The Academy for Creating Enterprise works in the Philippines, Mexico and Brazil to give returned missionaries the skills and mindset to help them overcome poverty and become self-reliant. With a remarkable success record, the academy has changed families’ lives in the Philippines who would have been stuck in the bondage of poverty, but now have their own thriving businesses. To learn about the academy or donate (knowing that your dollars will not just help in the immediate future, but change these returned missionaries lives forever), click here.
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.