Tony Meloto received the Nikkei Asia 2011 Award for Regional Growth in Japan
By Tony Meloto
Your excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, good morning.
I’m deeply honored and grateful for the Nikkei Asia Award for Regional Growth which I am receiving from some of the most distinguished leaders in Japan, starting with Mr. Ryoki Sugita, Chairman, Nikkei Inc.; Mr. Shoichiro Toyoda, Honorary Chairman, Nippon Keidanren (Japan Business Federation) and Dr. Yasuhiko Torii, Ex-President, Keio University, Regional Growth Prize Selection Sub-Committee Leader.
It is my great honor to receive this award with outstanding citizens of Asia – Dr. Wu Maw-Kuen of Taiwan, winner for Science, Technology and Innovation and Mr. Bao Ninh of Vietnam, winner for Culture.
I am receiving this award on behalf of the countless volunteers of Gawad Kalinga including my wife and daughter who are with me today, and good friends and big GK supporters, his excellency Ambassador Manuel Lopez and Consul General Sulpicio Confiado and his wife.
Japan is a big inspiration for me as the first country in Asia to rise from poverty through hard work, honor and heroism. The March 11 earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan has also shown the world their capacity to rise from tragedy through solidarity and sacrifice. Our people are capable of the same heroism to rise from tragedy and suffering based on my experience with Gawad Kalinga volunteers and beneficiaries.
With the rise of Asian economies including Taiwan and Vietnam where my co-awardees come from, I’m confident that my country will also rise by building communities and creating a massive platform for productivity and prosperity to end poverty.
It all started for me in my search for answers about poverty in my country. 1. Why is the Filipino a squatter when there is so much land in the Philippines? 2. With his creativity and talent, why is he content to live in shanties and other subhuman dwellings? Both questions drove me sixteen years ago to look for answers in the biggest slum area in the country then—Bagong Silang in Caloocan City, where Gawad Kalinga was born. It was the template that spawned over 2,000 intentional communities nationwide with direct impact on the lives of 1 million Filipinos from the most marginalized and vulnerable sectors.
Although it is our public image, Gawad Kalinga is not just about homes. Our work is nation-building with a clear objective to bring the Philippines out of poverty within one generation. The platform is basic and simple: land for the landless, homes for the homeless, and food for the hungry. They resonate with the most fundamental human aspirations: land, for roots and security; home, for cover and comfort; and food, for sustenance and nurture.
These seeds were planted in the first seven years of our journey and form part of the Social Justice phase, the first of three in the movement’s roadmap to 2024. And so as we continue building on these foundations, our movement also enters the Social Artistry phase. Where Social Justice is about healing, restoring and rebuilding, Social Artistry is about excelling and pushing the boundaries of the initiative through designer communities, towns, cities, even whole provinces.
Heralding this phase is the launch of our Center for Social Innovation (GKCSI). Concretizing the concept of Bayanihan Economics or the economics of sharing, GKCSI will create Filipino-owned brands of affordable, high-quality products that use Philippine-grown ingredients to improve the lives of the Filipino poor. GK CSI is the village university for the rising Filipino that will mold a new generation of social entrepreneurs.
Our approach to excellence takes after our strategy in building homes: impact, scale and sustainability. We start by building the template that we are calling the GK Enchanted Farm. The Enchanted Farm is our Silicon Valley for social enterprise and our Disneyland for social tourism.
The third phase of nation building for us is the building of big industries, mainstreaming medium and big social enterprises, building a strong middle class and creating opportunities at home so our people will not abandon their families to seek jobs abroad.
Key to all of this and something we will always go back to is social justice. We will always remind ourselves who we are fighting for. In fighting for the poor, we are fighting for our children. If we neglect the poor, our children will inherit a country that will not provide them opportunities for a better life, a country where there will be no guarantee of food on their table or safety in the streets, a country that they will be ashamed of.
This is why Gawad Kalinga has also recently inspired and spearheaded a legislative initiative that institutionalizes the Gawad Kalinga way of caring and sharing. Dubbed a signature piece of legislation, the Volunteerism for Nation Building Act of 2011 has convinced lawmakers from different party lines and leaders from different institutions to sponsor and vote for new forms of public-private partnerships that is top in the priority of our new government under President Benigno Aquino.
All these ideas spring from the conviction that no Filipino should be a squatter in his country that has enough land, and no Filipino should be hungry in his country where natural resources are abundant. The goal is simple: to transform the attitude of poor communities from survival to sufficiency, from sufficiency to abundance; and to transform the attitude of the rich from philanthropy to social enterprise.
And the challenge remains: go and make every existing Gawad Kalinga site productive and help open new ones. Make the fields bloom with beauty, turn our barren lands into fields of abundance, make every brand fly, and every Filipino a giver of life.
Just like Japan, through hard work, honor and heroism, Filipinos will end poverty in the Philippines.