost on the same equatorial belt, which means we can grow mangoes, and because we have the same hot weather, we can also grow coffee, and cocoa, which makes chocolate. Europe cannot do that. Now, it’s time to appreciate our own history and our own land.

What we want, whether in Asia or Africa, is to work with the best, and we are already working with top graduates from the best universities in Europe who are helping to provide quality education to the bright poor. We want the rich to partner with the poor, not just in an employer-labourer relationship. In order for that to happen, we need to build a solidarity economy, where those who have been blessed with the best education can partner with those of the poor who are resilient, who have strong survival instincts, who are at the so-called bottom of the pyramid. That is another win-win situation.

Many people compare you to famous advocates of social enterprise, to people like Muhammad Yunus. What is unique about your Gawad Kalinga model?

We get French social entrepreneurs to partner with Filipino social entrepreneurs, in order to create a big platform where we can provide young people, rich and poor, access to capital, technology and markets. It’s all about knowledge, and learning from each other, sharing competencies that are offered at the top and taught in the best schools, with knowledge of the ground, knowledge of the people, knowledge of the land. Now, after building 2,500 communities in the Philippines for over a million people, we are building the first Farm Village University in the world. We built it, over the last five years, in partnership with over 1,000 French interns, who came to work with us in the Philippines.

The students get three hours of field work, in addition to six hours of academic lessons every day.

We now have a university programme for social entrepreneurs, who become mentors to the bright poor. Graduates of the world’s top universities get to provide an education to the bright poor. The students get three hours of field work, in addition to six hours of academic lessons every day. It can be accounting, or marketing lessons, for instance. That makes ours a unique platform. Right now, we have 84 university students, but we hope to graduate 300 students every year, with a focus on agribusiness, and also hotel and restaurant management. Because Africa has the biggest asset, which is young people, the same thing can be done in Africa, with a similar platform. So long as we can get the right and the poor to work together.

A problem in our countries is that, often, the most educated citizens are also the most disconnected from the land. But we need the bright rich working together with the bright poor to develop Africa’s coconut industry, Africa’s dairy industry, Africa’s chocolate industry, and Africa’s cosmetic industry. It can be done. In the Philippines, our cosmetics business Human Nature has become, in less than seven years, the biggest natural cosmetics company in the country. We have 140 products now, starting with shampoo, lotions, and so on.

It’s important to go for the entire value chain, in the way that African cocoa should be turned, in Africa, into world class chocolate and sold alongside the world’s best chocolate. It’s optimum profit, not always maximum profit, but when you reinvest some of the profits into the supply chains, you can improve the lives of the farmers, and you can educate the children of the farmers.

Who is your African of the year?

Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, and Antoine Dzamah.

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Follow Tony on Twitter @tonymeloto

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