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Appreciative Inquiry and Its Practice: ALIVE in the PHILIPPINES!

Rosalina Ora’a-Fuentes, PhD.
Dean, SAIDI Graduate School of OD

The first public seminar introducing Appreciative Inquiry (AI) to Philippine audience of passionate earners on just about everything was held way back in July 2000. (I had just returned in the country after a week of exposure to the concept by no less than the AI-Guru himself, Dr. David Cooperrider).
Thereafter, what happened next included more public workshops and fora on AI for orientation and increased consciousness-raising on the concept and its slowly emerging practices, publications – newsletter, journal and even occasional exposure to media of national publications, creating and expanding networks leading to the establishment of the Association for Appreciative Inquiry – Philippines, research initiatives using AI either or both as theoretical premise or research methodology, AI-designed courses and programs at SAIDI Graduate School of OD, and consulting engagements exposing AI to planning or teambuilding interventions. All these beginning efforts in the country converged into the 1st Asian AI Summit last 2010 organized by the same institution. This event was participated in by Dr. David Cooperrider and some 280 participants, mostly from across organizations in the Philippines and significant attendees from Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Nepal and Cambodia. When this happened, I was certain that AI is ALIVE in the Philippines; and yes, AI is already in the consciousness of Asians. Indeed, a celebrated and momentous event!

Many AI-learners and beginning practitioners have had different attempts applying the philosophy, practices and the 4-D rubrics of AI. Most of these individuals have been trained and supervised by SAIDI Graduate School of OD. In my presentation, two cases of our engagements will be cited.


Microfinance is a very real and concrete transaction currently used by both government and non-government, international and local groups as a handle in alleviating poverty. There are some groups making a bold claim that microfinance is their tool to eradicate poverty. My take: good to push microfinance this way to rally some immediate, critical response, but the practical results do not and seemingly, cannot yet show support to this claim.

The laboratory-organization is a non-government institute – the Center for Agrarian for Rural Development (CARD). CARD has been operating in the Philippines for 25 years now, as of 2011. Its current client-base is 1.5 M families. Its pronounced bias is for women-clients. The founders noted an aspect of the Filipino culture where the Filipino wife on receiving the earnings of the husband immediately sets aside payments for obligations and manages whatever is left to cover food and other household expenses. This is not quite the case, though, with the husband. With his earnings in his pocket from work, he gets easily ‘tempted’ to join friends for a drink on the way home. Often the case does not end with just a drink! Whatever is left from the drinking session, that is turned over to the wife to manage and settle obligations and budget for food and other family needs. CARD is currently the largest microfinance institution in the Philippines. In the last 5-years, CARD has been extending training and consulting services to countries in the ASEAN region on matters related to starting their own microfinance initiatives. Last 2009, CARD received the Ramon Magsaysay award for Public Service. (This Asian recognition may be likened to the Nobel prize award).

The Problematic situation that confronted CARD some three years ago: The clients were not honoring procedures and commitments; they were engaged in multiple memberships which saddled the members more obligations to handle; their relationships were getting disturbed and bruised, from bad to worse because of requirements that needed to be fulfilled. The account officers working directly with the clients were hitting burnout. They were plagued with interpersonal issues; they were confronted with issues which triggered serious questioning of the core of their involvement in the microfinance services and they felt inadequate doing their job. Worse, these officers were projecting to the clients their doubts and frustrations. This situation reached a tipping point when clients and service providers represented only their respective interests - the former, source of loans and the latter, source of employment. Whatever vision and mission that drew them initially together was nowhere in the horizon.

On CARD’s invitation for SAIDI School of OD to extend a consulting presence in the institution, I suggested an initial intervention of storytelling. To my mind, AI may be able to help to improve the situation. And these Questions guided the planned AI-intervention:

  1. What could be an entry point for appreciative inquiry in a problematic microfinance landscape?
  2. How exactly can AI be practiced in a micro-economic activity towards a ‘happy’ landscape?
  3. What initial results can be expected by CARD?
  4. What solid outcomes can it contribute positively to CARD?

The immediate intervention for the account officers was two-layered: revisit the vision and mission of CARD and bring them into a journey of building a shared vision and mission. It took us three years to cover all groups of account officers (a total of close to 1,000)doing about their work in different places of the country. The immediate intervention took 2.5 days. The methodology was mainly storytelling. The activities accompanied the participants across the following journeys: intrapersonal, interpersonal and organizational. The main platform for the intervention was appreciative inquiry. Here, the intervention used AI as handle to build a shared vision and mission among key players in providing microfinance services to their clients.

