Our CEO and Principal, Neil Calvert, visited the Philippines to meet with CLIMBS Life and General Insurance Co-operative. Here, he shares his thoughts on his trip, and the lessons we can learn from working with international co-operative partners.

It is a long way, both geographically and culturally, from the UK to Cagayan de Oro, Mindanao, Philippines. I have a feeling that many of my European/US contacts would struggle, as I did until recently, to find it immediately on a map. That makes me feel that it is even more important to use this platform to share the genuinely outstanding organisation that I was privileged to visit last week.

CLIMBS is a co-operative which the Co-operative College has worked with for several years now. I knew all about their commitment to Co-operative Principle 5 - Education and Training - before I travelled, of course, not least through the establishment of the Co-operative College of the Philippines, and I had been lucky enough to contribute to one or two of their previous events online. Their good practice in other co-operative domains was easy to follow from afar too, and always impressive. While I’m no expert on the insurance industry, it was also fairly clear that they knew their stuff and were well respected in their own sector.

Meeting CLIMBS first-hand has been a revelation, though, and that is not just because of their unmatched Filipino hospitality. This is an organisation on the up, with some really distinctive features:

  • Strategic goals which are ambitious, simply described, understood by everyone and couched in terms of core business outcomes rather than income or surplus. 'To insure 20 million Filipino lives by 2024' ticks all the boxes. And for clarity and context, this would represent almost a fifth of the population of a country more populous than the UK or any EU member state.
  • Inspirational, values-led leadership being modelled at all levels from the top down.
  • A workforce which is almost exclusively local, has a really healthy age and gender balance and seems to be overwhelmingly (at least on the evidence I saw at last week’s visit) comprised of people who are empowered to develop, and return that faith by being enthusiastic and mission-aligned.
  • Most significant of all - a genuine and wholehearted commitment to doing the right thing for its communities. I saw first-hand the vehicles equipped for disaster relief (for example to fight fires and provide safe drinking water) which are despatched to provide urgently-needed support in the all too frequent instances of extreme weather events. I was also fascinated to hear about the 'Koop Skwela' mobile learning hub, a partnership programme with the National Federation of Cooperative Primaries in the Philippines (NaFeCoop), designed to deliver early years education to children whose development has been hugely disrupted by the COVID lockdowns of the past three years.

Co-operative values are, of course, inextricably intertwined with the DNA of CLIMBS, but this is an example which has relevance far beyond the co-op sector. It should be a beacon of excellence, and perhaps hope, for organisations of all kinds who believe that it is possible to act in the interests of positive social change, to transform the lives of both individuals and communities, and to do so in a way which is entirely compatible with business growth and success.  

It was a huge pleasure to be able to visit CLIMBS in their home town, and in return it only feels right that I should take this opportunity to give a little more exposure to their ongoing success story.