Earning by greening: Asia’s first inmate green coop succeeds with DOLE convergence grant

Date Posted: March 6th, 2015 05:46 AM

Who would have thought that in just two years after receiving government assistance, this cooperative composed of inmates at the Makati City Jail would be earning money more than they could imagine while languishing in prison?

But it’s true, the Makati City Jail Integrated Green Producer’s Cooperative (MIGCO), Asia’s first green cooperative established by prisoners, is in business and making handsome profits.

MIGCO is only three years old. Established on 5 November 2011, its 66 members—all inmates—thought of recycling old tarpaulins into grocery bags, messenger bags, wine bags, etc. The idea was sensible. There were plenty of discarded tarpaulins lying around, or hanging in electric posts, that no one cares to dispose of properly.

“Tarpaulins are an eyesore for some city dwellers. To us at MIGCO, it’s money,” says MIGCO Chairman Ireneo A. Espinocilla.

MIGCO’s success journey began in September 2012, when the inmates submitted a feasibility study to the city government of Makati through the Makati Cooperative Development Office (MCDO).

“We drafted the feasibility study upon the advice of the MCDO for us to avail of a livelihood grant from the Pasay-Makati Field Office of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) and the Makati City Public Employment Service Office (PESO),” Espinocilla explained.

On 22 October 2012, at the Koopbida 2012 Awards Night at the University of Makati, the DOLE awarded the cooperative P108,630 worth of materials and consumables, to be delivered in two tranches.

The first tranche covered the raw materials and consumable items for MIGCO’s job order from Philippine Transmarine Carriers, Inc. for 1,000 pieces of carry-all bags, made out of poly-vinyl materials, with a total contract value of P215,000.

“We have delivered this order on schedule, on 14 December, and MIGCO was promptly paid on 4 January 2014,” said Espinocilla

The second tranche of the DOLE grant followed shortly. The materials covered the job order of the Makati Gospel Church for 700 pieces of brown leatherette bags, worth P125,000, and an additional order of 50 pieces of the product that needed to be printed with labels and worth P50,000. These were delivered on 28 November 2012 and in January and February 2013. From then on, MIGCO’s business started to roll.

The cooperative has transformed itself from a sewing labor contractor to a manufacturer. Two years after, or in January 2014, the cooperative again submitted a feasibility study to DOLE when it was informed of the DOLE-DOST Convergence Program.

The convergence program aims to maximize the use of scarce government resources in building sustainable, technology-based and innovation-led enterprises utilizing local resources to open up opportunities for the poor, vulnerable, and marginalized workers.

Under the convergence program, the DOLE commits to deliver working capital in the form of raw materials, equipment, tools and jigs; skills and entrepreneurship training; training on productivity, safety and health, and organizational development; and payment of premiums to SSS, PhilHealth, or micro-insurance for three months, inputted in the total project cost.

On the other hand, the DOST commits to provide scientific and technological skills and strategies that beneficiaries can use and tap the Technology Resource Center, DOST’s corporate arm, to work on the business and livelihood program interventions. More importantly, the DOST shall provide the necessary technologies for people or group of people for potential technology transfer or adoption for business, as well as counterpart funding  in the form of technologies and innovations, technical assistance, experts’ man-hours, and the like.

MIGCO said because of its volume of orders, it needed to acquire additional equipment to boost productivity and competitiveness. It also said its members needed to get additional knowledge and skills, particularly on “green technology” that can be used inside the jails.

With the endorsement by the Makati City PESO and the MCDO, the DOLE approved the proposal. It released the grant under the supervision of the PESO, while the implementation and management was done in close coordination with the MCDO.

On 20 November 2014, the DOLE delivered to MIGCO four units of hi-speed sewing machines, a button holer, an over-edging machine, and a heat press machine through the Makati Cooperative Development Office. The following day, representatives from the DOLE, DOST, Department of Trade and Industry, and the Public Employment Service Office arrived to inspect the equipment.

“With the additional high speed sewing machines and the heat press machine, we were able to accept more cooperative members who are given the opportunity to “learn and earn” while in detention. In return, this gave MIGCO a boost to become more sustainable and profitable,” said Espinocilla.

In 2014, MIGCO received an order for the supply of labor and materials, including printing, of Maya eco-bags from Liberty Commodities, Inc. When the initial order of 2,000 pieces were delivered, the company placed an order for another 2,000 pieces to be delivered this early February.

A new learning experience for MIGCO members was the sewing of 500 pieces “sheep” stuff toys. Makati City-based retailer Landmark Department Store, through GTG Stuff Toys, placed the order in time to welcome the Year of the Sheep.

Currently, MIGCO is working to deliver 2,000 pieces of seminar kit bags made out of poly rubber materials to the Design Center of the Philippines of the Department of Trade and Industry, Inc.

The labor-only contract, including printing, was placed by the Directorate for Inmates’ Welfare and Development, National Headquarters, Bureau of Jail Management and Penology.

This latest development is an indication that the program of the Makati city government to help develop less fortunate individuals, such as those behind bars, by giving them opportunity to engage in productive activities, is greatly rewarding.

END/ MIGCO Chairman Ireneo A. Espinocilla

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