The ‘halo’ effects of the intervention: positive energy infused into the dying embers of commitment to the work they were engaged in, a ‘lift’ that motivated them to be back again in the service of others and a more meaningful disposition for the job they held.

The landmark results after three years: the officers have started to live out the habit of ‘positive’ conversations, they have noticed improvements in their storytelling ability and they have a more meaningful awareness of their role in the microfinance service.


{*UBAS – Ugnayan nang Barangay At Simbahan}
In English: Collaboration of Local Government (at village level) and the Local Church

UBAS is a partnership of the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) with the Church and the League of Barangays. The DILG is a department under the Office of the President of the Philippines. The church referred to here is the Catholic Church. And the League of Barangays is the organization formed by all the leader-heads (called “Barangay Captain”) of the Barangays, the smallest political units of our republic (may be likened to village governments).
UBAS is a church-initiated offer made to the DILG Secretary. Three Bishops of the Catholic Church spearheaded the initiatives as a concrete response to a declaration made by Pope Benedict XVI in a speech he delivered sometime in 2010 before the Catholic Bishops’ Conference. The Pope said,

“…. the political community and the Church, while highly distinct,
are nevertheless both at the service of the integral development
of every human being and of society as a whole…”

This initiative recognizes the fact that the Barangays (villages) coincide territorially with parishes (smallest unit of organization of the Catholic Church). Hence this is a good opportunity for the parishes and barangays to work together for the efficient delivery of services and the attainment of integral development of the citizens.

Apropos, the Problematic situations that UBAS wishes to address include the following: very low participation in barangay development activities (like local planning and administration) and barangay-based institutions, non-transparency in disclosing local budget (finances, bids, public offerings by the Local Government Units), human rights issues and concern among informal settlers, inefficient disaster risk reduction, preparedness and response, and most of all, widespread corrupt practices.
UBAS had three bishops who conceptualized and partnered between and among themselves to respond to the situation in the local communities. A bishop is the head of a diocese*. (A diocese* is the lager unit of the Catholic Church that gathers under a common structure several parishes within a geographically contiguous territory). At the end of 2011, the Archdiocese* of Manila had joined the partnership. (An archdiocese* brings together dioceses within a geographically contiguous territory). The initial gains of the UBAS initiatives: Now the Church and the barangay government have started to work together. Both parties have defined their areas for collaborations and partnership and the next steps to expand and sustain the partnership. Both parties have structures their roles as partners and have created a monitoring team to follow through decisions and agreements within the partnership. Consultations and information sharing are now basic strategies adopted by both parties. Concrete and specific projects are now undertaken by the partnership. Such projects include among others:

  • Clean-up drive of the barangay especially the river system
  • Values formation on good governance
  • More systematic feeding program for children of financially deprived families
  • All out campaign for anti-drug abuse
  • Tree plating to save a watershed project
  • Solid waste management program
  • Traffic management
  • Increased advocacy on people’s participation in local governance
  • Promotion of transparency in the barangay operations
  • Informal settlers relocation program
  • Livelihood program for Out-of-School-Youth

But UBAS continued to be confined only among the initiators and its first follower. It is this specific concern that the organization invited SAIDI School of OD to brainstorm with the working group on strong recruitment possibilities. The suggestion to gather positive stories (using the AI Protocol of Value, Peak and Miracle Questions) on the initial gains of UBAS was chosen. From hereon, UBAS, guided by SAIDI School of OD, prepared a plan what and how to gather these desired stories.
The outcomes, so far, of UBAS’ projects – mostly, in progress: increasing exposure to the other dioceses, increasing communication between the church officials and the local government officials, sharing of resources between church and local government and, media has started to be palpably present in the activities organized by the partnership.

My Point of Departure, for now: The ‘AI power’ shown by both cases is the Power of the Story. In the first case, stories renewed the fading ‘animo’ of young service providers who wish to contribute significance to alleviating poverty in the country. In the second case, stories provided the climate to get into an alliance with others, thus pushing stronger a growing collaboration between two entities, Church and Local Government, all wishing for the integral development of the citizens and nation building. From another perspective, these two cases affirm that storytelling is really natural to Filipinos. A storytelling so structured according to the rubrics of the AI-Protocol and the 4-D roadmap is very adequate to keep ALIVE Appreciative Inquiry in the country.
(Intervention details will be presented in a workshop format).
31 January 2012


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