Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in social business enterprises but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Tancho Baes, founder of Hectares of Hope, based in Davao City, Philippines.

What's your business, and who are your customers?

Hectares of Hope Corp. (HOH) is a social business enterprise with the vision of seeing impoverished rural farmers in rural Mindanao (Philippines) out of poverty holistically within 1 year and into a middle-class status within 5 years.  We are engaged in organic vegetable farming and in partnership with Hope for the Nations Philippines (HFTN), our holistic approach to transformational community development considers everyone from our investors, staff, and delivery guys  to our consumers and advocates as key players in transforming the lives of the marginalized. Our main customers are home buyers on subscription, restaurants, caterers, and distributors.  To our customers, we are not only selling to them our produce, value-added products, and services, we are also inspiring them by intentionally reminding them that they are not only feeding their body with quality and healthy organic produce, for example, but they are also feeding their soul as they essentially play an active role in transforming lives of the poor.

Tell us about yourself

I am a Filipino Canadian who, prior to coming back to my home country in 2014, have lived in Canada for almost 25 years.  I am a CPA by profession and have, for a long time, thought that I will  be spending the rest of my life in Canada… until March of 2014 when I sensed a strong call to move back to the Philippines to live among the poor and help them through Hope for the Nations Philippines (HFTN-PHILS), a Christian NGO that is ministering to the children at risk in the slums of Davao City. Having lived for almost 3 years in the squatters with the people we serve, I have come to understand more fully the plight of the urban poor and the untenable poverty that they are trapped in.  When I realized that most of the squatters are from the rural areas who migrated to the cities to seek for a better life for them and their families, as the Executive Director of HFTN- PHILS, I led my team to shift our focus from the children at risk in the slums to the children at risk in the rural areas.

The problems of the poor are too severe to be fixed with halfway measures.  To transform the lives of the children at risk holistically, we must come up with innovative and sustainable solutions to address most, if not all the facets of rural poverty that severely affect the children. This is where HOH was born because one of the keys to transformational development is the need for parents to earn a decent living and have financial stability without leaving their children and family behind, which is a common situation among the rural poor because of the lack of economic opportunities in the rural areas. Furthermore, at HOH we are not just doing organic farming. We are ultimately building a healthy, vibrant, productive, and sustainable community with strong and healthy families for the children. This is at the heart of why I am back in the Philippines and living full-time among the rural farmers I serve along with my team.

This transformational rural development project we have implemented is not for the faint of heart.  But the challenges I face as I lead both HFTN and HOH are overshadowed by the transformation that is happening in the lives of the rural farmers in our program.

What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?

Hectares of Hope offers a new paradigm of “Opportunity Not Charity” to the marginalized people of rural Mindanao.  It is an opportunity for them to get on a new path to a better life. As I mentioned earlier, our vision is to see them come out of poverty holistically within 1 year and into a middle-class status in 5 years through our “1-3-5 Pathway to Life” strategy.  This process is designed to help families, first, emerge from poverty within one year through fair wages paid to them as "Hired Hands," then earn middle-class income within three years as "Partner Farmers" as they, at this stage, will now share in the profits. And finally, in the 5th year, these rural farmers will become "Owner Operators" and will receive a bigger share in the profits.  As people progress through these three stages of responsibility and earn more income, they will be part of the Hectares of Hope success story.

By way of success after a year of operation, most of our farmers feel that the fair wage we pay them plus the financial security they feel, knowing that they now have a steady work for at least 5 years, have enabled them to not only consistently provide food on the table for their family but to plan for the future.  A couple have already fully paid their debts because of the financial literacy program they are required to be part in.  Another one, with an admirable sense of pride and dignity, refused financial help from members of my team when he was building his house. “I want to use my hard-earned money to build my first home,” he quipped. That is dignity restored and regained right there.

What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?

Because ours is a social enterprise with the vision of transforming lives, the hardest things that I face frequently have to do with dealing with people's attitudes and behavior and changing their "dependence" mindset to empowerment. We provide our rural farmers an opportunity not charity, so we don’t do dole-outs here.  We want our farmers to pull their own bootstraps. If they need some supplies for their homes, for example, they will have to pay for them.  If they lose a tool or damage an equipment, they are required to pay for it.  What we want to instill in them is a sense of discipline, appreciation, and ownership of their work to help them regain, among others, a strong sense of dignity and pride of who they are and in what they can do and accomplish.

What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?

1.  Never make money and profits your starting point.  Ask yourself how your business can impact people's lives in a positive and lasting way.  The companies that will thrive today and in the future are businesses that are socially relevant.

2. Establish your core values as a company right from the beginning and choose the right people to be in your team. They must have complementary skill sets and have a good and positive attitude and excellent work ethics. Getting everyone on your team to live up to your core values and providing excellent customer service to your clients depend on the character of your people.

3.  Get an experienced mentor you can trust, one who can talk to you honestly.  Do not lean solely on your own abilities and intellect.  You need someone who has integrity and a good heart and who is knowledgeable in running a business to guide you and walk alongside you.

Is there anything else you'd like to share?

Be generous.  Be generous. Be generous.  Whether you believe in God or not, generosity reciprocates.  Decide to be generous right from the get-go and never compromise this no matter what the circumstances are.  Set aside a portion of your profits (regardless of whether your profits are big or small) and share it with those in need.  Be discerning as to who to share this with. It will be easy to give it to big charitable organizations like the Red Cross or United Way but often your donations will go a long way when it goes towards helping someone locally, either directly or through an organization of your choice. As well, helping someone or donating to a local organization makes your impact more tangible to you and your team.

A generous company has the great potential of inspiring its team to do the same as individuals. When your consumers know that you are generous, they will be more interested to buy your products and services and possibly become your "evangelists" who will advertise your company to their family and friends. The reputation you want to have as a business should not just be about profits, quality products and good customer service.  It must include how generous you are as a company.

Where can people find you and your business?

If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solopreneur that you'd like to share, then email; we'd love to feature your journey on these pages.

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