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Helping Young Workers Build a Better Mindanao

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Think Mindanao and most of us imagine a conflict-ridden region. In particular, Abu Sayyaf members kidnapping people and the government waging war against them resulting in huge losses of lives and properties.

Once dubbed as the “Land of Promise”, Mindanao now has a notorious reputation of a war-torn area. Needless to say, investments plunged. The economic difficulties create a vicious cycle of pushing some of its people to join the rebels. A study commissioned by Philippine Business for Social Progress (PBSP) and conducted by Garilao and Associates, shows that Mindanao has the worst poverty situation among the three major islands of the Philippines.

31 percent or 1.4 million of the country’s poor families live in Mindanao, mostly in rural areas. Mindanao has the highest poverty incidence at 44.43 compared to Luzon’s 24.56 and Visayas’ 38.84

In all provinces n Mindanao, ARMM registered the highest poverty incidence at 62.9, with more than half of its population living below the poverty line. The government defines the poverty line as annual income of P58, 000 a year for a family of five or a monthly income of P4,000.

Lack of socio-economic development in Mindanao has kept the people in poverty. This is the end-result of a combination of sluggish economic performance, low level of human capital formation and unstable peace and order.

In response, PBSP, an association of companies practicing corporate social responsibility, has come up with the Mindanao Peace and Development Program.

One of the programs under this is the Business and Peace Program, a three-year initiative implemented in partnership with Prince of Wales International Business Leaders' Forum, supported by the British Embassy Manila and the British Chamber of Commerce in the Philippines.

This program is aimed at poverty alleviation and improvement of the Mindanaoans’ lives. At the core of these efforts is the leadership and participation of the business sector.

PBSP believes that companies play a significant role in “promoting and sustaining peace by creating economic equity for local people and adopting business practices that support peace and development”.


An essential component of this program is the Yuppeace (Young Muslim Professionals for Business and Peace).

Started in October 2001, Yuppeace provides internship opportunities for young and currently employed Muslim professional to gain practical working experience in Manila-based companies.

There are currently six interns. Three recently finished their six-month internship with HSBC, three are still with Unilever Philippines. Although already in its second year, Yuppeace plans to get six more interns and extend its three-year target period.

In their six-month stay with the host companies, interns are expected to learn a new knowledge, skills and processes and replicate in their respective companies back in Mindanao.

With the help of various companies who are willing to take an intern and teach him or her the ropes, PBSP hopes that these interns would be able to improve business management practices in select SMEs in Mindanao.

According to PBSP, this is how one can create “peace dividends” by creating businesses, building partnerships and generating employment, which would gradually encourage people from Mindanao to veer away from the rebel life.

Acting as ambassadors of the South, these interns also intend to show that Mindanao is a highly untapped region, where a lot of businesses could thrive if given a chance.

Bai Juneika Paulino, an intern at the Corporate Development department of Unilever, says in an interview that not all the provinces in Mindanao are as war-torn and chaotic as depicted in television and newspapers.

Paulino is one of the witnesses to how creating peace dividends pays off and businesses can indeed help promote peace. A success story is that of the Paglas Corporation is Maguindanao, ARMM, where Paulino is a supervisor.

Datu Paglas in Maguindanao was once considered as the “lawless Muslim Mindanao”, with most of its inhabitants being sympathizers or members of the Moro Islamic Liberation front.

When Datu Ibrahim “Toto” Paglas III took over 1988, he was determined to change the course of his town’s history. Paglas committed substantial family lands and persuaded a group of neighboring landowners to develop a 1,300-hectare banana plantation.

In 1997, La Frutera Inc. was established. It is the only foreign investment in ARMM, which currently exports top quality bananas to Middle East, Japan, Iran, China, Korea and Hong Kong under brands Chiquita and Unifrutti. It generates an annual revenue of $10 to $15 million.

In the same year, Toto Paglas then set up Paglas Corporation to provide sub-contractual labor, security and transportation in the plantation.

Since then, the town has seen an increase in employment and income levels and decrease in violence.

To date, 20 percent of Paglas Corp. and La Frutera’s employees are Christians, while 80 percent are Muslims, most of whom were former MILF combatants and battalion commanders. These people had dropped their weapons in exchange for a job and a more secure future. The managers and technical consultants of Paglas are Jews.

This is exactly what Yuppeace aims to achieve with the help of various companies.

Unilever, one of the host companies, saw Yuppeace as a venue for them to help improve the peace and economic condition in Mindanao.

“The business community should be aware that it has a responsibility to do what it can to help out in Mindanao not just for business purposes, but that it should be driven by the desire to be an example to other companies,” says Howard Belton, CEO and president of Unilever Philippines.

Belton adds that consumers now want products from companies who are socially responsible.

“We’ve been in the Philippines for 75 years already and we want to stay 75 more years. That’s why we are investing in projects that produce a long-term developments such as Yuppeace”, says Belton.

In the Unilever internship, interns are encourage to participate in ongoing projects and come up with new ideas. The experience would be vulnerable since this will give the interns a fresh outlook on how business are run.

Being immersed in the actual operations in Unilever, according to Belton, is one of the best ways to learn. This equips interns with management skills to spur entrepreneurship in their respective provinces.

Aside from technical training, this internship could provide opportunities for confidence-building.

Through Yuppeace, PBSP hopes to revive Mindanao through development technology, which is founded on the premise that development is all about helping people help themselves.

By encouraging people in Mindanao to spearhead changes thru this internship, there may be hope to see a better Mindanao in the near future.