CARD MRI – Micro-financing communities before individuals in the Philippines

The Philippines
The In-Venture team

     Initiatives for rural development find a prominent place in the Philippines, land of entrepreneurial ambitions in South East Asia. Undeterred by a whimsical political regime, In-venture carried out its very first investigation in the country, where innovative financial models are mushrooming. Follow Kiko & Camille, members of the Center for Agriculture and Rural Development Incorporation (CARD Inc) Mutually Reinforcing Institutions (MRI), for an immersion in the familial and communal spirit of the biggest microfinance-based economic system of the country.

 

     Business manager of Mga Likha Ni Inay (Mother’s creation in Tagalog), Kiko supervises a seemingly ordinary retail store, except that everything is organically produced and most of the staff is female. Kiko explains “Mga Likha Ni Inay is part of a much bigger microfinance entity whose goal is to work with women and for women and families from socially and economically-challenged areas”.

Women workers in the retail store’s packaging area

     The social enterprise is indeed part of a wider organization called the CARD-MRI (Center for Agriculture and Rural Development – Mutually Reinforcing Institutions) founded by Dr. Jaime Aristotle B. Alip in 1986. Mga Likha ni Inay operates side-by-side with 20 other for-profit and non-profit organizations towards the social and financial inclusion of the microcredit bank’s clients. MLI is specifically helping Filipino micro-entrepreneurs from violence prone areas to manufacture and to market their products, as well as to expand the scope of their business while improving their wellbeing.

 

     During an official meeting with the representatives of all CARD’s partner institutions, Camille, marketing manager, unveils the subtleties of this peculiar organization. “The microcredit bank is the umbrella organization” she explains, “loans start between 3000 to 5000 pesos (60 to 100$) for underprivileged Filipinos, mostly coming from unreached areas”. Camille echoes Kiko’s remark : “most of our clients are women”. “They handle money better in the household” one of his colleague next to her replies. “With CARD we talk about our clients or partners, not our beneficiaries” she emphasizes, thereby highlighting the communal and inclusive nature of their organization. With their first loan, CARD’s “partners” start up their own businesses: they may produce food, original fabric or jewelry.

   

     However, granting a loan is nothing but a first step towards financial viability and social inclusion. To achieve real transformative change and alleviate poverty on the long term, the CARD has tailored its strategy to its clients’ daily needs in a rural context. Informed by on-the-field research, CARD MRI provides its partners with social services to foster the community feeling and a sense of belonging. In accordance with such holistic and inclusive vision, new organizations have emerged, notably a pharmacy, an insurance company, a retail store (MLI) but also an ecotourism agency or a school. The CARD rewards its “good players” by organizing educational trips in the region for instance. “They pay us back with smiles, the currency that matters” claims Camille.

     The school is an ongoing project intended to provide micro entrepreneurs with entrepreneurship courses, or to support families to send at least one of their members to graduate programs. Today, the CARD reaches out to almost 2 millions Filipinos across the country. “We are aiming for 5 millions within the next decade” the marketing manager confesses.

 

     Family oriented and driven by an inclusive community spirit, the CARD MRI stands out both by its values and the unprecedented ecosystem it has built over the years for its partners. Money is here conceived as oxygen, distributed for the efficiency of other economic organs that are key in building people’s capacity to create wealth while strengthening social bonds. The organization has therefore departed from a Grameen-alike bank to then build on the country’s specific inclusive values to offer a very unique system that is now alleviating poverty all over the country.

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