September 7, 2017, Manila Philippines– The Inclusive Business Awards, a new category of the ASEAN Business Awards, lauded inclusive businesses (IB) that make positive social impact in low-income communities by the creation of well-paying jobs or providing relevant and accessible products or services for their consumption or use. The category recognizes IB models that engage members of low-income communities as partners, suppliers, customers, or employees.

The Philippines’ Generika Drugstore, a drugstore chain that makes quality and affordable medicines accessible in far-flung communities, is the first company to win the Inclusive Business Awards. Other finalists include the Philippines’ Coffee for Peace, Laos’ KP Co. Ltd., Singapore’s Olam International, Thailand’s Siam Organic, and Malaysia’s Batik Boutique.

“These companies show us that we can increase opportunities for better lives and narrow the development gaps that persist in the ASEAN,” said Trade Undersecretary and Board of Investments Managing Head Ceferino Rodolfo. “We hope that more businesses will take the lead of these companies in fostering equitable development and broad-based growth.”

Increased access to relevant products

Generika Drugstore started out in 2004 to make generic medicine available to patients who cannot afford branded medicine. It is located in more than 70 municipalities nationwide, and nearly 68 percent of these municipalities are rural communities that lack basic healthcare infrastructure, except for a community healthcare center. Those who live in these areas are mostly farmers, fisher folk, construction workers, and other blue collar workers who prioritize basic necessities over healthcare.

Though minimum wage earners are Generika’s primary target market, more consumers from the middle class started patronizing generic medicines because of their affordability and effectivity. Right now, Generika does 24 million transactions per year.  Generika also conducts medical consultations called LibreKonsulta to rural communities. This year, an average of 110 medical consultations were conducted in stores nationwide.

A better life for farmers

Coffee for Peace, Olam International, Siam Organic, and KP companies are all IB models from the agribusiness industry, which is the sector where IBs have shown the widest scale of impact. According to the United Nations Development Programme, agriculture represents a third of global employment.

Coffee for Peace (CFP) teaches coffee processing and plantation management to indigenous communities torn by armed conflicts, illegal logging, and irresponsible mining. The company also links the coffee farmers to local and international markets. Before CFP’s intervention, the coffee farmers only made between P30-P50 per kilo of coffee. These coffee growers now supply high quality beans to Canada, the United States, and Switzerland. To date, CFP has trained over 600 farmers who can sell their coffee beans for as much as P250 per kilo. These farmers have also raised their monthly incomes to at least P9,000 per month.

Olam International is an agri-business company that employs 70,000 people worldwide in over 70 countries across Asia, Africa, and the Americas. In a region called Bandung in West Java,  Olam’s IB program now supports more than 1,000 farmers. Olam teaches farmers the different techniques to improve the harvesting and processing of Javanese coffee, which is famous for its gourmet qualities. As a result, farmers have increased the volumes of their produce by 1,000 percent in the last six years.

Siam Organic aims to solve the problem of farmers’ poverty by introducing innovative organic products and teaching farmers to be entrepreneurs. It currently works with 1,800 farmer families in the Northeastern part of Thailand, where the most impoverished small-scale farmers are located. Siam Organic works with the farmers on seed breeding, farm inputs, and organic farming systems to produce crops that meet standards of Western markets. The growers who work with Siam Organic now earn 14 times more than an average Thai rice farmer.

KP Co. Ltd. distributes a wide range of products to wholesalers across Laos. It currently implements the Cucumber Plantation Project in a community more than 200 kilometers south of Laos’ capital Vientiane to help subsistence farmers make a sustainable livelihood. The company also invited experts from Japan, where most of the demand for the cucumbers come from. There are 400 people from 95 families who currently benefit from the program. Before the implementation of the Cucumber Plantation Project, the farmers earn USD 60.00 per month on average. Now they earn an average monthly income of USD 180.00.

Empowering women

The Batik Boutique provides high-quality garments, gifts and fashion products to local and international markets, including the United States. It taps 177 artisans, approximately 60 percent of which are women aged 18 and above living in government-subsidized flats in Kuala Lumpur. Most of these women have little to no marketable skills or income. The Batik Boutique helps these women by training them to be seamstresses and entrepreneurs so they can provide for their families. Aside from providing income opportunities and skills training, The Batik Boutique also teaches financial literacy. To date, The Batik Boutique has made an impact on more than 1,400 beneficiaries that include families and different groups from local communities.

“Now that we have seen the benefits that inclusive businesses bring, both the public and private sectors need to work together in leveraging this approach to doing business. By fostering the growth of inclusive businesses, we can create more economic opportunities that reduce poverty and provide opportunities for better lives in ASEAN communities,” Rodolfo said.