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Ernst Ulz

A Powerful Revolution

 

From: Neue Stadt, 4/2007, p. 13-15

 

    Expand - to be able to help more poor people: Francis and Teresa Ganzon have made their bank one of the largest regional banks of the Philippines with this "growth program". Their best customers are the "unbankables", i.e. people who are generally regarded as "bank unable".

 

Even from a violent revolution Francis Ganzon would not have shrunk. How often had he got to watch the sugar barons driving in the latest saloons through his home province Negro Occidental, the "sugar bowl" of the Philippines! And then there was the mass of those who slaved away for starvation wages. The young Filipino did not accept that. In the current of the protests of 1968 he decided to fight for social justice - at the foremost front with the young communists.

Violence was far from Teresa Madrano from the north Philippine Province Batangas. The daughter of an entrepreneur lived in a large house and was taken to school by the Chauffeur. Her father came from a working-class family and had a heart for the poor. Thus among other things in 1957 he founded a small cooperative bank specifically for the rural population. Teresa prayed daily the rosary and on Sundays went to the mass. Nevertheless she looked for more in life. After she realized the injustice in the island state, she at the beginning of the seventies soon took part in - although moderate - protest marches.

Today the two activists of 1968 are a married couple and principal shareholders and presidents of a bank with ten branches and 50.000 customers. For a long time they have no longer taken part in marches. The social situation in the country however is not much better: Each third Filipino of the approximately 90 million inhabitants lives under the poverty limit; three per cent are super-rich and possess 85 per cent of the fortune.

 

Into the bank business the Ganzons stumbled after their wedding. Teresa's father had asked the young lawyer and the lady journalist to cooperate in his bank. They accepted, because - so Francis - "in it we saw the possibility to translate our ideals into practice." For in the meantime something had changed in their philosophy of life, first with Teresa: "I met Christians who impressed me with their cheerful way to implement words of the gospel in everyday life", she tells.

 


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"Their songs reflected the desire for change. But instead of violence they sang of unity, love, peace, and that they were ready to give their lives for others. "Her friend Francis, who at that time still was a professing atheist, remembers "long discussions where we discovered social justice as our common aim in life." Gradually he understood the "wisdom of Teresa's life-style" and adopted it: The young couple had grown into the "Gen-Movement", the Focolare Youth Movement that then had just come into being.

The "Ibaan Rural Bank" was just before bankruptcy when the Ganzons got in. "We discussed with the employees how we could win back the confidence of the customers", reports Teresa Ganzon. "On that occasion we frankly declared that for us as Christians any customer is a 'neighbour', whom we would like to serve and not only one who serves us to earn money." When twelve years later the Ganzons acquired the majority of the shares the financial institution was a healthy enterprise.

But before the thought arose to make themselves at home, in 1991 a new idea made Francis and Teresa Ganzon prick up their ears: the model of an "Economy in Community". The stimulus for it came from Chiara Lubich, the foundress of the Fokolar movement. In Brazil she had come across a similar social imbalance as it prevailed on the Philippines. She suggested that entrepreneurs deliberately put their activity into the service of the public good, gain profits to support with them the needy and promote a "culture of giving".

 

Expand to be able to help as many poor people as possible, thus the Ganzons wanted to answer this new challenge. The company opened eight branches in the whole Province Batangas. "This only flourished", Francis Ganzon thinks, "because the employees worked hard for it." They probably felt that they and their families too could profit from it. For the bank had got into the habit to give all employees a share in its success.

The Ganzons also in the service to customers went beyond what was usual in banking. "We for example helped illiterates to open and administer accounts", Francis Ganzon underlines, "for they would never get on their own feet without an account." But above all they wanted by their example to show the managers, employees, competitors, customers, neighbours and friends, "that the commitment to the poor need not be an affair of a few particularly good people." Consequently in 1997 the bank got the name "Bangko Kabayan". "A Kabayan", Teresa Ganzon explains, "is a Filipino familiar to me, who understands me and is there when I need him."

 

Today the Bangko Kabayan is world-wide one of about 700 enterprises that feel obliged to the principles of "Economy in Community". Over a specially created foundation parts of the profits flow into regional programs: interest-free loans for study promotion, programs for landscape conservation, agricultural training courses or small education and recovery trips for countrywomen.

