Maria A. Villalba

Unlad Kabayan Migrant Services Foundation
Year founded: 

Unlad Kabayan works closely with migrants working overseas and the entrepreneurial poor living in the Philippines, providing education in economic issues and training in business skills.

Focus: Education, Enterprise Development, Financial-Entrepreneurial Literacy, Job Creation, Migration-Reintegration, Rural Development, Disaster Resiliency
Geographic Area of Impact: Philippines, Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Netherlands, Greece, US
Model: Hybrid Non-Profit
Number of Direct Beneficiaries: 8,900 (2011)
Recognition: Social Entrepreneur of the Year, Philippines, 2007

More than 8 million Filipinos, about 10% of the population, are working overseas. The Philippines thus ranks as the third largest exporter of workers, whose incomes play a central role in the country’s economy. A recent Asian Development Bank report stated the real figure was between US$ 15-21 billion, dwarfing the US$ 2 billion the country received in 2006 in foreign direct investment. Attracted by higher wages, the exodus is fast draining the Philippines of its skilled professional workforce such as teachers and nurses. Political and economic volatility in many migrant destination countries in the MENA region, Europe, US and Japan has increased the demand for effective reintegration strategies by local governments.

Innovation and Activities
The Unlad Kabayan Migrant Services Foundation links the savings of migrant workers to community development. It pioneered and promoted the Migrant Savings and Alternative Investment for Community Development and Reintegration (MSAI-CDR) programme in the Philippines, and provides a variety of services to migrant workers by working through overseas migrant centres.

Unlad Kabayan’s first service offering includes entrepreneurial literacy education, and savings and insurance packages negotiated with Filipino banks to meet migrant workers' needs. It helps them form savings groups, pooling funds for investments in small businesses in their hometowns. It has successfully channelled these savings pools to enterprises and community development efforts in poverty-stricken regions around the Philippines. Unlad Kabayan also operates the Social Entrepreneurship and Enterprise Development Services (SEEDS) and Business Incubation (BI) programmes, providing business management and social responsibility courses, and serving as a resource for fledgling entrepreneurs starting their enterprises.

Beyond educating beneficiaries, creating space for workers to participate in people-centred development can enable them to become active agents in social change. The MSAI model has resulted in successful community enterprises, including coconut fibre processing plants in San Isidro and Kolambugan. These enterprises provide direct employment, improve the profitability of farmers and workers in the areas, enhance their position in the value chain and provide a good return on the investment of the overseas Filipino workers. As the SEEDS and BI programmes mature, future funding will be derived from services rendered to the start-up businesses, and potentially from profitable equity stakes in those enterprises. A modified MSAI model is being replicated in other migrant-exporting countries, and Unlad Kabayan is developing models of resilient livelihood and social enterprises in disaster affected communities.

The Entrepreneur
Maria Angela Villalba grew up in Butuan City, the Philippines, and attended the University of the Philippines-Diliman, majoring in social work. After college she worked as a teacher, then with the government, before deciding to work with NGOs. After living in Hong Kong for 10 years and travelling to various parts of the world, she was impressed by the Philippines' post-independence inability to develop like other countries. She started Unlad Kabayan with a long-term goal for Filipinos to find decent jobs in their own country, with overseas employment as a matter of choice, not a lack of feasible options at home. Villalba is a former board member of the Global Fund for Women in San Francisco, Founder of the Migrant Forum in Asia and a Founding Member of Migrant Rights International in Geneva. She is a visiting lecturer on entrepreneurship and social entrepreneurship at the College of Business Administration of Silliman University in Dumaguete City, Philippines, and recipient of the 2008 Yes, the Filipino Can! Award.