Empowering Student Bodies‘ Humanitarian Mission – A Paradigm Shift

In light of the recent natural calamities such as the Haiyan Typhoon in the Philippines and the monsoon flood in the Peninsular’s East Coast, our students have been active in mobilising humanitarian missions for the affected victims. The gesture is worth noting as the awareness can only mean the existence of empathy among our future office-bearers. Everything seems to be possible from the eyes of humanitarian idealists; poverty, disaster mitigation, education inequality-there is no stopping from making the world a better place. Unfortunately, nothing in life is free and this includes acting on noble intentions.

Aside of time and energy, the key to successful social campaigns often rests on financial ability and credibility of the movers. More often than not, students will only then realise that the scalability of their objectives wouldn’t necessarily match their fundraising crowd, simply because of limited pool of networking and resources. As more are taking the lead to bring social changes to their own community, it is a bitter pill of truth that only the ones that are well-connected may fulfill their humanitarian desires, at least while they are still getting endorsed by entities such as the faculty, institution, NGOs or government bodies.

Unless if majority are equally passionate to consistently fundraise in solidarity, the students are bound to be shell-shocked when the administration eventually decided to put a halt to funding them due to financial restrains. Such is when the true character of humanitarian activism among students can be tested, as unlike established NGOs & charity organisations, we do not enjoy their full-fledged operational means to consistently offer help when the time comes.

The nature of humanitarian mission is such that inter-dependence is necessary to ensure financial sustainability. Similar to private corporations, NGOs & charity organisations undergo branding exercise in securing their credibility & competence to convince potential donors. Contrary to popular belief, a large portion of donations are utilised to maintain the continuity of publicity, operational costs & employment of their full-time competent workers.
For example, The Breast Cancer Survivors Foundation — based in New Jersey — managed to collect $46,557 in donations from Hawaii in the year 2012, but the charity received only $4,655 of that.

There is no denial that it is our social responsibility to offer help where it is needed, however the author’s suggestion is for the priorities to be understood in addition for the potential of the masses to be tapped. The focus of the numerous (sometimes redundant) student bodies should be channeled into exploring potentials of collaborations with established entities, as well as by initiating more self-sustaining means. Throughout my experiences of volunteering at orphanages, the common concern of the orphanages’ Principals are not that they do not have enough food and clothes for the kids, but rather the manpower to deal with the majority’s inability to read, count or even recite Quran properly. It is also the same case for the flood victims in Kuantan whereby the necessities are sufficiently provided by the Government, but the actual difficulty lies in the transitionary period in the aftermath of the flood i.e reparation and rebuilding of affected houses, cleaning up, etc.

More importantly, the time is ripe for student bodies to start considering long-term commitment in the power of social entrepreneurship. The ideal behind social entrepreneurship is that; a pre-determined portion of a profitable business venture is allocated into solving social injustice, be it to increase literacy among the orphans, feeding the homeless, or even by supporting single moms to learn a new skill to independently support themselves!

The role of the institution is then to empower the entrepreneurial development among the students through this 3-level approach of; 1) a one-off financial grant which has to be paid upon breaking even, 2) a sustainable student-run business platform, and 3) a continuous management and entrepreneurial guidance to ensure efficiency. Rather than directly allocating budgets for student bodies and societies to organise a one-off humanitarian mission, a more financially-wise approach is by this creation of entrepreneurial wealth for it to be self-funded in implementing their ideals.

Screen Shot 2013-12-14 at 6.24.27 PMA Philippine-based movement that aims to end poverty by first restoring the dignity of the poor

During my recent 5-day visit to Manila, Philippines for ASEAN Youth Summit, I was invited by Gawad Kalinga (a Philippine-based movement that aims to end poverty by first restoring the dignity of the poor) to visit the first social entrepreneurship village in the world, which is located in Barangay; a province to the north of Manila Metro.

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Tony Meloto; entrepreneur and founder of Gawad Kalinga, opened up the village as a social entrepreneurship platform to solve poverty in Philippines by providing employment, hence guaranteeing education for the poor’s children at once. This idea attracts aspiring young social entrepreneurs from all over the world as not only that Gawad Kalinga has provided a business platform for them to kickstart, but in addition, entrepreneurial guidance and skills through the mentorship with Tony Melotto are provided as well.

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Alvie’s Salted Eggs, which are selling well (pic frm manilafashionproduct)

I met Alvie Benitez; who dropped out from Ateneo de Manila University at the age of 21 the moment he realised the potential of his commercialised salted eggs and duck meat venture in his first entrepreneurial experiment. 3 years had passed, and a simple business idea as such has not only provided employment to at least 10 families of the once slum-dwellers, but also large margin of profits for himself.

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One of Shanon’s products (pic frm manilafashionproduct)

Similarly for Shanon; a 24-year old graduate in Applied Chemistry (major) and Management (minor), who experimented with the richness of Philippines’ agricultural products which are then converted into bottled beverages. All he did was the right application of his academic background in finetuning the taste of Filipino’s favorites of fruits and vegetables, coupled with identifying the right materials in creating the bottles to preserve the beverages’ taste and longevity.

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Essentially, it is not rocket science for humanitarian mission to be a sustainable venture. The university’s administration has to start re-channeling limited funds into an exercise that is more collective and objective. Ideally, we need to change our mentality in figuring out solutions to social injustice, especially now that we label ourselves as the ‘educated ones’. If our 20-somethings Filipino friends can do it, why can’t we Malaysians do the same?

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