For Zeny de Jesus, founder and Chairperson of the Inner City Development Cooperative (ICDC), hope translates to taking action and finding inspiration in the ordinary. ICDC started as savings and loan group meant to instill the values of thrift and self-reliance among the residents of Barangay Tatalon. Her husband was part of YAGIT-TODA, an organization of tricycle drivers who wanted more than just a hand-to-mouth existence. As a social worker herself, Ate Zeny found their desire noble and assisted in setting up the system. Success was swift for the TODA and it started to present troubles in terms of their thrusts in saving money.
“They started withdrawing money for the most trivial things: for birthday parties, for new shoes for graduation, etc. Since they knew they have money, they started wanting things they lived without in the first place.” says Ate Zeny. Frustrated with the loss of focus, the officers of the group decided to discontinue the program and divided the money among the members. “We told them to get it all. And then after a few months, they came back and told me to the program again and this time, they’ll be serious about it.”
From being YAGIT-TODA, they became the Inner City Transformation Foundation, and eventually became the Inner City Development Cooperative in 2005. They now have more than 3,200 members all of whom are engaged in the coop’s various programs and activities. ICDC now provides loans and savings opportunities to help maximize entrepreneurial potentials of its members. They assist them in identifying possible small enterprises and instill the value of discipline and self-reliance to keep them believing that they can rise above poverty.
Ate Zeny even created a framework for its members, one that transforms them from borrower/saver to investor/employer until they can become a social investor. “We provide them levels of challenges so that they can keep aiming for something better”, she said.
In 2008, ICDC had a loan portfolio of Php 10.8 million and almost 4 million in savings. Being true to her word, Ate Zeny steered the organization to the next level for successful cooperatives engaging in Social Entrepreneurship. In the same year, ICDC launched their new social venture, the Fonus Inner City Development Cooperative Memorial Service. They patterned their service to the Fonus Memorial Service Cooperative of Sweden, eventually getting the mother organization to support their endeavor. They studied the business for almost a year from managing to operating to administering the services. The thrust of the enterprise is to provide quality memorial services to the poorest of the poor, not withholding respect and professionalism regardless of how little they paid for it.
Ate Zeny said she stumbled upon the idea while doing social entrepreneurship research and the idea latched on because she knew it was a pressing need of the community albeit being a little macabre. “We are surrounded by high-end funeral institutions, none of which we can afford, while those we can afford treat us as second-class clients. Some of them would offer low prices but put the deceased in little more than cardboard boxes and use beat-up funeral carriages being driven by employees wearing sando shirts.”
Knowing the poor deserve more, especially during this last rite of their life, ICDC strived to provide the best they can, even beyond the call of service. “We once were televised because we helped a family retrieve the body of their deceased mother which was brought to another funeral parlor in another city without their permission. They did not want to return the body; they held it hostage in other words. We assisted the family in seeking help from a congressman, and we successfully retrieved their dead loved one. We did that because we won’t help our own members, who will?”
This kind of fortitude has served the enterprise well. They started becoming a valid alternative to the communities surrounding them. They depended on the word-of-mouth advertising, and have helped their enterprise thrive. Fonus takes in about 8 services per month, offering services from Php 18,000 above for full package: from body retrieval to actual burial including processing of permits. Business was on the up and up, when tragedy struck.
Ondoy ravished Metro Manila in late September 2009 leaving behind acreage of destruction. The area of Tatalon was one of the worst hit communities. The Cooperative, including the Fonus office, was literally flooded to the ceiling. They lost thousands of pesos to the tragedy, notwithstanding the sudden withdrawals of their other members to use for rehabilitating their lives. Not all disheartened, Ate Zeny sought the assistance of the Federation of Peoples’ Sustainable Development Cooperative (FPSDC) to get them back on their feet. ICDC became a member of FPSDC in March 2009 and has already participated in the latter’s trainings and strategic planning programs. Ate Zeny thinks that it was fate’s will to bring the two organizations together. “Through them, we took out a loan which we used for bringing Fonus back to business.” ICDC utilized the loan to fix the service vehicle, including a stately Volvo funeral carriage, rehabilitate the office and procure funeral equipment which was damaged by the flooding. “Now we’re back up again and we are ready for the next challenge.”
When asked about their vision for their Social Enterprise, the ICDC Chairperson glibly answered, “To focus on serving the poor, not the rich. we do not want to be wrestled away from that goal.”
Even if offered an opportunity to become a big funeral institution like the big shot competitors in their area? Her answer was surprising but unfailingly honest.
“Oh, but they’re not our competitors. They serve the rich, we serve the poor. They even help us with our business, teaching us cosmetology, and even to the point of donating their used caskets. When I say this is a social enterprise, believe me that it’s the community making it work.”
And the most amazing thing about engaging in the Fonus memorial service enterprise is: Ate Zeny is morbidly afraid of the caskets and dead people. “If it was just me, this business would have failed long ago! But it’s teamwork and the trust of good people that keeps us afloat.”
More than staying afloat, ICDC has helped countless of its members from drowning and led them to finding dry land. The drudgery of urban poverty may still be overwhelming, but with hope, a little innovation and not to mention finding the courage to face little fears, they rise. And in the inner cities of the metropolis, the revolution goes on.