Live for Good: An interview with Jean-Philippe Courtouis, President of Microsoft International, on his experience at the GK Enchanted Farm and a shared vision for social entrepreneurship
Last February 26-28, we met Jean-Philippe Courtois, President of Microsoft International, who spent 3 days with his family in the GK Enchanted Farm. We had the huge pleasure and opportunity to speak with him. Discover how he was really inspired and touched during his stay, especially by the SEED students
(Photo Credit: Live for Good Facebook Page)
Gawad Kalinga Enchanted Farm: How did you hear about Gawad Kalinga ?
Jean-Philippe Courtois: I met Tony Meloto in Paris, last November. He was one of the speaker at the UNESCO Conference and also did a pitch at HEC, where my daughter, Aurore, is studying. He did such a great job that she told me, “Dad, you have to meet him!” So we organized a quick lunch together in Paris, and the time spent with him was really inspiring. He invited me to come to the farm, and I said, “Yes, I will come with my family.” And Here I am!
GKEF: What did you experience during your 3-days stay at the farm?
Jean: I came with my family: my two daughters and my wife, because I wanted this trip to be a family journey and a learning experience for a couple of reasons. On one hand I am the Global Executive for Microsoft, which has a great and growing relationship with Gawad Kalinga. I am convinced that technology can play a big role at the farm. I am committed to help, so that the new development opportunities like SEED Philippines (School for Experiential and Entrepreneurial Development) the new social enterprises can flourish, grow and scale up. Not just in the farm but also across the Philippines, Asia and across the world. On the other hand, I came with my family, to learn how to create a hand-to-hand ecosystem in a physical place, the farm, where there was nothing 5 years ago. We also wanted to discover that amazing community working together, with a very strong value system, which is one of the biggest strength of GK. These values are being tested everyday by everyone. Finally, we were interested in the way the system is taught in this new School, SEED created 18 months ago. I had the opportunity to meet some of the youngsters, between 16 and 18 years-old. I was really impressed by their moral strength, by their ability to go beyond their poor background. Some of them have lived tragic lives but are really determined to change the world. Coming here, I also found a very strong connection between France, GK and Tito Tony himself. I met a couple of great French former students, who decided to start their own business here. We met Fabien, who is doing these nice Plush and Play soft toys for the kids and branded by corporations. We also met Louis, who has been learning how to grow organic chickens, and how to make a sustainable business out of that. He brought together the two most important resources here at the farm: the land and the people. The way GK is enabling to get the best out of it to stop or at least slow down poverty in the country is wonderful. Seeing it in action was really inspiring.
During these few days at the farm I had the opportunity to see all the development phases of the farm, from the school, to the social enterprises, the farmers themselves, the people of the community working in some of the enterprises, and the international connection - all the French and other international students coming here to help as volunteers. So much energy comes out of here!
GKEF: Do you think your daughters will come and volunteer at the farm in the future?
Jean: They might! They have been quite excited by this experience! In particular because we also have our own family project that we are just starting, called Live For Good.
GKEF: Can you tell us a bit more about this new project Live for Good?
Jean: The mission of Live for Good is to enable the potential of the disconnected youth in the world and highlight their potential, by transforming them into social entrepreneurs to make good in the world. This is really based on the strong conviction I have, as a business leader, that having a sustainable business is the best way to create jobs and have a positive impact on the planet. It can be about health, education skills, poverty… The most important is to combine a social interest and a purpose, and reinvest the profit you can make to create a broader impact on your cause. We want to contribute to many other efforts. This is the reason why we are here to learn from GK, on how you trigger that desire to become social entrepreneurs from kids with a very poor background. In France, these kids come from different environments: they can be disabled children, children living in suburbs or children from refugee families that are highly skilled but have just arrived in France with no idea of what their future would be. We are here to help and support them with Live for Good. For example, in September, we will be organizing a Gabriel Live for Good Award. Gabriel is the name of my son. It is the first award for social entrepreneurs in France. It will give them the opportunity to have their projects incubated, being mentored by professionals. Live for Good also takes care of them by giving them some food and a shelter so they can dedicate 100% of their time to the project. A technology platform will also be opened, where they can run their businesses after a year. This is our dream and inspiration. It was fantastic for us to see that a lot of similar efforts initiated in different places in the world, like GK in the Philippines, are already being done.
GKEF: How do you plan to select your future social entrepreneurs?
Jean: This is probably the hardest part of the project. And I could see that it was also the case here with the SEED scholars. First of all, we have a set of criteria in order to not go after the usual suspects, i.e. the most privileged kids. They should be below 26 years-old, and come from unconventional backgrounds, as I detailed before. Then, what we are doing is to select them and partner with other NGOs in France, like Unicité or Passeport Avenir, which are associations totally focused on that purpose in France. To be recruited, the candidates must apply on our website, www.live-for-good.org, which will be fully running by the end of March.
GKEF: That is a really beautiful project and we can see that you believe in the same thing as we do: address deep issues with social entrepreneurship.
What was the most inspiring and enriching experience you had during your stay at the farm?
Jean: The most inspiring thing was truly the deep conversations we had with the SEED students. We were around a table with a dozen of them, boys and girls. They were with their amazing teacher, Mark, who is teaching them about life and the strong values that Tito Tony has set up in the farm. He is doing coaching sessions once a week, one by one, which I think is very powerful. He also teaches them how to build some skills to have the capabilities to understand how a business works. What I found really interesting in the SEED program is that they really practice this on the ground through internships. This is fantastic! They are right here, in the middle of the farm, and they can work with social entrepreneurs, with farmers, etc. They can be immediately immersed and directly learn how to run a business.
(Photo Credit: Live for Good)
I was particularly touched by one of the students, Vincent. He shared with us his story and the story of many of his friends around the table. Where they come from and all the very difficult issues they deal with in their lives - poverty, prostitution, drugs…I was really impressed by the fact that this guy had such a strong conviction that he could do something about that: first, having a total different life and second, becoming a model for others. If you get many Vincents like this one, and many bright girls who are strong, they can be fantastic examples for many of their friends in the community and beyond. I think it was a very inspiring and touching moment and allowed us to see the power of what the GK farm is all about.
GKEF: Thank you Monsieur Courtois for sharing with us and spending time with everyone at the farm. We wish you and your family all the best for your beautiful project Live for Good.