The people who are gathering this night at the Academy for Creating Enterprise in the Philippines are flushed with excitement because they are about to become students here and learn how to create their own businesses. They chatter a bit before the large stone sign in front of the brick building.
On that sign is a quote by President Gordon B. Hinckley, one that Stephen and Bette Gibson, who founded the academy, hope these students will take to heart.
“I believe the Lord does not wish to see His people condemned to live in poverty. I believe he would have the faithful enjoy the good things of the earth.”
It will take a paradigm shift, a change of mindset, during the time they are at the academy, to really believe that on a cell-deep level for, as Filipinos, they have become used to poverty—some of them used to desperation. Some have come to think that maybe they deserve it, or that maybe God doesn’t want more for them, or if maybe they had money they might become proud and, therefore, sinful.
What they will come to understand while they are at the academy is that they can serve better in the Church, that they can stay home and not have to leave their country looking for work like so many other Filipinos, and that they can be better mothers and fathers if they are not bound to poverty in chains.
Usually the classes at the academy which are geared specifically to returned missionaries, last two months, but with ten years of experience, the academy directors have developed an intensive, one-week executive class specifically for Church leaders, who cannot be gone for two months from either their responsibilities or their families, and yet need a hand up from poverty. This is the first day of an executive or Quick Start class.
The academy conducted a survey on the economic level of stake and district presidents in the Philippines and with half responding this was the bottom line. Forty-five percent of stake and district leaders in the Philippines live on less than $300 a month. What is even more startling is that 86% of them had attended college.
It is astonishing, but clear, then, that becoming educated in the Philippines isn’t enough to assure that one does not live in poverty. Sometimes, because we have learned to think globally, we assume that everyone in developing nations is poor for the same reasons.
We assume, surely, they must not be educated. Let’s just give them an education and all will work for them. That’s not true in the Philippines where there are far more educated people than there are jobs to fill. We think of the young woman with a Ph.D in organic chemistry who spends her days herding goats. Education alone may not turn the key.
Or let’s just give them micro-credit loans to start a business. Steve Gibson noted, however, that, “Everybody feels that if they just have money, they can be successful. “But,” he said, “a group recently did a survey of 400 people who had received micro-credit loans, and nobody had an employee except for members of the family. Money alone doesn’t train people how to run a business. If micro-credit organizations have a good pay-back system because of the pressure of neighborhood groups, those who have borrowed may pull their kids out of school to help pay back the loans. However valuable micro-credit loans are, money alone cannot solve the problem of poverty in an ongoing way.”
The fact is—the reason that people are poor differs from nation to nation, and the remedies must account for that. What works well in Brazil may not work in Haiti, where the question of poverty is a whole new ball game. Any solution, however, must do it in the Lord’s way—which is to help the person come to see what he or she can do and develop self-reliance.
As Latter-day Saints, with King Benjamin’s words ringing in our ears, we are called upon to help the poor. The question that nags at us is how to do it. We know that helping the poor, in the wrong way, can make them needier and more dependent. Instead, the academy has found a way to strengthen their students to see their possibilities in a whole new way, differently than they ever have before.
So this night, the beginning of a new executive session, we wander from group to group among Filipino Church leaders. Relief Society presidents and bishops, family history consultants and Sunday School teachers, anticipate receiving knowledge about how to create enterprise that will give them a whole new life.
Francis Bianan is first counselor in a bishopric. He used to work under contract to, among other things, inspect the LDS church buildings, but in 2006, that contract was terminated, and things have been rough since. He is also a licensed massage therapist with the possibility of opening a business to train others, but he doesn’t know how to start that business.
He said, “I’ve been praying for help with the financial strain on our family.” He is also yearning to work in the temple again. He has been a temple worker in Manilla, but the journey is seven hours by barge and bus, and the fee for that is impossible when he can barely meet necessities. His oldest son is working at a call center, saving to go on a mission next year.
“I’m a frustrated missionary, too,” he said. “I have lots of ancestors to work for, but right now I cannot afford to go.”
Josefina Abonalla is a stake relief society president who is finishing up her masters degree, while she is also working with a fitness gym and admits she’s a workaholic. Her hope is that at the academy this week she can find the understanding to help the 70% of the women in her stake who live below the poverty level. “If we are to build Zion, we cannot be so economically dependent,” she said.
Ely Detera has been serving as a bishop for eight years, and he knows poverty first hand. In order for his family to be sealed in the temple in 1993, he sold his lot where he had been planning to build a house. It would be nine more years before he was able to own a home—one floor with two rooms–which he moved into in 2002.
The great challenge of being a bishop in the Philippines is caring for the poor in your own congregation. “Every night I pray for the families who are in dire need.” Sounding like Nephi who waters his pillow by night, Bishop Detera admits, “There are times when I cry.”
With so many poor in his ward, it is hard to allocate welfare funds. The first priority is the sick. He’s asked ward members to share their used clothing, and they have a special program in their ward—every one who can brings in a cup of rice each Sunday to share with the hungry among them.
Of the 60 families in his ward, only about five can bring the cup of rice. Who get’s that rice? This week its one family; next week another.
