Messy Bessy is a social enterprise offering cleaning products made by at-risk youth in the Philippines.
by Portia Ladrido
This year, a survey showed that 50 per cent of people in the Philippines still consider themselves poor. According to a recent report by the Asian Development Bank, the country ranks third in Southeast Asia in the share of population living below the poverty line. To have a clearer idea of what this means, it is important to identify that, at the moment, the international poverty line is measured at $1.90/day Today, over 22 million Filipinos still live below this line.
There are realities that belie these statistics — people not getting enough food, not going to school, not living. The future seems to be at stake for all of us, but especially for young people, those who will inherit the country and its problems. The importance of grooming and empowering youth is precisely why a social enterprise like Messy Bessy revolves its operations around helping disadvantaged young people.
The enterprise was started by Krie Lopez, who left a corporate job to be involved in development work. “She came across social entrepreneurship after visiting the Delancey Street Foundation in San Francisco, which employs and provides training to ex-convicts through their many businesses,” shares Abee Magallona, the Head of Sustainability at Messy Bessy.
Messy Bessy offers non-toxic home and personal care products that are made by the at-risk youth (those who were trafficked, incarcerated, and abused, among others) in the Philippines.
Learn more about the enterprise, the challenges they face, and its value to a country like the Philippines.
INKLINE: What is the primary goal of Messy Bessy?
Abee: The main goal of Messy Bessy is to help as much disadvantaged youth as we can, the best way we can. Though being green is very much part of our mission, being social is far more important to the organization.
I: What are the day-to-day challenges that the enterprise faces and how are they addressed?
A: Messy Bessy’s tried and tested working student program has had various challenges throughout the years. One of which is the dropout rate which started from an 80% mark in 2010-2016, and dropped to 3% last year. Reasons for dropping out can be due to a multitude of issues like unexpected teenage pregnancies, financial constraints, unsupportive families of the at-risk youth in the program, and more.
I: Can you tell us more about your beneficiaries? Who is benefiting from the brand’s programs and why concentrate on this demographic?
A: The beneficiaries are ages 18-30, mostly male, 70% coming from the community of Tondo and other distressed communities within Metro Manila.
I: Messy Bessy also created a nonprofit, the HOUSE Foundation. Can you tell us more about the nonprofit and why it was necessary to build it?
A: HOUSE Foundation, which stands for Helping Ourselves through Sustainable Enterprises, was established by Krie in 2016 as a way to address the proliferation of uneducated, unemployed young adults in the country. In the Philippines, there are at least 3.8 million people below the age of 24 who are in such predicament, at-risk of leading a life of crime, poverty, and oppression. Globally, there are 152 million at-risk young adults.
HOUSE Foundation, in its commitment to a long-term and sustained impact, mandates a college education for all its beneficiaries. This is an acknowledgement of the fact that in the Philippines, one college diploma significantly reduces the poverty incidence of an entire household from 42% to 2%. HOUSE remains to be the only organization in the Philippines that mandates a college education for all beneficiaries (without serious psychological disabilities and regardless of academic grades).
I truly believe that businesses can be a critical agent in breaking people out of the cycle of poverty, by recognizing the many challenges of disadvantaged members of society, and by allowing them to thrive as a working student. – Krie Lopez
In order for the beneficiaries to finish college, HOUSE has developed a holistic and sustainable approach that is able to address issues like motivation, emotional stability and financial literacy needed to complete a college education. This approach has been successfully tried and tested over the past 11 years through its primary partner enterprise, Messy Bessy Cleaners, Inc — manufacturer and retailer of natural consumer goods set up in 2007 with the sole purpose of rehabilitating at-risk young adults with almost no opportunity to rise from poverty without proper and holistic support.
Krie Lopez: HOUSE Foundation was established mainly to replicate the model that has worked within Messy Bessy. So now we are on a mission to encourage other for-profits to take in young adults the way we have in the past 11 years. I truly believe that businesses can be a critical agent in breaking people out of the cycle of poverty, by recognizing the many challenges of disadvantaged members of society, and by allowing them to thrive as a working student.
I: It’s also known to use environmentally-sound ingredients. Why is this important for the brand?
A: There are millions of toxins in a common household cleaner produced by other FMCGs in the market. By going green, it not only promotes environmental consciousness among the consumers, but it also lessens the chances of physically harming families and the environment.
K: Being environmentally sound is also important to us since it allows us to create a way for our young adults to be part of something bigger than themselves, to be part of something that contributes positively to our community and environment.
I: What are some of the lessons that you have taken to heart from your work at Messy Bessy?
A: The best lesson I have taken to heart is that businesses can definitely be profitable while also serving a purpose. It is the responsibility of companies to help solve social issues with the machinery that is their business. With this, there are higher chances of the programs continuing as it becomes a sustainable way to have a stable source of funds, which would not solely rely on donations. Also, for at-risk youth to thrive and rise from poverty, they must first learn how to help themselves first. This is the name of our program — Helping Ourselves Program, because both Messy Bessy and HOUSE Foundation believe that the best way to get oneself out of poverty is by being equipped with both professional skills and education, both of which we provide. More often than not, the youth in the country are more marginalized than we ought to admit as they are seen as able-bodied individuals. However, what people most often forget, are the implications their traumatic and distressing pasts (e.g. drug abuse, human trafficking, life on the streets, etc.) have on their futures which leave them stuck — angry, helpless, and hopeless. What we do at Messy Bessy and HOUSE Foundation tries to help solve the vicious cycle of poverty in the Philippines.
I: What is the most important value that Messy Bressy brings to its home base, the Philippines, and perhaps the world?
A: The essence of Messy Bessy is cleaning up the mess, which could be dirt, odour, stains etc., while also helping alleviate the pain brought about by the mess in the lives of our beneficiaries.
Portia Ladrido is a multimedia journalist specialising in social justice, culture, and the arts. She is a human rights journalism fellow at the Philippine Human Rights Information Center and the Metro Manila hub coordinator of the Solutions Journalism Network. She currently writes speeches for the Philippines’ first female socialist senator. Previously, she worked as an editor and writer at CNN Philippines.