Business to Heart

Her heart was pained after a visit to a home for abandoned and street children.  The then teenaged high school girl thought deeply, as she now relates, “I was so shaken when I got home. I prayed and asked why God allowed those kids to suffer. I asked Him what I did to deserve all the blessings I had. My reflection then was that I had the responsibility to share my blessings with others.”

Melissa Yeung, 29, has always had a heart for the less fortunate. When she was just in high school, she organized C3 Concerts for Charitable Causes and donated the proceeds to various charities with her classmates. As a university student of Development Studies, Melissa signed up as a volunteer of an NGO, Gawad Kalinga, which gave her the chance to help build homes for families in the Payatas shelter resettlement site in Quezon City. Her voluntary charitable work gave her keen insight:  “In spite of their poverty, poor families are able to give hope, life and light. I found that everyone’s got heart–no matter how poor, how small, or how young–everyone can contribute to uplifting (their own and others’) lives.”

Got Heart Foundation began beating in 2007, with its founders banking on unleashing and harnessing the potentials of people and communities for their sustainable livelihoods.  In the same year, Melissa was introduced to the concept of social entrepreneurship and Got Heart Foundation became her platform to lend her helping hand in a sustainable and scalable way by building grassroots enterprises. She ripened her knowledge further by earning a Master in Entrepreneurship at the Asian Institute of Management.

Got Heart Foundation’s main goal is to create opportunities where hardworking people in the economic margins can grow their own enterprises as a way out of poverty.  The Foundation organizes and financially supports business initiatives from scratch, and provides capital or market spaces for starting ones. In many instances, Got Heart buys products directly from grassroots enterprises. At present, it has mutually beneficial relationships with more than 200 communities.

With support of the Peace and Equity Foundation (PEF), Got Heart was able to set up showcase outlets for the products of partner communities: a neighborhood store in Esteban Abada Street, serving upper middle class villages in Quezon City and a retail store in Gaisano Mall in Davao City.

Melissa takes a passionate and people-centered approach to running the business. So far, she said, her biggest challenge, has been “finding the right people. At first, I only looked into academic credentials. Eventually, I realized that it is the “heart” that’s more important. The skills can be learned in the course of the business as so long as they’re willing to learn and know what we’re here for.”

Melissa knows what kind of products appeal to target customers at the shops, mainly mothers and families, sports and health enthusiasts, cancer fighters and survivors, and ecologically conscious consumers.  Got Heart’s added value lies in moving products to a growing stream of loyal and potential customers through branding, packaging and promotion.

“We made the shop look nice and friendly. We don’t sell products that our friends and family members won’t buy themselves. We also post photos and stories of our partner communities so buyers can see the people and places behind the products. We listen to what our customers want and seek out products they request,” Melissa explained.

Melissa further described the enterprise workings thus: Got Heart is a non-profit entity that is run like a business.  Mark-ups are used to sustain operational costs like logistics and wages for the shopkeepers who come from partner communities. All profits are reinvested in the partner community enterprises in the form of cash for working capital, and fixed capital such as for new greenhouses and other equipment, and expansion.

To raise capital and invite more social investors, Melissa and partners put up a for-profit corporation called Got Heart Social Enterprises, Inc., in 2007. To round up the value chain, this company invested in Earth Kitchen, a healthy food restaurant in Katipunan Avenue, Quezon City, in collaboration with the long-time and more experienced Hizon’s Catering.

Earth Kitchen serves food with ingredients from farmers and indigenous communities such as cashew nuts from Palawan, pili nuts from Bicol provinces, organic greens grown by small farmers in Tarlac and Bukidnon, and wild honey harvested by indigenous people – Mangyan tribes of Mindoro island and the Tagbanua of Palawan islands.

“Got Heart Foundation is now the main supplier of Earth Kitchen. By integrating Got Heart Foundation’s communities into Earth Kitchen’s supply chain, we have created a micro-economy that’s sustainable for both ends of the spectrum (from the producer to the consumer),” Melissa declared.

For Melissa, Got Heart Foundation is all about helping others help themselves. She takes pride in seeing how partner communities and their youth grow into self-reliance.

“When we started, our community in Payatas depended on our donations. When we worked with out-of-school youth a year later, most of them went back to school. When they graduated, some of them worked full time at Got Heart and some are now managing the shops or working for Earth Kitchen. It’s really heartwarming and a big heart-leap from the way things were before.”