The urgent need for careful preparation for the future within the most disadvantaged communities has been emphasised by the continuing lockdowns and devastating loss of income affecting so many vulnerable people around the world. Within some of those disadvantaged communities in countries such as Bangladesh, Philippines, Cambodia, and the Solomon Islands, Dana Asia works to provide social business and education solutions to those most in need. In all our work, we are planning ahead for a world that gradually opens up to sectors such as tourism and non-essential services, where shops and food venders can once again earn an income to lift them out of destitution towards a fulfilled future for them and their families.

From my small observations into the lives of the most vulnerable during this pandemic, I see signs of despair and increasing desperation in the communities where Dana Asia operates. We hear stories of increased dependence on drugs, feelings of ongoing anxiety, increased rates of theft, and increasingly perverse corruption. Conversely, I also see a powerful community spirit: people helping people, communities coming together to share what little they have amongst each other.

For us at Dana Asia, it has been a time to reflect on what we could do better, and a chance to think carefully about where to focus our attention to make the biggest difference. At the same time, we plan for a world where, to quote Professor Muhammad Yunus, “There is no going back”.

So, what could this new world look like? During the pandemic we have seen the rich getting richer, with billionaires’ wealth hitting new highs (UBS Billionaires Report, 2020), while the progress towards zero poverty is being reversed (UNICEF Covid 19 impacts on child poverty, 2020) and the poorest suffer. One vision we can all aspire to in our work, no matter what sector we work in, is building a global community where sustainable practice becomes the norm, not just the idealism of a few. Only through this joint approach will we achieve a World of Three Zeros: Zero Poverty, Zero Unemployment, and Zero Net Carbon Emissions.

Let’s imagine together a society that actively commits to the Sustainable Development Goals and to zero carbon emissions by 2050. A world where wealth is more fairly distributed, not through aid but through the development of successful social businesses and value chains that emphasise an equitable distribution of net income between the producer and consumer. A world where the entrepreneurial activities of the poor are made more competitive in the market through improved access to microfinance and advanced technologies. Where creating a cleaner, greener environment becomes a social obligation of our society, resulting in better health, cleaner water and sustainable ecology for all.

Where do we start? For us, it is no longer enough to have an objective to lift people out of poverty. We must do much more. We commit to evaluating very carefully all of Dana Asia’s projects and look within the communities we already operate to see how we can more clearly demonstrate sustainable practices at grassroots level. We commit to not only environmental sustainability, but also financial and social sustainability. We will use social business to give people a sustainable source of income, while promoting environmentally-conscious business practices to develop thriving micro-economies within the most disadvantaged communities.

Three examples of ways we are working towards this are:

1. GRAMEEN SARI-SARI NETWORKS

Dana Asia’s partner Grameen Pilipinas Microfinance Inc is committing to a “redefinition” of the sari-sari store (convenience store) model in Manila to address the excessive use of plastics. Traditionally, sari-sari stores sell predominantly individually-plastic wrapped items, contributing huge amounts of plastic waste. Dana Asia will work with Grameen Pilipinas to address this through the promotion of bulk purchasing and reusable containers, reprocessing of plastics into bricks, and responsible recycling. Pilot programs are already underway.

2. ECO-AGRI LOANS FOR PRODUCTIVE AGRI-BUSINESSES

Grameen Pilipinas has developed a new loan product specifically aimed at farmers to upgrade farm production through capacity building, upgraded machinery and equipment, and modernised farming practices. Farmers use sustainable agriculture practices, including the use of organic fertilisers, crop rotation and cover crops, to not only improve productivity and potential profit in the now, but also guarantee the future of the farm for next generations.

3. SUSTAINABLE HOME-BASED VEGETABLE GROWING SOCIAL BUSINESSES

Dana Asia has been piloting vegetable and mushroom growing small businesses in urban resettlement areas as one way to promote localised income generation and improve access to fresh vegetables, thus improving nutritional intake, during the pandemic.

Our objective is to further revolutionise the concept of microfinance by developing “sustainable microfinance” that uses best practice techniques to target entrepreneurs, women in particular, and emphasise transparency, sound environmental practices, and community sustainability. In this way, we will use a proven financial service to develop a post-pandemic model that promotes practical implementation of SDGs on the ground, in the most deprived communities.

Duncan Power, Dana Asia CEO