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Notes from the Philippines | Entry 1

Our interns Morgan and Natalia are in the Philippines. This is the first entry of their weekly blog posts where they’ll provide updates about their trip. Be sure to check in next week to see what they’re up to!

Hi, all! Morgan and Natalia here. We are happy to share that our first week in the Philippines has been absolutely incredible. Since the moment we landed in Mactan International Airport in Cebu, we have had the privilege of experiencing the extent of Filipino hospitality first-hand. Between the friendliness of complete strangers and the generosity of our hosts (VICTO National Cooperative Federation), it is no wonder that Filipinos are world-renowned for their embrace of foreigners. Despite being 10,000 miles away from home, VICTO staff and others have helped us find ease and comfort as we navigate foreign territory. 

Natalia Kaminski and Morgan Conaway Bauman are spending time with our lending partner in the Philippines.  VICTO is a large regional credit union that has many smaller branches.  In this first installment, Natalia and Morgan spend time at the national VICTO office and visit with some of the cooperatives that work with VICTO.  Each week we’ll post an update on their work and experiences in the Philippines.

There is no doubt that we hit the ground running, and our Filipino colleagues, as well as the nature of our work, have brought a deep sense of meaning to our everyday lives as interns. As we visited various cooperatives and their affiliated business ventures throughout the week, it became evident that even as students/interns we will be shouldering an immense amount of responsibility during our time here, for which we are grateful.

Given that our focus for the first week was primarily on observing and learning about Filipino culture and practices, we spent a considerable amount of time in the neighborhood of the VICTO Office in Cebu City as we got to know the staff and read up on recent reports. While the bulk of our work in the upcoming months will narrow in on WI Microfinance beneficiaries, we were grateful to have the chance to familiarize ourselves with Filipino co-op culture before delving deeper into our fieldwork.

In the heart of the Eastern Visayas lies Lake Danao, which is not an actual lake but in fact, a sizable island— our first destination outside of Cebu and the site of the VICTO National Board Meeting. After traveling three hours northeast by ferry, we arrived in Ormoc City, where we were greeted by local VICTO staff and promptly escorted to the local McDonalds, where we were overjoyed to discover that they not only had Matcha McFlurries, but served them for breakfast. We then proceeded to the first of three co-op visits to learn more about the Filipino co-operative and microlending movements.

During our visit at the Ormoc Vendors Multi-Purpose Co-operative (ORVEMCO), we came across the following message: “We are not put on this earth to see through one another but to see one another through. We are all dependent on one another, every soul of us on Earth.” Though not word for word, these values are built into each and every co-op that we have visited so far, and we don’t expect that to change. The members and officers of these co-operatives see the collective efforts of their association as vital to the transformation and empowerment of grassroots communities. Contrary to the co-operative culture in the United States, that of the Philippines is distinguished by strongly upheld values that are seemingly inextricable from the small-business community. Co-operatives, along with their affiliated socio-economic enterprises, exist to accommodate the various needs of vulnerable demographics, such as youth, women and the elderly.

It is important to note that VICTO is another common denominator among many co-operatives in the Visayas. VICTO fulfills an invaluable role by providing training services for gender-sensitivity, governance, co-op management, financial management and more. Thanks to VICTO, co-ops are able to collaborate and determine best practices to bring back to their own communities. Even though the co-ops operate independently of one another, there is an extremely strong sense of shared values and no perceivable sense of competition. While the business community in the United States has been going to greater lengths to incorporate social responsibility into the standard modus operandi, it may be in the best interest of all business affiliates to look beyond their borders in assessing best practices. We look forward to learning more from our partners here in the Philippines and sharing our experiences with you all.