Step into the chapter meeting and look around at the people gathered. One is a single mother of three children, living with her great aunt, wanting to send her children to college. Another is a recently returned missionary, determined to put into practice the principles of faith and self-reliance he taught so many friends. Sitting next to him is a man in his fifties who walked the streets selling sweetbread his whole life, determined to grow his business. Across the room an older woman who recently lost her husband is looking for a way to support herself using her sewing skills. A couple sitting to her left are helping take over the family farm and want to grow it into a chicken business.
The man in his fifties stands and starts the meeting. He follows an Academy designed agenda based on a sort of short hand understanding from various Academy training programs where they were introduced to the 25 Rules of Thumb. This month they are focusing on “Don’t Eat Your Inventory,” a reminder that business resources are owned by your business and not you personally. They hear a funny story of a young man in the Philippines who learned this lesson the hard way. As they laugh, they share knowing looks as they each remember their own experiences with separating their business and personal resources.
As the laughter dims the couple shares how hard it is when their family members come expecting them to share their inventory freely. In their culture, saying no to family is particularly difficult, especially when faced with poverty. The wife tearfully shared how painful it was to explain to her cousin that the food was owned by the business and in order for her to share, it would be necessary for her to pay for the food herself. And that if she gives her inventory away she won’t have anything to sell to cover all her expenses and she may lose money rather than make anything to feed her own family. The cousin, shocked to realize that she had been inadvertently putting her loved one in a desperate situation, willingly paid for the food.
That began a lengthy discussion about how to best set boundaries with loved ones. Though it wasn’t included on the agenda, it was the exact conversation they needed as a group. By the close of the meeting, they all wrote goals for the next month of hard conversations they needed to have. They even practiced with one another. Each walked away feeling empowered to take one more step toward building a successful business that would support their families for the long run. They felt lighter, having renewed energy to face their daily challenges trying to build something no one in their own families had before.
Many organizations around the world offer business training as a solution for poverty. Few however, have successful alumni networks that last for years after. In the Philippines, there are members who were in the first training sessions back in 1999, and are still active in the Academy today.
Monthly meetings feature business topics, guest lectures, and networking activities. Those who participate in Academy Chapters experience greater success in their journey towards self-sufficiency through access to extended resources including:
The resources offered at the chapter meetings, and the gathering itself, all exists to support members in the hard times and the prosperous times. Michael Junio, of the Malasiqui Chapter in the Philippines, runs a buko juice business. The schools at which he sold his product enforced specific restrictions that made sales a struggle, and he wasn’t sure what to do. By counseling with his chapter at a monthly meeting, he decided to offer online sales, which turned out to be a great success. The growth of his business has had a massive impact on his ability to provide for the needs of his family.
Ultimately, showing up to an Academy Chapter meeting means showing up to a group where people are changing their world. They know, looking at the variety of people around them, these are their people, they encourage each other to keep trying and never settle, and they help each other when failure strikes. The bond between neighbors united by their faith in God and love for their families is by far more powerful than any political or economic obstacle. In a world that tells them they were born into poverty and have no opportunities for anything different, chapter members are change agents, creators in cahoots to lift each other and their families to their fullest potential.