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Ending poverty: A matter of the heart

“A Question of the Heart”
by Ruth S. Callanta
CCT Publications, 2017

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I have read and reviewed books for executives for The Inquirer–business or non-business–and I have noted their organizational creeds, I have learned from leadership styles, I tracked down their “journeys,” and I looked for valuable lessons in the closing pages.

I have noted that most of these organizations are in what is understandably “secular” because, after all, they are in the non-religious world of business. Market shares are there to expand, profit margins are targets to achieve, competitors are around to outmaneuver—and the workers are “assets” to maximize as productive means to desirable ends.

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And yet we now live in an age where there is what we now call “enlightened capitalism”—because companies are not only there to maximize profit; they are also around to produce goods and deliver services that make a difference in the lives of people.

That’s why business is now viewed as doing two functions: The “doing well” function (making a profit) and the “doing good” function (pursuing non-profit goals particularly in social action —like alleviating poverty.

Speaking of a “doing good” organization and of licking poverty, here is a book, which squarely faces the issue with an unequivocal statement: “Ending poverty is a question of the heart.”

You’d say that the book romanticizes the goal and strategy of solving poverty. But this books sounds and reads like a management book, written by a management expert and an erstwhile professor in management at Asia’s premier school of leadership and management. Then, we stop and listen.

The book titled “A Question of the Heart,” is written by a renowned social activist transformed into a social enterprise advocate and practitioner, Ruth S. Callanta.

She presides over a group of companies under the umbrella of Center for Community Transformation (CCT). She refers to the group as “group of ministries.”

CCT has now a total of 14 ministries, 1,500 full-time servant leaders, in 15 regions, 32 provinces, 64 cities and 62 municipalities nationwide.

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The following facts and figures are not in the book, but I was able to cull them from CCT’s 2016 Annual Report.

The Report said that CCT’s total assets at year-end 2016 stood at P1.7 billion. This organization that solely focuses on ending poverty has an equity base of P993 million, savings deposit of P408 million (among its cooperatives).

The same consolidated report said that CCT generated revenues amounting to P730 milion, with expenses of P594 million and a net surplus of P136 million.

The biggest ministry in CCT is the Credit Cooperative which is in the microfinance business. The loans it disbursed in 2016 totaled P2.5 billion loaned out to 75,117 active borrowers distributed to 168 branches around the country—and total fellowship groups of 4,996.

CCT is “God’s business,” as author Ruth Callanta puts it. It began as a microfinancing firm geared toward developing micro enterprises among those below the poverty line—referred to simply as “the poor.”

The collective “poor” is— faithfully and consistently—the target of CCT, and the organization has grown to such size and magnitude simply because the organization has been unwavering in its vision and mission.

The author narrates her journey bothered by this question: “In a country gifted by God with a tremendous wealth of natural, human and physical resources, why do so many Filipinos continue to be poor?”

This question has bugged her since her student days in UP Diliman leading her to join rallies, and realizing that solving the poverty problem is not possible with changing an ideology.

She has joined development workers, but she too discovered that even some development workers “helped themselves” to the relief goods meant for the poor and the needy.

She too has joined government as head of the National Poverty Commission, but she also found out that “a government bureaucracy”, due maybe to its bureaucratic weight, will not be able to lick this perennial problem.

“I realized that people can be basically selfish and self-absorbed and will work only for their own benefit,” she says.

She says in the book: “It dawned on me that unless hearts are changed by the presence, grace and power of God, unless lives are surrendered to Him, poverty will never be eradicated.”

Callanta, who was Associate Professor at AIM, a social enterprise development consultant to big companies like San Miguel Corp., and once executive director of the Philippine Business for Social Progress (PBSP), has given up all those involvements.

Her reason: To focus on driving the “God centered transformative process” that, she believes, would the real solution to centuries-old poverty.

The book tells the riveting story of how she began the microfinancing business with the goal of making micro-entrepreneurs out of the poorest of the poor.

Initially, in 1993, CCT, according to the author, “did microfinance work using what we thought as Grameen methodology, in addition to implementing our usual programs in community organizing and mobilization, health, Bible studies and corporate worship.”

In 2005, says the author, the UNDP project that earlier selected CCT as one microfinance institution to strengthen, yielded great results. “We reached our goal of 100,000 borrowers, two years earlier than we expected. We credited this happy turn of events to the technology we learned from the Bangladesh-based Association for Social Advancement” and, of course, God’s grace.”

CCT is run with all the ingredients of good management and leadership. It has thousands of employees around the country, thousands more in volunteers, and a growing number of trustees in the Boards of management and Boards of trustees.

Ruth Callanta lists some lessons she learned from ending poverty as a question of the heart. “The poor can pay for their own development.” And, surprise, “the poor can save.” She adds, “we have seen the poor free themselves from dependence on loan sharks, repair their house, send their children to school and start their own microenterprises from their savings.”

Peter Greer, author of “Mission Drift,” says this of CCT in the book’s Foreword: “CCT models the very best example of intentional Christ-centered development I have ever seen. Its example has shaped the way I want to live, lead and serve. And my hope is that this book will equip many other leaders to live with excellence, and shine brightly as they follow Christ.” —CONTRIBUTED

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TAGS: A Question of the Heart, Books, Poverty, Ruth S. Callanta
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