December 12, 2017 | MANILA, PHILIPPINES

A person is of more value than a whole world

In 1952, the Good Shepherd Sisters, a Catholic congregation of religious women, were asked by then Bishop William Brasseur, CICM to establish a special apostolate for the Cordilleran youth from the provinces of Apayao, Abra, the Mountain Province, Kalinga, Ifugao, and Benguet. They started operating a dorm school for Igorot girls in Mines View Park. The perennial problem for food compelled the sisters to beg for scrap vegetables from the market to feed the growing population of Igorot children entrusted to their care. But this method of sourcing food to feed 200 children daily was not practicable. The nuns realized that their mission could not be sustained without a regular source of income. After seeing the abundance of highly perishable strawberries in Baguio, the sisters seized the opportunity and set up a rolling store for strawberry jam. This gave birth to the community enterprise now known as the Mountain Maid Training Center (MMTC) in Baguio.

MMTC offers innovative products developed by the nuns that greatly appeal to Filipinos. These products include strawberry jam, ube (purple yam) jam, freshly baked bread, peanut brittle, and cookies, among others. The revenue from these products is used to provide scholarships to the less privileged youth in the Cordillera, employment for the lay, and support for the various ministries of Good Shepherd in the Philippines. Today, thousands of youth workers have graduated from college and vocational courses offered by universities and schools in Baguio through the support of MMTC. Some have become agriculturists, caregivers, doctors, engineers, nurses, nuns, priests, policemen, and teachers. All have greatly contributed to the uplifting of their respective communities.

But this mission of “bringing about fullness of life with care and compassion” does not stop with MMTC’s scholarship program.

The Cordillera is considered among the poorest regions in the Philippines; thus, MMTC does outreach work through Basic Ecclesial Communities (BECs). It begins with a series of consultations with several Church and local stakeholders and obtaining the consensus of the families to enter into a formation process. Families are then grouped according to their physical accessibility and proximity from each other and undergo modular workshops on BEC. Communities eventually take on the responsibilities of leading weekly gatherings, Masses, and other spiritual activities.

Initially, MMTC engaged in forming BECs in rural communities to strengthen the local church.

Fortuitously, the BEC members are practicing multiple cropping, and ube is one of the crops they grow between fast-yielding crops. This started the partnership between MMTC and the ube farmers, diversifying MMTC’s suppliers from a previous trader source system to a partner-farmers association supply. MMTC’s business principles emphasize the importance of outreach activities to engage local farmers, help them become formally organized, and improve not only their farming practices, but also their spiritual well-being through the formation of BECs.

MMTC and farmers have entered into a contract-growing agreement that eliminates middlemen and assures farmers of a sure market and better prices. The higher buying price also benefits the farmer partners when prices fluctuate. MMTC made the contract-growing scheme flexible so that when ube becomes expensive, farmers are free to sell their crops in the open market.

The farmers are aware of MMTC’s mission to give scholarship opportunities to the underprivileged youth. Through their relationship with MMTC, the farmers have improved not only how much profit they make, but also how they work with others. It has also made them appreciate the teachings of the Gospel and the importance of self-reflection in all their practices to serve others in need.

St. Mary Euphrasia Pettelier, foundress of the Religious of Good Shepherd, reminds us that “a person is of more value than a whole world.” And by having this belief as the foundation in running an enterprise, attending to the needs of the underserved is not only a social responsibility, but also a great business opportunity. In the case of MMTC, by creating relationships with farmers, products and services improve; more importantly, farmers develop as better individuals, spiritually and economically.

Julius B. Lunar is an Assistant Professor at the Management and Organization Department of the Ramon V. Del Rosario College of Business of De La Salle University, where he teaches Corporate Social Responsibility and Governance.