The "central values" of the bank, which are published on its Internet page www.bangkokabayan.com, seem almost naive: "1. Outstanding service; 2. Honesty; 3. Unity; 4. Faith in God's intervention; 5. Commitment to develop the community." But the entrepreneurs are serious about it. "We have often experienced God's intervention", Teresa Ganzon says with emphasis.

 

Take for example the Asiatic financial crisis in 1997: Many people panic-stricken at that time withdrew their money. Numerous banks were driven into ruin, because they had not so much ready money. When one day the neighbouring bank gave up without warning, also many Bangko Kabayan customers made unsure within a few hours wanted their money cash on the nail. In the evening the branch concerned had paid off four million Pesos (about 60.000 Euro). "During a crisis meeting we together entrusted everything to God", Mrs. Ganzon remembers. That very same evening - it was already after closing time - an entrepreneur deposited five million. "This was a strong sign for us that God does not leave us in the lurch" Ganzon says. "Since our confidence probably communicated itself to the customers the situation soon returned to normal."

"Yes, and then there was the kidnapping affair", adds her husband. In May 2001 the Ganzons for three weeks were in the hands of Islamic fundamentalists. In spite of all their fear they tried to take their kidnappers seriously and to understand their motives. The revenge was - in the lexical meaning- sweet: After its release the couple answered with substantial assistance. "That time had opened our eyes for the suffering of our Muslim brothers and sisters in the south", explains the Bangko Kabayan president. "And thus we looked for contact to three regional banks on the island Mindanao in the south to pass on to them our experiences of regional development promotion."

After the Asia crisis Francis and Teresa Ganzon heard about the micro financing system of the Grameen bank in Bangladesh developed by Mahammad Yunus, the winner of the Nobel Peace prize 2006. This bank grants small credits just to those who are regarded as "unbankables": Poor people who are unable to find guarantees and needed so small amounts for which to open an account was not worth while.

 


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"There it became clear to us: We had not served the neediest social stratum yet!" Francis Ganzon explains. Hence in the year 2000 the Bangko Kabayan started various micro credit programs, among other things that in the Grameen style. Groups of women that meet regularly are the central element. First the women who had up to now lived from hand to mouth learn to save money. Later the bank borrows small amounts of at the most 60 Euro to them, but only when they keep house with it, for example sell home-made sweets or vegetables and fish. With the help of the earnings from those "micro enterprises" many women can send their children to school, maintain their houses, get the most needed medicine. There is a pleasant side effect: These women are more respected by their husbands, because they make an important contribution to the livelihood of the families.

At their meetings the women then put together parts of their earnings and so can afford small trips on which they grow together and gain experiences. Slowly they discover that they together can develop also larger enterprises, for instance a seat renting service for weddings. At the same time the group is a kind of "control instance".

 

The accounts of the Bangko Kabayan speak for themselves: According to its own information it is one of the three largest among several hundred Philippine regional banks. Of the converted 9 million Euro volume of loans 1.3 million Euro went to about 8000 very small entrepreneurs. The bank has taken on 50 young people, who see to the needs of the women on the spot. The surprise is: The repayment proportion of the micro credits is about 99 per cent, whereas of usual, large credits only 93 per cent are paid back. Hence the "unbankables" are more credit-worthy than the average.

"Today we know that the micro financing is the quintessential aid for development", Teresa Ganzon says. "Because of our large administrative expenses we perhaps grow more slowly than our competitors. But on the other hand we experience that people who in former times asked for alms today enter the bank as independent little businessmen."

"It is said a successful Banker must leave his heart at home when he goes to work", the well-known Philippine media entrepreneur and political adviser William Esposo writes in the NEUE STADT. "The owners of the Bangko Kabayan however give their capital where their hearts urge them: to the last among the banking customers. What by others is regarded as too risky has become a growth sector for the Bangko Kabayan."

 

"Much time has passed since I had sworn to myself to commit my life to the realization of social justice", says Francis Ganzon. "The last years have shown me that the lived gospel is the most powerful social revolution that ever has happened."

 

Link to 'Public Con-Spiracy for the Poor'