This is the final post in a three-part series by Joseph Paulini, a businessman and entrepreneur based in northern Virginia who recently co-led a Business as Mission trip to the Philippines, where Five Talents is seeking to deepen its work with proven micro-entrepreneurs. Click here to read parts one and two.
Two hundred and seventy-five miles to the north of Manila, after a 13-hour trip by automobile through the high mountain provinces, we had the pleasure of returning to the village of Besao.
Five Talents' former President and CEO Craig Cole and I first visited there in 2002 to witness the funding of another cooperative. It was a beautiful remote village tucked between two mountains sloping downwards into a valley filled with terraced rice paddies tended to exactly as they have been for millennia. The townspeople would gather to stand knee deep in cold water all day planting the rice seedlings. The only communication outside the village was with a short-wave radio.
Roosters and chickens roamed at will and every home had a piggery under it. We stayed in their homes, ate chicken, rice and vegetables with our hands off plates and washed up in the morning outside in the mountain air from a cold-water spigot. Surely, I thought, this would be a tremendous stretch to make anything happen here.
Oh, me of little faith.
When we returned in 2005, we learned that the coop had grown and that because of the support of the co-op and increased pledging by the coop members, St. Anne's Mission Station had gone from a 50 percent supported station a full-fledged Parish. The co-op had paid the original loan back to the Diocese and the funds had been redeployed to two other Mission Station Co-ops.
In yet another example of the Parable of the Five Talents, the original funds had been used to start a total of six co-ops!
When we returned in February 2012, the story was nothing short of incredible. St. Anne's co-op had grown from their initial 15 members to 191. They repaid the loan to the diocese with interest and, since taking the original 750,000 pesos loan ($17,542), the co-op has grown their assets (with paid-in deposit capital by members) to 4,100,000 pesos ($95,895)!
They have also expanded their focus on piggeries into other enterprises, including tiny convenience stores called sari-sari's (L), repair shops, and farming operations producing oranges, pears, sugar cane, livestock, coffee and cut flowers.
We stayed high in the mountains in the town of Sagada at a church retreat center at Saint Mary's. From there we visited one of the other co-ops at St. Bernard's Church, yet another former Mission Station that had become a Parish. The story was the same. Businesses were funded, loans were repaid, enterprises flourished and a parish was funded.
The priest in charge explained that as a result of parishioners having successful ventures, people who had never pledged before now were and weekly collections were steady.
The amazing part was that the complaint was there again – they needed more capital to make larger loans. I asked if that might be risky to make larger loans, but their answer was very surprising. They explained that all loans are 100 percent collateralized. One-hundred percent. Every borrower needed to have a large share of their loan covered with their personal deposit in the co-op and the balance guaranteed by another member.
Not surprisingly, they have zero defaults.
As we were coming to the end of our journey, we met with Bishop Brent Alawas in the Diocese of Bontoc, where the original co-op was funded. We discussed the success of the co-ops and how the Mission Stations became full Parishes. Bishop Brent was there at the very beginning, just as Father Brent was, and though humble about the successes, he was obviously pleased. The Bishop noted that all the funds were back in the Diocese's account, but then wondered aloud why no other co-ops had requested funds recently.
I related to him the story of St. Bernard's and how they needed more capital to expand further and offer larger loans. His Senior Development Director told him that they didn't re-lend to established co-ops. The Bishop said that didn't make any sense and directed her to see about sending additional capital to St. Bernard's.
It was clear that he had no intention of being the servant who buried his talent. We couldn't have asked for a better way to end our visit than to hear that the original Five Talents funds were about to make yet another round.
Well done, good and faithful servants.
Photos courtesy of Joseph Paulini