“Every time we have a family council,” he said, “my family talks about what we can give so that somebody else can benefit.” This is their quest, though they most often live primarily on rice and what they can grow in their vegetable garden.
Bishop Detera is a teacher; his wife is a pharmacist. “As a teacher,” he said, “if you do not have connections with corrupt politicians, you cannot prosper.” He has come to the Academy for Creating Enterprise, he said, because “I believe it would be a blessing for me to own a small business, and I want to know how to do it.”
Lessons will begin immediately. The students are told that tomorrow class will start at 7:45 a.m. At first students might ask, “Is that Filipino time or is that American time?”
The staff answers, “This is a moment in time. We are not here to teach you the culture of America. Instead, we are here to teach you the culture of success. Being on time is success time.
“You don’t have to keep records and you don’t have to set goals if you want to continue in poverty. If you are comfortable living the way you are right now, you don’t have to do that. Filipinos laugh at themselves a little bit about that, because they know they have to change.”
During the first week of class as they learn the academy’s rules of thumb for running a successful business, they say, that’s what I was doing wrong. That’s why my business failed.”
Business success is not dependent on overall righteousness, they are told, but in keeping the successful laws of business. Because everyone who attends is a Church member, they can talk about gospel principles. In the Doctrine and Covenants we learn, “There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated—and when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated” (D&C 130:, 20,21).
If you want to be healthy, you keep the word of wisdom. If you want to have a strong family, you have family home evening. If you want to succeed at business, there are certain rules that must be followed. These are rules like—don’t eat your inventory, keep records, focus, start small and think big, treat your customers as you would want to be treated. If you want blessings, you keep the law upon which that blessing is predicated. If you want to be prosperous, you keep the laws upon which prosperity is based.
These are not small lessons. “I had no idea where to begin before I went to the academy,” said one former student. “I couldn’t see the opportunities before me. I didn’t know what to do.”
Steve Gibson likes to tell this story. Joseph Apayart from Bacolod raised pigs. “When we visited him, maybe nine years ago, he took us into his back yard and we met his mother-to-be pig. Joseph was so concerned. You see he started his piggery with two mothers-to-be. His other mother pig gave birth to eight piglets and they all died including the mother.
“Joseph was so worried about this, his last mother pig, so distressed and so intent. He asked Bette and me to pray for his pig. I didn’t know what to do but Bette reminded me that in Alma it says to pray over your field and flocks. I didn’t think pigs gathered in flocks, but we prayed for the pig.
“This time the mother pig gave birth to the piglets and they were all raised to pig adulthood.
“What else did Joseph do on this trail from poverty to prosperity between the two births of the two litters of piglets?”
“To answer that, I am reminded of the scripture directed to Oliver Cowdery. The Lord said, “Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me. But behold, I say unto you that you must study it out in your mind” (D&C 9:7,8).
“Joseph studied about pigs. He learned that he needed to separate the piglets from the mother except for feeding. He learned that he needed to vaccinate them. He learned that they needed to be cared for. Joseph learned that he had to do more than just pray that his piglets would live; he had to take the proper steps. He had to learn the laws that healthy piglets were predicated upon. If you want the blessings of healthy pigs, you need to keep the laws. His pigs lived.”
So these are the lessons that Francis, Josefina and Bishop Detera will learn this week at the academy but they will get some even more magical—a gift of hope. Other LDS business people will come and paint a vision of how they did it—and a new vision will gradually develop.
An Academy graduate, Maria Christina Concepcion wrote that before coming to the Academy, she already had an MBA and was working toward a PhD in education. She was working as part-time faculty at a local university. She had certainly fulfilled every requirement to secure employment success.
She came to the Academy and she said, “It was an experience, I will never forget. Of course I became acquainted again with financial statements, management and marketing principles, but the beautiful thing that was present in the Academy was the Spirit. There, within its walls, stood out one very important lessons nowhere else to be found in the academic world—hope!
“Hope for better things. Hope that if only members of the Church will obey the Lord’s commandments and adhere closely to what the Gospel requires, and then coupled with much prayer and hard work, industry, persistence, and the application of the business rules of thumb and business systems so passionately taught in the Academy, things will get better!
“When I went home after that training in ACE, I officially started my own Training and Management Consulting Business. I expanded my clientele to include private business entities and other government agencies.
“Today, 5 years after ACE, MCIC Consulting is doing well, and it has helped me as a person. As I am writing this, I just took a short break from my preparations for three upcoming team-building workshops I will be doing for 300 newly-elected government officials in three separate engagements for this month alone.
“I am enjoying what I am doing; I am making enough money to help my family.
“Please know that hundreds are still struggling to lift themselves up from poverty. Hundreds are still trying to overcome personal/individual struggles and challenges. The skills we learned in ACE cannot, and will never change someone’s life over night. But, it showed us options, and gave us hope, which I think, is the greatest gift ACE ever gave me. HOPE for a better and brighter future, for me and my family, and hopefully, it will have a ripple effect to everybody I will have the privilege to be acquainted with.”
As the students filed into the Academy for their executive session, their eyes reflected excitement. They would emerge from the Academy with excitement transformed into something sturdier—that hope that is a fuel for good things, that hope that gives vision, hope to make that journey from poverty to prosperity.