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Int’l Care Ministries endows financial grants to ultra-poor community to start their business

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By Victoria “NIKE” De Dios

As the old adage goes, “If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. If you teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.”

Having been at the forefront of poverty alleviation advocacy, International Care Ministries distributes ₱12,500 cash grant to ultra-poor in a study to address poverty. The grant is part of multi-year research of ICM on how to address effective and sustainable poverty-alleviation efforts for the ultra-poor.

It was the first time 52-year-old Leticia had ever held Php12,000 in her hand. As a mother of three college-age children living in a destitute resettlement community in Negros Occidental, she and her family had barely enough money to survive. When Leticia heard about the Transform Stretch program from non-profit International Care Ministries (ICM), she immediately signed up. This was her chance to learn how to run and grow a business to pay for her children’s education. And ICM provided the capital and the knowledge to do so.  

This is not  a wasteful dole out for a poor family. Instead, it is part of a multi-year innovation by ICM to study the most effective ways to bring sustained economic transformation to ultra-poor families.  Together with the Global Innovation Fund (GIF), the research and policy non-profit Innovations in Poverty Action (IPA), and De La Salle University’s grant-giving body De La Salle Science Foundation, ICM hopes to determine if cash grants could have a sustained impact on reducing poverty, and if so, how much cash is the right amount?

Promising results

Leticia and 260 more individuals who were given the Php 12,500 grant are the pilot participants of a randomized control trial conducted by ICM across ten communities in Negros Occidental. This is the first of the many iterations of trials aimed at finding the optimal, sustainable balance between capacity building and cash aid so that ultra-poor families can begin their progress out of poverty for good.

This first iteration of Transform Stretch is patterned after Bangladesh non-profit BRAC’s ultra-poor graduation program which successfully provided participants with life skills, technical skills, asset transfers, enterprise development, savings and planning for the future.

After one year, ICM’s initial results showed that out of the 261 individuals given the Php12,000 cash grant, 260 of them used all or a portion of the money to start a business. A total of 353 businesses were started and 10 savings groups were formed. Businesses ranged from selling frozen food, livestock, rice distribution, and sar-sari stores. Savings group members pool their savings into a common fund used to provide loans for business, as well as for medical and educational needs.

Leticia used to sell native delicacies before joining the program. She had a seasonal income from this business that averaged at Php2,000 a month. She used her Php12,500 grant and the livelihood training she received to establish a more robust business of selling pots, frozen food, and ready-to-wear clothing. Within a year, her income has grown to a more dependable  Php5,000 a month which she uses for her children’s school expenses. 

ICM will monitor the progress of participating families into the future, with the trial results being published within three years. 

Based on ICM local partner the pastors’ observations who help to facilitate the program, the participants’ lives and behaviors have changed a lot through the extended program, and the 

participants themselves confirmed this as they see how it has contributed in making their lives better. 

“If you guide them, they have a sense of responsibility,” observed Ezra Tendero, ICM’s Livelihood manager for Transform Stretch. “Trainers said that the relationship between the participants are stronger, and also the health outcomes are better.”

“The early results of this innovation are strong,” says Ezra Tendero, ICM’s Livelihood Manager for Transform Stretch. “We are excited to see how the final results come out, because we have seen the fruit of what is happening when we guide and empower these families.” 

Transform Stretch is just the beginning of this study. ICM’s ultimate goal is to find the right balance of the right amount of training, cash, program length, and group size to ensure that the ultra-poor can sustain their progress out of poverty. ICM is committed to solutions that are scalable and as cost-efficient as possible, or as ICM CEO David Sutherland says, “to create a maximum return on investment for every dollar donated to ICM.” 

ICM is also trialing various smaller cash grants in concurrent studies, down to a grant of just Php500 in some communities, with a focus on finding the highest impact for the lowest cost. 

Solving the complex problem of poverty

There is no one-size-fits-all solution for the more than 26 million Filipinos living in poverty—11 million of whom live in such extreme conditions that they are unable to meet even the most basic needs such as food and shelter. 

These 11 million people are known as the “ultra-poor”,  and are at the very bottom of the economic ladder.  Surviving on less than US$0.50 cents (Php25.00) per day, hey live in the remotest mountain villages or deepest urban slums, with little to no access to healthcare, without electricity, in unhygienic living conditions, and where children rarely eat a decent meal per day.

“The complex problems of poverty require an innovative, holistic solution that is efficient, scalable, and sustainable,” explained ICM CEO David Sutherland of the organization’s ongoing 30-year journey of helping ultra-poor families find a sustainable way out of poverty.

To date, ICM has helped over 1.5 million ultra-poor in the Philippines through its core anti-poverty program called Transform—a four-month program designed to address the wide range of needs faced by families living in ultra-poverty. Transform builds capacities by integrating livelihood and health training with values education.

For the past 30 years, ICM has combined the best practices of the business and academic worlds with the passion and heart of a non-profit to bring hope and transformation to the ultra-poor.

To find out  more about ICM’s work, visit

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